Bollywood Rewind | Awara: Nature versus education
In this weekly column, we revisit the gems of the golden years of Hindi cinema. This week, we revisit the film Awara by Raj Kapoor in 1951.
Awara is the story of a man who comes to the other side of the tracks but who, unbeknownst to him, has been the subject of a cruel experience of nature against nourishment from birth. Raj, played by Raj Kapoor, grew up in the back streets of Mumbai and accepted his Awara way of life as the only way to live. When he sings “Gharbaar nahi sansar nahi, mujhse kisi ko pyaar nahi” in the song “Awara Hoon”, he is not looking for sympathy, but in fact, he has made peace with what little he has in life.
Unlike many around him, who steal and swindle for money, Raj has a conscience buried deep under the scars of his survival that led him from prison to prison throughout his teenage years. Consciousness rises when he meets his childhood friend who fell in love with Rita, played by Nargis, and realizes that all is not yet lost. The struggle of good against evil in him makes the struggle of the protagonist here.
Awara’s central conflict is that of nature versus education. Raj’s biological father, Judge Raghunath, played by his real father Prithviraj, separated from his wife during her pregnancy because he was tricked into believing the child might not be his. It deeply marks his ego as he believes that a man’s life is dictated by his lineage. Since there is no way to get rid of his doubt, he decides to throw his wife out and she ends up giving birth to her baby on the street, literally.
Raj doesn’t know much about his father. His mother told him that he was a good man and that he also wanted him to be a respected man, but the system left him with no choice but to steal and make his way through life. Stuck in the cycle of poverty, he is berated for being a Awara even when he decides to walk the path of honesty. At one point, Raj even asks his employer that if he never gets the chance to make a living honestly, how will he ever become a man capable of living an honest life? India was a fairly young country when Awara was released in 1951 and the film tells a story that is very much in tune with its time, given the country’s economic situation.
It is Rita’s presence, even as a photograph that reminds Raj of the sincere person he was a child. That is why it is necessary to examine how she is portrayed throughout the film. Although her character is presented as an independent woman, it’s her portrayal in her romantic relationship that seems a little shocking.
In an important scene from the film, Raj slaps Rita in the face as she calls her “junglee”. While she playfully says it, he takes it personally and is violently disturbed by it. It is obvious that Raj is a scarred man who has never learned to deal with his insecurities, but the way he treats Rita is unfair. But it’s Rita’s reaction to this situation that makes the scene even more uncomfortable. She bows and surrenders.
The role of a woman in this society was clearly not equal to that of a man. We cannot guarantee this with confidence in 2021, so there is no point in disputing this in the early 1950s. For the filmmaker, he conceived Rita as the confident woman, able to face the world, is a well-educated lawyer but bow down to his man in case of need. Nargis has the kind of onscreen presence in this movie that’s impossible to ignore. Her chemistry with Raj is palpable and their love affair is one that instantly takes hold of you, right down to the aforementioned scene, and from there you start to question Rita’s conditioning in this society that has her. placed under a man and forced her to take on a role where she will never be respected the way she deserves.
Awara was a landmark film in Raj Kapoor’s career. The film was celebrated for its music by Shankar Jaikishan and its lyrics by Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri. The song from the dream sequence “Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi”, the very first in Hindi cinema, will always leave you in awe of its imaginative performance. It is said that Raj Kapoor’s character here was an ode to Charlie Chaplin, but revisiting the film now, you realize that while there are some similarities, the filmmaker deserves to be recognized for creating an original character. deeply rooted in the local environment.
Awara is set at a time when breaking out of the vicious cycle of poverty was almost impossible and, oddly enough, times have not changed much over the past 70 years.
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Awara is streaming on ShemarooMe.
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