Mehboob’s Andaaz (1949) made Raj a top star and in the same year it was the passionate romance Barsaat which really reckoned Raj Kapoor as a director of much merit. Barsaat, a runaway hit, also brought to the limelight new music directors Shankar-Jaikishen, lyricists Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri and the actress Nimmi. The raw passion between Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Barsaat shot with a beautiful almost poetic use of light and shade drove audiences wild. The music of the film was hummed across the nation and along with Andaaz and Mahal that year, the songs were instrumental in Lata Mangeshkar’s climb to the top as a playback singer.
In fact Raj Kapoor’s musical sense and feel for rhythm and involvement in music sittings have ensured the highest quality of music in his films.
The fifties saw Raj Kapoor’s greatest work as a Producer‑Director besides establishing himself as one of India’s biggest ever film stars along with Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar-the Trimurthi! Awaara (1951), the tale of a vagabond was perhaps his greatest triumph and was released in Russia as Bradyaga to unprecedented success. It’s dream sequence with huge statues set amongst the clouds to the strains of Nargis dancing to Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi is a cine-east’s delight even today! With Awaara, Raj Kapoor created the Chaplinisque tramp, an allegory for the innocent state of mind of the post Independent Indian. This image was used once again in Shree 420 (1955) tracing the corruption of an innocent soul who comes to the city to make his living. In fact. many of Raj’s other films look at the naove simple hero used by a cruel and corrupt society like Anadi (1959).
After his break up with Nargis (their last film together was AVM’s Chori Chori (1956) though she did do a in Jaagte Raho (1956). Chori Chori was directed by Anant Thakur and produced by AVM Film company from Madras. This could explain why the film was based in the South as the hero and heroine travel all over the countryside from Madras to Bangalore. Chori Chori was inspired by Frank Capra’s 1934 comedy-It Happened One Night starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. This kind of comedy was a genre that was extremely popular in the 1930s till the grim realities of World War II made their presence felt. Comedies generally worked on the battle of the sexes as the hero and heroine gave it to each other before finally falling in love. Their bickering and fighting with each other as they exchanged barbs and double entendres is what constituted the fun element of the film.
The key character in this battle of the sexes would be the heiress. She was often dizzy, saucy, flighty who fled from homes, jilted bridegroom at the altar and generally carried on with total disregard for the existence of breadlines and unemployment. Thus she was used humorously in such films as an object of contempt and ridicule. Of course by the end of the film not only does the hero snag the heiress but through him she is also humanized to see normal life and normal people quite unlike herself. And when she has to escape with the hero when her father’s detectives land up there is by behaving normal, as the normal wife of the normal hero. And during the film the hero takes on the weight of becoming the very image of the people revealing them in the process of revealing himself to the haughty, upper class heroine.
Chori Chori is a typical example of what constitutes a road film. While a popular genre in Hollywood, India has never really embraced this format and the efforts have been few-Bombay to Goa (1972) or Dil Hai ki Maanta Nahin (1992) which incidentally was also a remake of It Happened One Night and Roman Holiday combined.
Perhaps this is so because the road is an enduring theme in American culture. The road movie I in this regard like the musical or the Western, a Hollywood genre that catches peculiarly American dreams, tensions and anxieties.
Nargis is a revelation in the film as the dizzy heiress. She proves she can play screwball comedy as effectively as she could her intense dramatic roles. It is a fine perfomance with her sense of comic timing spot on. See her as the puppet in the Jahaan Main Jaati Hoon song. It is Nargis’s sense of razor sharp timing that offsets her inability. She carries off the song sequence excellently by her expressions. Raj Kapoor of course had born comic talent. He is absolutely perfect in the role of the impoverished journalist Sagar. Chori Chori marks yet another land-mark in Raj Kapoor’s illustrious acting career. Pran does his familiar bad man turn with relative ease. They are more than strongly supported by the comic element of the film-Gope, Johnny Walker and Bhagwan.
Chori Chori represents some of the finest work of Shankar-Jaikishen in their entire career. The evergreen musical score with lyrics by Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri ensured Shankar-Jaikishen their first ever Filmfare Award for Best Music. The film has brilliant songs with each song better than the other. First and foremost are the two all time great Lata Mangeshkar-Manna Dey romantic duets Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi and Aaja Sanam Madhur Chandni Mein Hum. With Mukesh trying his hand to be an actor this was the phase when Manna Dey briefly sang as the voice of Raj Kapoor in films like Shree 420 and Chori Chori.
As one hears Manna Dey one cannot but think sadly that the film industry never really gave this great singer his due. He was always regarded a poor second to Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore, Talat or Hemant Kumar which is a pity because Manna Dey was such a fine singer with an extremely strong classical base himself. Lata Mangeshkar of course leaves her stamp on the film with perhaps her greatest sad song ever-Rasik Balma. It is perhaps technically the best composition of the film and the emotion and pathos with which Lata renders this song is unbelievable. Only such a gifted singer could give such expression to words like Lata could
While Raj Kapoor continued to explore social issues-Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (with Padmini & Pran) (1960) or complex human relationships-Sangam (Raj-Rajendra Kumar-Vyjayantimala) (1964) there is a marked difference in his treatment of the heroine who became a sex object with a high accent on her physical attributes! Reverting back to the Chaplinisque image, Kapoor made his magnum opus Mera Naam Joker (Raj-Kapoor, Dharmendra, Rajednra Kumar, Dara Singh, Manoj Kumar, Padmini, Simmi, Sonia Sahni, Pran, Rishi Kapoor) (1970) about the circus-joker who laughs on the outside and cries within and though absolutely brilliant in parts (particularly the first chapter of the adolescent hero discovering love and sex) the film, a highly self indulgent exercise flopped miserably at the box office shattering him.
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