Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Awaara ( Vagabond) 1951: the sweet old days

Director: Raj Kapoor ( 1924-88 )Script: Khwaja Ahmad Abbas

There was a peak of bloom in Bollywood cinema, sometimes called the golden age, which, like the springtime of youth, will never return. Blurring from the very late forties to the quite late fifties, it is a period in which cinema, in  simplicity and directness, speaks straight to the heart.

It is less about cinematography and craft than about music which often touches the sublime, great acting, and even more, an idealistic rather than a cynical view of life. It could be the spillover and exhilaration of the recently enacted victorious historical drama of Indian independance from the chains of colonial rule. It was the time when heros were heros and villains were villains.

In this period (which is almost a genre) we place Awaara, Pyaasa, Baiju Bawra, Barsaat, Mother India, Devdas, Do Beegha Zameen, Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, Sahib Beebi aur Ghulam, Mahal and of course Mughal-e- Azam.

If a connecting thread between these films is to be named, it is the singing voices which surfaced as though magically in unison with this fleeting mood. And pre-eminent among these voices is possibly that of Lata. Lata of-course has ruled over Hindi cinema for decades but the Lata of Awaara, Barsaat and Baiju Bawra was never again heard.

Lata! Where does one find the metaphors to do justice to that voice, that Lata of 1950-55? It is the voice of nature, the voice of youth, unrestrained and unrestricted by limitations, soaring like a lark, pained like a nightingale, filled with feminine power, touching the peaks of human emotion.

Awaara  is quintessence of this period. Four Kapoors belonging to three generations are featured ( Raj, Shashi, Prithviraj and the latter's father) and Nargis, with the matchless K.N.Singh as the mandatory villain.

The plot: Raj is the son of a judge (Prithviraj Kapoor) . As a child his mother along with him are thrown out of the house on suspicions of infidelity. He is unable to continue school (where he first encounters his beloved to be). Mentored to criminality by the Bill Sykes like Jagga ( K.N.Singh) he undergoes a jail sentence. Then he encounters Rita (Nargis) the adopted ward of the judge. The complexities are satisfactorily sorted out in a courtroom drama which opens and folds up the film.

The lynch pin of the film is the electrifying chemistry of Nargis and Raj Kapoor, brought to a point of explosion by the play back singing of Lata (and ofcourse Mukesh). The smirking K N Singh adds a dimension of his own. Prithviraj, as the plodding judge speaks his lines with perfect modulation and pauses as one might expect a judge to do.

There is an unforgettable dance-song dream sequence in which the drama is symbolically expressed: Raj, as the lowly ex-criminal surrounded by powerful forces of evil, aspiring to the impossible of attaining to the hand of a judge's daughter.

To visit Awaara is to visit the secret place of one's own childhood. It is a film overflowing with energy and the joys of youth like a swift mountain stream. It is the stuff romance is made off. If one is to search for a Hollywood parallell the 1942 Casablanca comes immediately to mind.


Ronak M Soni said...

When you talk about the 'golden age', I agree with you about the movies, but not about the music. I love Hindi music from all of its history. It's just that the music changed over time.
Here is some of my favourite stuff from recent times. I like to believe it's a reaction to the apoliticity of recent times, but you never know about these things.

Anyway, nice post. I always love it when I see love straining to get out of the edges of the words.

S. M. Rana said...

@ Ronak

Ab Hamare Laga Zaayka Khoon Ka,Ab Batao Kare To Kare Kya?
Nahi Hai Koi Jo Hume Kuch Bataye,Batao Kare To Kare Kya?

If such is the status quo, I suppose the question formulated in the above quoted lines of Gulaal calls for addressal. These are indeed turbulent times and call for a different kind of muse.

Ronak M Soni said...

All different times call for different kinds of muses.

These times, I wouldn't call them troubled so much as apathetic. I mean, troubled would be when Indira Gandhi was about to declare emergency and her son was randomly picking men off the street to sterilise them, or when the country was split into two parts and ten million died just trying to get to a safe place.
Definitely, there is trouble, environmental concerns and terrorists and terrorists being dealt with the wrong way and so on, but any era when there is so much communication (and therefore miscommunication) among the citizens of the world is bound to have trouble. It's just that here in India no one cares.

Anonymous said...

Casblanca is definitely a more impressive movie, as far as narrative and characterization go. However, Awaara has great songs, great music and arouses strong feelings of nostalgia. It is still, to my mind, a slightly overrated though a good film.