Original release: 1951
Running time: 198 minutes
Original language: Hindi
Director and producer: Raj Kapoor
Writers: Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, V.P. Sathe
Cast: Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Shashi Kapoor, K.N. Singh, Leela Chitnis
Nargis Dutt was the first actress I became consciously aware of as a child. With her wavy dark hair, soulful eyes and knowing smile she was a striking figure in Indian films such as Mother India (1957) and Chori Chori (1956).
As I watched them with my mother she would tell me about the actress’ life and the roles she played and also that she tragically died in 1981 from cancer. With these stories I realised that my mother had a great admiration for Nargis and with little me on her lap as she sat in front of her dresser combing her wavy hair and singing she would tell me people always said she looked like Nargis.
My mother and her four sisters always watched Indian films together; they would laugh, cry, sing and dance to these timeless classics and it was on one of these occasions I remember seeing Awara for the very first time and noticing how much the actress and my mother looked alike. That day it became an immediate favourite of mine and every time I see it, I always have to call her and together we recall those days, long gone but never forgotten.
Awara, directed by and starring “the showman” of Hindi cinema, Raj Kapoor tells the classic story of a vgabond, Raj (Kapoor), who meets his childhood friend Rita (Nargis) for the first time after many years apart. Before Raj was born, his father, the wealthy Judge Raghunath (Prithviraj Kapoor), convicted a man, Jagga (K.N. Singh), of rape with no evidence but only the fact that his father was also a known criminal. In the judge’s eyes bad people are born to bad parents and good people to good parents.
Out of revenge, Jagga kidnaps the judge’s wife, Leela (Leela Chitnis) but after learning she is pregnant he releases her but the judge thinks she has been unfaithful during her kidnap ordeal and throws her out on the street. Leela and the child Raj live in poverty and at school he meets Rita but they become separated when he is kicked out because of his poor attendance.
Raj is then taught the ways of the petty criminal by none other Jagga and when he encounters Rita again he learns that she’s now a lawyer and despite their differences the two fall in love. For her birthday he steals a necklace to give to her and the theft lands him in court and in front of Judge Raghunath who at first doesn’t realise that Raj is his son and is only too happy to convict him based on his long-held beliefs about apples not falling far from the trees.
Of course, I didn’t understand anything of the film’s deeper story when I watched it as a child, but as I got older I began to recognise the social themes Awara was exploring; the divide between rich and poor, injustice and attitudes to women in society. Later on when I began watching the films of Charlie Chaplin I remember thinking how much the little tramp resembled the one from Awara, not realising which one had really come first.
Awara’s themes are pretty hefty and the film itself is a great defence against attacks that Indian cinema has never reflected issues in society because they are so laced with song and dance. With Awara you can appreciate both, the story is one that draws you into the lives of Raj and Rita while asking whether or not criminals are just born bad and whether or not they can be redeemed. As they fall in love and experience both the joy and pain of it, the songs reflect this.
The songs Tere Bina Aag Yeh Chandni and Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi are not only beautiful and captivating to listen to but also to watch as Raj enters a dream world and is met by Rita. With its surreal sets, these songs bring together both Heaven and Hell and redemption and punishment. When the clouds clear to reveal Rita standing there looking like a Goddess, it’s a moment I always remember as a child when my mother and her sisters would all look at each other marvelling at her beauty and grace with tears in their eyes.
Awara continues to hold a special place in my heart and not just for its exquisite cinematography, attention to detail, social themes and songs but also its performances by the Kapoors (the father Prithviraj and his two sons, Raj and Shashi) and the outstanding Nargis whom my mother and I will always marvel at.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .