Sunday, June 29, 2014

Awara / The Vagabond (1951)

Raj Kapoor, Nargis
आवारा / Katkera rakkaus (Finnish 1955 release title). IN 1951. D: Raj Kapoor. Story: K. A. Abbas, V. P. Sathe. SC: K. A. Abbas. DP: Radhu Karmakar. ED: G. G. Mayekar. AD: M. R. Achrekar. M: Shankar Jaikishen. Songs: Hasrat Jaipuri, Shailendra. C: Prithviraj Kapoor (Raghunath padre), Nargis (Rita), Raj Kapoor (Raj Raghunath), K. N. Singh (Jagga), Shashi Kapoor (Raj da giovane), Cuckoo, B. M. Vyas (Dubey, il padre di Rita), Leela Misra (la cognata di Raghunath), Baby Zubeida (Rita da giovane), Leela Chitnis (Leela Raghunath). P: Raj Kapoor per R. K. Films. 35 mm. 168’. B&w. Hindi version with English subtitles. From:  Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox. Courtesy of TIFF Bell Lightbox, as part of “Raj Kapoor and the Golden Age of Indian Cinema” curated by Noah Cowan and organized by TIFF, IIFA, and RK Films, with the support of the Government of Ontario
    Dream sequence choreography: Madame Simkir.
    Introduced by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur.
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 29 June 2014)
INDIAN NEWS REVIEW NO. 550. IN 1959. 35 mm. 9’. B&w. Versione hindi / Hindi version. From: Films Division of India. - Dalai Lama in India. Sound missing, e-subtitles in Italian and English. Low contrast.

Kumar Shahani (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website: "Indian cinema stepped out into the world with Awara, which captivated audiences not only in India but in Soviet Russia, China, and the Arab countries as well. The hugely popular title song "Awara hoon" (I’m a vagabond) represents a first outing for the character, loosely modelled on Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp that Raj Kapoor played in subsequent films. The film’s plot, which has been described as an ‘Oedipal melodrama’, deals with a respectable judge who turns his pregnant wife out of his house, suspecting her of infidelity. Their son Raju grows up in the slums to become a rootless vagabond who lives by his wits. Falling in love with the judge’s ward, he comes into conflict with his father, played in the film by Raj Kapoor’s own father, the veteran Prithviraj Kapoor."

Turning Modern Mythology on Its Head

"The apprehension of beauty brings both danger and desire. The danger becomes the Chorus and desire becomes Oracular. Of epic history is born peasant tragedy. The redemption, of course, is in love. It rises above the medieval arches of oppressive regimes, hewn in stone, alien to the nation. The heavy black tones weigh down upon all who see freedom. Outside is the real abode of the savage jungle."

"The fragrant lotus that embeds the feminine, also brings forth the spirit of the wild Awara."

"Thus the personal poetry of Raj Kapoor, vagabond-flâneur, surrounded by kitschy signals of heaven and hell, the mythical imperatives of mass communication, iconised both as rebel and dictator."

"The phenomenal success of both Chaplin and Raj Kapoor lies perhaps in the fact that both of them identified themselves with the disenfranchised, finding in them the truth and beauty of simplicity
and innocence. They inverted the processes of identification that mainstream cinema manufactured to formula. Raj Kapoor was harassed by his distributors to fracture his own telos later on in life when he carried his autobiographical concerns into the wide sweep of history, just as Chaplin, in a manner, was exiled from the State that proclaimed the law of the Father."

"The destiny of the patriarch seems to be the destruction of his beloved and their progeny, as it is of the state to annihilate its own people, equal in moral terms, unequal in every other. Raj Kapoor made his own father Prithviraj play this figure, an act of daring that no other Oedipus of our times may have undertaken. He made the father apologize to all citizens of the world for the blind rule of Law, albeit to the wounded, shrouded mother in death’s throes."

"The scenes of adolescent love in Raj Kapoor’s films have all the innocence and freshness of first love, the first kiss, the first consummation, like an illumination, the discovery of the other that is
the fountainhead of knowledge without guilt or remorse."

"Perhaps therein lies the felicity of his address to every human heart, across the ideological divides, cultural differences and learned prejudices that hide our sacred nudity from ourselves and those
whom we love."
Kumar Shahani (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA: A melodrama, a musical, a dream play.
    A film of delirium, naivism, and atavism.
    The melodrama element resembles early 1900s British bestsellers by Hall Caine (filmed by Maurice Tourneur, Victor Sjöström, and Alfred Hitchcock) and the first film by Carl Th. Dreyer, The President. They are about a judge who has committed the supreme crime.
    The story is about a twin injustice: the judge Raghunath (Prithviraj Kapoor) throws out his wife who he suspects of having gotten pregnant by the bandit Jagga.
    The son Raj (Raj Kapoor) then grows up in the slums of Bombay, and although his mother sacrifices everything to give him a good education, he is thrown out of the school because he is fatherless, lives in the slum, and polishes boots to finance his education. Even Rita, his best childhood friend, is moved elsewhere. Behind both deprivations - school and Rita - is probably Raghunath. Society gives Raj no chance. He is bullied and harassed and lands in the criminal gang of nobody else than Jagga.
    12 years later he rediscovers (in extremely embarrassing circumstances) Rita (Nargis) who is now Raghunath's stepdaughter and also studying law to become "a lawyer, a magistrate, a judge".
    A story of twin parricide: Raj finally kills Jagga who has been his father-educator, and tries to kill Raghunath, the biological father who disowned him and did his utmost to sabotage him.

The camera is mobile, the approach is oneiric, the crane is roaming in the vast spaces.
    Hunger can make one mad. In her hunger, also mother gets delusional. When the son tries to steal bread (Les Misérables), the police catches him, and that's the start of the spiral of crime.
    The dance at the underword café is an Indian counterpart to the Parisian Apache dance.
    The palace of Raghunath and Rita is full of gorgeous nude statues of full-figured women.
    "He never spares criminals". - "Let God spare him."
    Prithviraj Kapoor looks like Tauno Palo, the greatest Finnish star.
    The song to the moon is the memorable dual love anthem.
    The climax of the film is Raj's long nightmare sequence, an astounding musical production number.
    There are obvious Charles Chaplin hommages, for instance to A Dog's Life, but Chaplin should never be imitated... The English title of this film could more fittingly be The Tramp.
    At Rita's birthday party Raj's life as a thief is brutally exposed. "A necklace without a box." "A box without a necklace".
    The last straw: Raghunath drives accidentally over his ex-wife's head. She dies at the hospital bandaged like a mummy.
    "The law does not follow the heart." "The heart does not follow the law".

A tinted print, mostly sepia, for a while blue. It looks like it has been struck from challenging, sometimes worn sources. Not brilliant, with joins, yet giving an engrossing experience of a passionate film.

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