“Good parents give birth to good children and bad parents give birth to bad children.”
This is the belief up for discussion in Raj Kapoor’s timeless 1951 epic Awara. The importance of this film to Hindi cinema cannot be understated. It was one of the first Indian films to gain international acclaim. Its famous dream sequence was a landmark in the Bollywood industry. And the performances by the leading trio – Raj Kapoor, Nargis, and Prithviraj Kapoor – are sublime and among the best roles in their already star-studded repertoires.
Awara perfectly straddles the gap between Raj Kapoor’s darker, earlier films Aag and Barsaat and his much lighter work Shree 420. It has its moments of whimsy: a charming, dimpled Raj singing “Awara Hoon” while strolling through the streets of Bombay and the hero’s early antics in trying to woo a glowing Nargis, among other scenes. But it is also quite dark: Raj’s mother giving birth to him in a dirty, wet alleyway sets the tone for the life of poverty they will have to endure.
On the surface, Awara is a gripping drama and a sizzling romance. But, like other RK FIlms, questions on humanity lie deep, occasionally surfacing in remarks from the characters. Does nature or nurture make a man? Is the father role essential in growing a healthy family? And can someone raised in crime and poverty break free from those chains to rise to a more honest life?
Proceed with caution: spoilers ahead.
As many know, I am very much enamored with the late, great Raj Kapoor. (Enamored may be understating it.) It was only a few weeks ago that I made the effort to crack into the repertoire of his younger brother, Shammi.
I first watched Teesri Manzil, which was an enjoyable timepass with great twists at the end and catchy music. My second foray into his work was Junglee, which many probably consider his most iconic role.
Junglee (1961), though a bit melodramatic and meandering toward the end, is a Hindi film wonderfully put together by its producers. It’s not often I notice how much I am enjoying a film while I’m watching it, but somewhere about 45 minutes in, I said to myself, “Wow, this is a great movie.” And I hadn’t even got to the good parts yet.
With a determined Saira Bano carrying the first half and a delightfully unrestrained performance from Shammi in the second half, Junglee is a movie worth watching.
Sometimes, for whatever reason, films flop at the box office. And years later, a few of those films rise, like a phoenix from the ashes, to retrospective greatness. Mera Naam Joker is one of those films.
Any fan of Raj Kapoor must see Mera Naam Joker. It is his magnum opus, semi-autobiographical, with elements of the whimsical charm of his older films going hand in hand with the passion and sensuality of his later films. It is romantic, it is comedic, but above all, it is tragic.
“Jeena Yahan Marna Yahan” is the first song of the film, and ultimately the most important. Sung by the Joker Raju (Raj Kapoor) to a circus crowd, as well as his three former loves (Simi Garewal, Kseniya Ryabinkina, and Padmini), it translates in English to “Live here, die here”: the ultimate motto of the showman. In the course of Bollywood history, those four words are among the most important.
I saw the 183-minute Shemaroo version, cut down from the original length of 255 minutes (though I hear there’s a five-hour version somewhere). I have a strange feeling I’m missing things due to those cuts, so context may be off. (Editor’s note: I found this thread comparing differences between the versions and have discovered that I have missed A LOT. Slightly fuming that Shemaroo cut it down so much, and now frothing at the mouth–thankfully not literally–with the desire to watch the entire thing.)
For now, here are my thoughts on Mera Naam Joker, peppered with extra insights from Raj Kapoor’s personal life from the terrific book The Kapoors: The First Family of Indian Cinema by Madhu Jain.
Spoilers to follow after the break.
This post is a conglomeration of thoughts I posted on a Bollywood forum on various Raj Kapoor movies I’ve seen in the past couple of months. The reviews range from very lighthearted (my thoughts on Sangam are almost silly to a fault) to nearly academic (I put a lot of thought into the Andaz one). I’ve been on an RK kick lately and have been overjoyed to discover him through some of his greatest films–and I’m not done yet!
Warning: Potential spoilers to follow. Proceed with caution if you haven’t already seen the movie(s) involved. I will post a *SPOILER* before and after the sections of the review in question.
When we think of the best films Hollywood has to offer, what comes to mind? Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Pulp Fiction, Gone With The Wind, and so on. Timeless films that transcend their era and are easily re-watchable…over and over again.
Bollywood has a short list of such films, and Sholay is one of them. Released 40 years ago in 1975, it’s a whimsical yet violent tale of two rogues – and pals for life – who are sent on a mission by a former cop to take down the biggest, baddest bandit in town, Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan). Along the way, they meet girls, get themselves into some harrowing situations, and slowly transform from men of the jail to men of the law.
Sholay is what’s known as a “curry Western”…a film with elements of American Western culture in it, but still identifiably Indian. (Sort of like the “spaghetti Western” films of Italy, scored by Ennio Morricone.) It’s also known as a “masala film,” a movie with elements of action, adventure, humor, romance, drama, and, of course, song and dance. (Masala is a blend of spices.)
Gabbar Singh puts ice in the veins as a villain, and Thakur’s search for revenge leads you to root for him against all odds. But it’s the bromance between Veeru (Dharmendra) and Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) that is my favorite element of the movie. If I were to sum up their relationship in one sentence, it would be Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge (This friendship can never be broken), the title of the first song in the movie.
Spoilers ahead, for those of you who haven’t seen the movie already.
I’ll cut to the chase here; I won’t mince words. I suffer from depression. Mostly seasonal depression, so I’m at my worst in the winter, but sometimes it snares me in summer, too. Lots of little things make me feel, but not very much. At most, they give me a fleeting smile and a small flutter in my heart.
One major misconception people have about depression is that it’s sadness. It’s not sadness. It’s the absence of feelings and emotions. It’s much worse than sadness. I would take sadness over depression any time, any day.
Bollywood is one of those things that makes me feel. The romances make me happy. The heart-rending scenes make me cry. They make me laugh and dance. They allow me to dream. They are purely escapist. They allow me to get away from this world and slip into a dreamlike state where true love exists and songs are freely sung.
Make no mistake, they are unrealistic, cheesy, and sometimes quite poorly produced. But God, do I love these movies, and as long as they make me feel, they will always have a place in my heart.
From the happiness and bliss:
To the sadness and tears:
And this guy, of course:
Here’s to you, Bollywood. Thank you so much. For everything.
I saw PK for the first time on Monday, Dec. 22. I saw it a second time on Dec. 31. And I saw it again, for the last time, yesterday, Jan. 6. (Saying last time makes me really sad…I know it’ll be out on DVD sooner or later, but seeing a movie on a big screen is SO special.) Yes, I saw PK three times. And from the first time I heard about the movie – this summer – to yesterday afternoon, when it all ended, well, it’s been one hell of a ride.
PK has attracted both acclaim and controversy in its short run so far. It’s now the highest-grossing Bollywood film both in India and abroad. So what makes this movie so special? What made me go see it not once, not twice, but thrice? Read on for more.
(Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, please DON’T read on. I wouldn’t want to spoil this delightful piece of cinema for you.)
What sets Bollywood apart from Hollywood is the music. Hindi films put a lot of emphasis on the music. The soundtrack releases often before the film does, video promos are put on YouTube, and, well, people will always break out into song in a Bollywood movie. That’s a given.
With that being said, some dances and songs stand above the rest in my eyes. I did a quick comb through my iTunes and found the songs I love to dance to the most. These songs all together make one hell of a playlist, and they’re sure to leave you with the urge to at least tap your foot or snap your fingers.
Wow, I haven’t posted on here for more than a month! Ick.
Expect more things in the near future, as I continue to weed through films I’ve seen lately, including Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and Lagaan!
Also…I see Happy New Year on Friday, so expect a “Pass the Popcorn” post on that…
That’s all I’ll say for now, just know that more content is coming!
The next film I need to review is the thriller Ghajini, a remake of the Tamil film of the same name by the same director, A.R. Murugadoss. Asin reprises her role from that film, while Aamir Khan steps in as Sanjay Singhania, a man with amnesia bent on revenge.
While the violence was a bit too much for me – I’m a lover at heart! – Ghajini kept you on the edge of your seat, much like some of my favorite thriller movies have. Aamir was sublime, and Asin shined in her first Hindi role.
Here’s a beautiful instrumental from the film soundtrack directed by A.R. Rahman:
(Spoilers following. Do not read ahead if you’ve not seen the movie.)