Raj Kapoor, not only director and star of the film but also studio head, was only twenty-six when Awaara premiered. It was his third film. He got his early start by growing up in a family closely associated with Indian cinema. His father, Prithviraj Kapoor, was in Alam Ara (1931), the first Indian talking picture, and was a movie star as Raj grew up. From an early age Raj knew he wanted to be a filmmaker. "When I wanted to leave school, [my father] asked me, 'Why do you want to leave?' I said, 'Sir, if I graduate, what happens? If you want to become a lawyer, you go to a law college; if a doctor, you to go a medical college; and if you want to be a film-maker, where do you go?'" From there Raj spent ten years working in every department at the studio from the film lab to sweeping the floors, learning everything there was to know about moviemaking.
Kapoor started his own studio, RK Films, in 1947 with money he had saved. Keeping down costs led him to the multi-tasking of both directing and starring in his films. Kapoor may also have been inspired by western filmmakers. He loved the photography in Orson Welles' movies and forced his cameramen to give his films the strong, shadowy lighting Welles used even though it was not typical Indian style.
This look fit well with the story of Awaara. A stern judge, who considers crime a matter of genetics, throws his wife out of the house when he thinks she has become pregnant by an escaped convict. The child is actually his, but as the boy grows up in an Indian slum, he becomes an unwitting test case in the argument against genes or environment as the source of crime.
Kapoor plays the boy as a grown man, a tramp with more than a touch of another of Kapoor's favorite filmmakers, Charlie Chaplin. The happy-go-lucky, comically crooked vagabond with an intense romantic attachment to a girl he once met in childhood made Kapoor one of the most popular stars in Indian movies. For other roles, Kapoor enlisted from his own family, even netting his real father Prithviraj to play his film father. Prithviraj was at first hesitant to play the unsympathetic judge: "Prithviraj does not play the role of the hero's father." He relented and was acclaimed for this character part. Another family member in the cast is Shashi Kapoor, Raj's younger brother, who plays the hero as a child.
One of the movie's most famous scenes was a late addition. Feeling the movie needed something more to lift the picture from its bleak slum settings, Kapoor staged an elaborate musical number straight from a Busby Berkeley film. Taking three months to shoot, this sequence makes more blatant the plot's echoing of Hindu religious themes such as the story of how Lord Rama, the god that oversees the caste system, banished his pregnant wife Sita.
Awaara's mix of street realism, comedy, tragedy and songs seems an odd combination but its success proves Kapoor's sure touch combining different genres. "Many people have asked why I have music, soap operas, a hotchpotch of everything. To whom am I catering? I am not making films for drawing-room conversation. I am making films to entertain the millions of this country. So I have my music, I have romanticism, a beautiful script, dancing, nice visuals and there we are! All is well and everybody is happy and God is great!"
Those wishing to know more about the life and work of Raj Kapoor are encouraged to visit the website maintained by his family at RajKapoorIndia.com.
Producer/Director: Raj Kapoor
Screenplay: Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, V.P. Sathe (story)
Cinematography: Radhu Karmakar
Film Editing: G.G. Nayekar
Art Direction: M.R. Achrekar
Music: Jaikishan Dayabhai Pankal, Shankarsinh Raghuwanshi
Principal Cast: Raj Kapoor (Raj Raghunath), Nargis (Rita), Prithviraj Kapoor (Judge Raghunath), K.N. Singh (Jagga), Shashi Kapoor (Raj as a boy).
by Brian Cady