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06 July 2012

Awara (1951)

Directed by: Raj Kapoor
Music: Shankar-Jaikishen
Starring: Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Prithviraj Kapoor, 
Leela Chitnis, KN Singh, Cuckoo
India's post-colonial golden age of movies produced auteurs who used their platform to tell stories of ordinary people - their lives, their disenchantments, their struggles. They used humour and drama and melody to etch out characters who remain imprinted in the memories of generations of film-goers. Amongst these auteurs is the name that cannot, will not, be forgotten. Like him or hate him, Raj Kapoor has left his mark on the cinema of an age, his films becoming a hit not only in his own country, but calling to the emotions of men and women halfway across the world. Much like Ramayya vastavayya in Shree 420 is carried from one part of the city to another by people who hear the song and hum it as they go along, Awara hoon was heard on the lips of men in Turkey and Soviet Russia and Indonesia and China.
Awara introduced a generation of film-goers to the 'lovable tramp' image that Raj Kapoor wore like a second skin from then on. It was his homage to Charlie Chaplin, the original tramp. However, it wasn't until Shree 420 that the tramp would become his alter ego. In Awara, Raju is not just a vagabond; he is a hardcore criminal, ironically thrust into the seamier side of life by his own father's actions. 

Awara opens with a court scene - Raj (Raj Kapoor) is being tried for the attempted murder of Justice Raghunath (real-life father Prithviraj Kapoor). 
When it turns out that Raju has no lawyer to defend him, the court seeks to appoint one, but in walks Rita (Nargis), the judge's ward, and Raju's lover. She will fight the case in his defence, thank you very much. Raghunath glowers, but Rita is unperturbed. She begins her cross-examination, calling the judge into the witness box, with a question that shocks the witness - when, where and in what condition (kab, aur kyun, aur kis haalat mein) did he abandon his wife? The power of the dialogues lie not in the words, but in the way they are said. 
Cut to flashback. Twenty-four years ago, Raghunath, then a lawyer, had rebelled against social conventions and married a widow. Unheeding of his father's disapproval, or the taunts of his community, he had done what he thought was right. 
When Raghunath and his wife Leela (Leela Chitnis) go on a holiday, little does he realise that the cross-currents will soon overturn his life in ways he cannot comprehend. Jagga (KN Singh), a dacoit, kidnaps Leela. Raghunath, believing that ‘what is bred in the bone will not out of the flesh’ - a criminal's son will always be a criminal - had sentenced Jagga to prison for rape, heedless of his protestations of innocence.

When Jagga comes out, tainted by his prison sentence, he finds that society does not easily forgive a man's transgressions. Out of sheer desperation, he is forced to turn to dacoity, but he is full of hatred for the man who forced him onto this path.  Now that his enemy’s wife is at his mercy, he intends to rape her in revenge (thus proving the false charge right), but desists when he learns she is pregnant.
Didn't Raghunath believe that a criminal's son will always be a criminal? And the scion of a respectable family always become a good man? Jagga is triumphant. The judge will pay, and he, Jagga, will not even lay a hand on the woman. 

Leela is returned unharmed. When Raghunath finds out that she is pregnant, he is at first happy, but soon seeds of doubt about the baby's parentage are planted  in his mind. Even his friend's sage advice cannot banish his own suspicions. He throws his wife out of the house just before she gives birth. 
And she, weary and helpless, gives birth to a son on the streets, whom she tries to bring up with honesty and integrity. She wants her son to grow up to be an advocate like his father, but little Raju (Shashi Kapoor) is not very pliable. 
Jagga's twisted mind realises that if he can turn Raju into a criminal, it will complete his vengeance. When hunger and the ever growing spectre of poverty hovers around Raju and his mother, the young boy throws his mother's teachings to the wind. Jagga is waiting in the wings, and so begins a life that will negate everything his father held true. Under Jagga's tutelage, Raju grows up to be Raj (Raj Kapoor), the titular Awara. 

Raj meets Rita off and on in his childhood (they are classmates), but a fledgling friendship is destroyed by Raghunath, whose ward she becomes.
Raj has never forgotten her though he doesn’t recognise her for his childhood sweetheart when they meet again as young adults. He is on his next ‘job’ and Rita is now a sophisticated young miss.

Later, chased by the police, he ends up seeking refuge in Judge Raghunath’s house; a misunderstanding leads him inside, to his second meeting with Rita. Casually, she informs him that if he was ever in trouble with the police and needed a defence lawyer, she would defend him in court. Raj is taken aback, but Rita explains that she is a lawyer herself. Raj finds it all very humorous. With a judge and a lawyer in the house, all they need to complete the court is a thief, and lo! There he is!

It does not take long for him to realise who she is, and soon, the young people are in love. 
Neither Raghunath's disapproval, conventional morality, nor Raju's own hesitancy prove barriers to their growing closeness. Main chor hoon kaam hai chori duniya mein hoon badnaam he sings, but Rita doesn't believe him. She adores him, does not care about his antecedents, and makes fun of him, until, one day, he snaps. When she teasingly calls him junglee, Raj hits her.
The anger is at once directed at her, and at himself - for the first time in his life, he is ashamed of who or what he is. He even tries to turn her away from him, but she will have none of it. 

Her love means much to him, and he battles his own conscience,  yearning to break free from the chains that hold him back. As Jagga before him, Raj too learns that the path to reform oneself is full of thorns; and Jagga is still there, twisted, vengeful, criminal Jagga, pointing out that the way into crime is a one-way street. 

It is only when Raj gifts her a necklace that Raghunath had bought as a gift for her, that she realises the truth.
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She is heartbroken. Raj withdraws, stricken to the core at the look in Rita's eyes. It does not help that Raghunath despises him for his background, and condemns him as a bastard. Much to the judge's chagrin, even after knowing the truth, Rita is there by Raj's side, exhorting him to change, and supporting him through the challenge.
A further tragedy awaits, and when Raj learns the truth about his parents' estrangement, he goes to Raghunath's mansion to kill him too. There is no love lost between him and his father. Will the bitterness of the past be washed away? Or will he allow his emotions to rule over justice? 

The first film to be shot in the newly built RK Studios, Awara is a great creation from a master director. With his foray into social problems, Raj Kapoor wove skeins of romance and tragedy, crime and punishment, nature and nurture, music and drama into a cohesive whole. The movie had great performances from the two leads, whose chemistry on screen reflected their chemistry in real life. In the scene where Raj, scruffy (and handsome as hell!) chases Rita on the boat, she warns him breathlessly, Aage mat aana, kashti palatke doob jaaoge. He persists (Toh phir?) and she capitulates - Doob jaane do. Romance was never as abandoned, or as magical.
The story was anchored by a towering performance from Prithviraj Kapoor as the embittered father who cannot (or will not) see that he made a heinous mistake many years ago. And he was well-matched. KN Singh turned in an equally powerful performance as Jagga, the man against whom the fates had conspired to turn into Raghunath’s (and his family’s) implacable enemy.

Leela Chitnis had much to do in Awara before she gave up and died. And luckily, she didn’t cry (well, not too much) while doing so. Hers was a nuanced role, wronged wife, supportive mother, and she came up trumps. I do have to put in a pitch for young Shashi – he was scrumpilicious; the most adorable cherub ever. 

Nargis was wonderful in her role as Rita, an independent young woman, educated, self-willed, and surprisingly modern - she loves Raju and sees nothing wrong in premarital sex. (And horror of horrors, she is not even punished for it, except by having to wait for Raju to complete his prison sentence!)
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She is willing to fight for her man, not by singing bhajans in a temple and willing God to change him, but by standing up to the world, including her much-beloved guardian, and entering the ring, no holds barred. 

In the centre of it all is Raj Kapoor, the vagabond whose heart is tamed by the love of a woman, and who has a few lessons to learn himself before he can teach his father that nature vs. nurture is not as simple a concept as the latter thinks. Raj was humorous and savage, penitent and unrepentant, resentful and sorrowful, romantic and passionate – this was a film where he could do no wrong – no, not if he tried. His acting was controlled, the ‘persona’ restrained, the direction deft, the chemistry with his heroine unbeatable. 

The sets were elaborate and realistic, from the dungeon-like prison to the elaborately elegant mansion that Raghunath lives in. Longtime associate Achrekar (art director) was responsible for the sets that included the fantastic dream sequence depiction of heaven and hell.
Cinematographer Raju Kamarkar, another team member, gave us some of the best noir  scenes ever filmed - the dark, slick cobblestone streets, the storm sequence at the beginning of the film, the darkly surreal sets evoking the film's underlying mood.
Awara cannot be mentioned with a word (or two, or thousand) about its music. The film had ten beautiful songs (you can also hear O basanti pavan paagal in the background during the climax). Apart from the consistently high quality of Raj Kapoor's music (everyone agrees that he had a highly developed sense of music, and could play many instruments - and well), Awara showcased some of the best picturised songs in Hindi films. 

One was the bar (not a nightclub) sequence where Cuckoo is dancing to the bawdy encouragement of the regulars who are partially or wholly tipsy. The song is overshadowed by their raucous laughter, and their lewd comments. The sets, the atmosphere, the behaviour is starkly realistic – there are times when the conversation and the laughter overpower the song.
The second, of course, is the famed dream sequence, one of the finest ever picturised - where Raj feels the tug of war between his former life and his aspirations for a better one. He is caught between heaven and hell, as expressed in the brilliant double-sider Tere bina aag yeh chandni / Ghar aaya mera pardesi. It's a song that took three months to shoot, what with its architecture symbolising the steps climbing up to heaven, and the slippery slopes toward hell; a graceful Nargis promising redemption, and a giant KN Singh waiting for Raj to fall.
There is a very interesting incident concerning the recording of this song. You can listen to one of the original musicians recount the anecdote, here

This was scriptwriter KA Abbas' first collaboration with Raj Kapoor; he had originally wanted Mehboob Khan to direct the film with Ashok Kumar and Dilip Kumar playing the roles of father and son. Awara featured four generations of Kapoors - grandfather Dewan Bashwanath Kapoor (as the presiding judge), father Prithviraj Kapoor,  Raj, his brother Shashi, and son Randhir (the little boy under the streetlamp in the credits). This was a master’s tour de force. How many 26-year-olds, then or now, can claim to have visualised such a concept, and brought it to fruition? 

Want to watch it online? Tom Daniel has uploaded a cleaned-up version of the film here.


  1. Yay, I clapped when I saw the poster. I like Awaara, really, I do. Along with Shree 420, those were the only two black and white movies I knew, thanks to Zee TV. I liked it a lot, and my grandma would sit down and find time to watch it. At first it was more of a - my grandma likes it, I guess it's pretty good thing, but then when I started watching old films seriously, I realized why this is considered a classic. My grandma says she likes Shree 420 (I liked the ending a lot, it stayed with me and whenever someone says "-shoots with gun-", I think of the scene and start giggling like a nut. I also love Raj Kapoor's dialogue where he goes - "Yeh ghar hai ke bhool bhulaiya?" When I registered for Facebook in 2008 it was the first quote I thought of. Says a lot, huh? It still proudly sits on top of my huge list of quotes now!) better, but hey, I'm not gonna choose. It's like making me choose between Dev and Rajendra, two of my favorites. Shree 420 was cool, Awaara had awesome plot elements, I really can't choose.

    And yay, long comment!

  2. Glad you like Awara and RK. And isn't it great that we don't have to choose between films? We can like as many of them as we want.

  3. Anu, your description of the film (I mean those last few paragraphs, not just the synopsis) makes me actually feel more kindly disposed towards Awara. Though I like some of the music (and I think Shashi Kapoor was absolutely adorable!), I've been able to bring myself to admire the film, from disliking it. But, admire it though I may, I just can't bring myself to like it.

    Re: RK, I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree! ;-) - barring Chori Chori.

  4. Hmm... I've brought you from dislike to admiration. Surely that is progress? :)

  5. Raj Kapoor had fairly matured a s creative director by Aawara, and yet had mainatined freshness befitting a 26 years old. By Shree 420 he seemd to have mastered the art of showmanship as well, bringing in a shine of polished hand to his movies. Experment he still would, but one can easily see his commercial acumen too wroking alongwith.
    There are many who prefer Shree 420 over Aawara. Barsaaat and Aag have to be viwed not RK movies in the hindsight, but as the forward looking movies when comapared to its peers.
    RK and his team, by and large, would make even a 'typical' outdoor sequence as an indoor shot, and even if your ever probing eyes could detect sets, you would still appreciate the skill, efforts and innovativeness.
    RK and SJ were known to use several background scores of ealier movies as full fledged songs in the later movies. Hence, when we would watch these movies by bunking classes in mid 60s, we would rather forego concentrating some scenes or dialogues so as not to miss any tune which had been used in the later movies! Subtlety of Anuji's observations on these count makes the review even more enjoyable.
    And of couse, he set the blazing trail of grandoise 'dream sequence' from this movie.
    Of course, the directors were quite particular in setting up the song sequence like a T in the movie those days. if Raghunath and Leela would have really listened to the boat song - by Rafi - Naiyaa teri Mazdhar (http://youtu.be/bVcZFXpexzs) - they would never have missed the impending danger!!!

  6. And of course I would join Madhuji in agreeing to disagree - Chori Chori is more a tasty fastfood whereas Awara is like home-cooked health food!
    But I do apprecaite her views, in that I know several more who carry this view. That is why most of RK's THE movies were more appreciated and, even popular, in thier subsequent re-runs

  7. Ashokji, thank you for this detailed comment. In my opinion, the reason Aag and Barsaat are not seen as equal to the later RK movies is that Raj Kapoor had not begun his social commentary yet, though one did see seeds of it in his first movie itself. My admiration for him goes far beyond appreciating him as a director - I look at the stories he chose to tell, the characters he etched, paying close attention not just to the leads but also the minor ones, his eye for detail, the sets, the songs.... If SJ gave such wonderful tunes for RK movies, then the credit has to be shared with Rajji too. I know that Laxmikant-Pyarelal went on record to state that Raj Kapoor had such a large number of tunes banked that the RK banner could make movies for several years without having to have new music composed. I wonder whether any of his children have the same ear for music, though.

    I had to laugh at your last comment - yes, indeed, if only they had listened to the cautionary verses of Naiya teri majhdhar.


  8. Ashokji, you have it right - Chori Chori was frothy chaat; Awara is home-made stuff. I like Chori Chori but, Awara is definitely a better film. Never the matter, we will convert dustedoff slowly.... :)

  9. Like the movie, love the songs! Actually, all this should be in the past tense, as in, say 20 plus years back! I have no idea how I would react today but I suspect I would like the RK of those days a whole lot better than in his latter movies.
    Btw, I just finished watching the movie, Shakti, and came here to look for your review, and can't find it. Where did it go? Or am I imagining that I saw your review of that movie? Whatever you say or do, don't say that it was all my fertile imagination!

  10. Great thoughts, Anu. Well expressed and persuasive. I see you have already succeeded in persuading DO to at least admire if not like ;-).

    Loved Awaara!! Raj Kapoor was quite a criminal looking man here. Shashi Kapoor was really adorable. I like the scene where he asks his mother about the boys who didn't go to school, played around and enjoyed themselves. The mother says they are 'awaara' and Shashi Kapoor answers 'he would like to be an awaara' with that cute smile mixed with innocence. :-D

    And the music!!! Heavenly.

    Now I'm going to post, and only hope that I succeed. :-/

  11. Lalitha, he was to die for, in this film. :)

    No, you are not imagining things! I'm sorry you didn't find the review of Shakti. :( Mea Culpa. I forgot to label it under Reviews, and I forgot to list it in the 'Films' page. Here is the link.

  12. pacifist, I know! I'm making progress! Shashi was adorable wasn't he? Thank you for the compliment.

  13. I detest Raj Kapoor and his (ludicrous copy, rather than homage, I'd say) Tramp version. Todate, I've not quite figured out which RK has the most irritating mannerisms ... Raj K. as the tramp or Rajesh Khanna's tilted head and eye-crinkle cute look. Both of them, unfortunately, have ruined some of the best movies and songs of Hindi cinema with their insistence on playing themselves rather than the role. (Raj Kapoor the director, till he turned into a pandering, self indulgent lech (like Mahesh Bhatt has now) , did come out with some great movies, though).

    (No, I am usually full of the milk of human kindness, I assure you).

    Nonetheless, the review is excellent .. almost made me look with a kindly eye towards the songs, at least : )

  14. I doubt if I'll ever be able to travel that far from dislike to be able to see RK from your eyes, Anu! I've spent 30 years of my life trying to figure out what so many people see in him, and have decided I have better things to do with my time! ;-)

  15. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, Madhu! :) If nothing else, we can surely agree to disagree...

  16. :( :( :(

    Chalo, at least you think that RK did come out with great films. And that my review is excellent... Two out of three is not bad.

  17. I have been reading your reviews regularly, Anu, though I haven't been in much of a mood to comment. I had to, on this, because Awara was appa's favourite film. He loved Raj Kapoor and would have been thrilled to see you review one RK film after another.
    And you don't need me to tell you that your review is excellent, as usual.

  18. True dat! :D And guys, if you have trouble trying to see what's so good about RK, I have trouble trying to see what's so bad about him! Really!

  19. Your father was very encouraging and appreciative of my efforts, Sridhar. My sincere condolences - you must miss him so much. Let's hope he's reading these reviews wherever
    he is; heck, he could be hobnobbing with RK for all we know!

  20. I don't have any trouble either. To me, he is consistently good. :)

  21. Yes, after he got all icky (Like Satyam Shivam Sundaram... oh God.) it was just... no.

    You know, he and Rajendra were in a movie called Do Jasoos? It was a 70's movie... and that too after Sangam. No, just... that's suicide.

  22. True. We'll agree on Dev Anand, Shammi Kapoor, Azaad, etc, and disagree on RK. Kuchh toh farakh hona chaahiye! ;-)

  23. chitrapatsangeet9 July 2012 at 10:41

    I must confess I hate RK on screen. Nothing about him impressed me, nothing at all. Sorry Anu! But, as a director, he pulled off some good movies-RTGM and Prem Rog.

  24. Zaroor. I just wish we weren't disagreeing on RK, though. :( Vaat to do, ve aar laike daat wonly.

  25. Sigh. I'm (almost) becoming inured to being the sole handler of the RK flame. If it weren't for pacifist, Ashokji and Bombaynoir, I would be very discouraged. :( Chalo, at least you think he is a good director. You are the only one I know who thinks of RTGM as a good movie. Exactly like RK's tramp persona, very, very few people can look past Mandakini-under-the-waterfall. :(

  26. I have said before, I am sort of neutral towards Raj Kapoor, neither positive nor negative. Both Awara & Shri 420 had great songs, but I found the movies to be ultimately just once-see.
    In any event, I do believe we need to rise above our personal views; and in that spirit I will acknowledge both Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar as great artists, and Raj as a gifted director. I cannot ignore the fact that Raj enjoyed immense popularity outside India, I have discussed him with several Russians. They always recalled both Awara & Shri 420 rather fondly. A (capitalist) critic may say that socialism and lack of access to Western movies was a common factor, and there may be some truth to that. However, I have also personally observed regard for him among 1970's Iranians who were not socialist and had ample access to Western movies (I can personally verify). And on further reflection, Raj may be the ultimate capitalist, he was an entrepreneur-businessman, founded his studio, provided employment to several talented personalities; all presumably through private funds. That he resorted to socialist ideas to sell tickets for his movies, is just par for the course :); and as history has proved, it was a resounding financial success (except Mera Naam Joker initially).

    Personally, I would rather be an investor in RK films, than a consumer of them :)

  27. chitrapatsangeet9 July 2012 at 16:55

    No way, not for Mandakini under the waterfall, The concept that RK had was that the Ganges starts very pure at the Himalayas, and by the time she reaches Calcutta she becomes so maili, that she is beyond recognition. That exactly is what is portrayed in the movie. I must say that I am in love with several songs of the movie, one of Ravindra Jain's best efforts. Mandakini under the waterfall is RK's age old tested formula of stripping his heroines. Vyjayanthi in Sangam, Padmini in Ang Lag Ja in Mera Naam Joker, or Zeenat in SSS. I dont believe that he was trying to portray innocence in SSS or Mandakini bare-breasted in RTGM, he got it all correct that sex sells.
    When Randhir Kapoor tried to sell Henna, there was a general disappointment that an RK movie and no waterfall scene?

  28. I also think Awara was Raj's best film. And to think he managed that with 26 years. The songs and all fit in so snugly. I enjoyed watching it.
    The end was so ambiguous.
    The only thing which disturbed me was K. N. Singh's transition from being a dehati dacoit to an urban mafia boss of sorts.

  29. Ha, Harvey, you're back! I'm looking forward to your thoughts on Awara now.

  30. Fair enough. :) Especially since there are several actors of whom I feel the same way - good actors, I don't like them. :)
    Personally, I would rather be an investor in RK films, than a consumer of them :)
    Thus speaketh a banker!

  31. See, my issue with the whole Mandakini-under-the-waterfall scene is that it lasts for less than 30 seconds on screen. It is not RK who plastered it all over the posters - it was the distributors. It was not RK who plastered it all over the media - it was the sanctimonious media who wanted everybody to know how depraved RK was - but were hypocritical enough to use that still shot to sell their magazines! Henna was also conceptualised by RK. Randhir only took over because Raj Kapoor died just then.

  32. Arjun Narayanan16 July 2012 at 05:56

    There is something really sweet and endearing about Awara. THe romance looks young whenever you look at it. I think Raj and Nargis looked best in Awara and Shree 420. Do read my post on AWara. IT was published in Indian Express last year....

  33. Raj and Nargis truly had a chemistry that seared the screen. The only other couple who emitted that kind of spark were Dilip Kumar and Madhubala.


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