Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Awaara ( Vagabond) 1951: the sweet old days
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.