In this weekly column, we revisit gems from the golden years of Hindi cinema. This week, we revisit the 1956 release Jagte Raho.
When Raj Kapoor established RK Films in 1948, he was only 24 years old. Soon after, his banner gave films like Awaara, Shree 420, Boot Polish and RK Films became a studio that was held in high regard. In its heydays, Raj Kapoor decided to produce Sombhu Mitra and Amit Maitra directed Jagte Raho, a film where he played the lead role, but hardly had any dialogues. Written by KA Abbas, the film was a brave attempt by the makers who chose an experimental path to tell a poignant story.
Jagte Raho is the story of a nameless, homeless man who just wants to have some water and quench his thirst. Set across one night in a residential complex, Jagte Raho follows the man, played by Raj Kapoor, who is mistaken for a thief by the cops and finds himself stuck amid a group of self-proclaimed vigilantes.
The nameless man is assumed to be a thief because he was seen running in panic. No one really saw him steal anything but in the process of hiding in the different apartments of the building, he sees the truth of the so-called respectable citizens who live dishonest lives. He finds that those who pretend to be the guardians and moral gatekeepers of society are hollow and empty, and are living dual lives. Watching the hypocrisy of these educated men leaves him baffled as he gets a glimpse of the uncivilised society of the civilised people.
Released in 1956, Jagte Raho is set in a time when India was still a newly independent country. Yet, the state of the country is shown to be such that a poverty-stricken man cannot even get some water to quench his thirst. In a significant moment in the film, Raj’s character is stuck behind some bars of a metal gate when he sees a stray dog drinking some water from a broken tap. His reaction at that moment is pitiful. As he crawls under the gate just to get a few drops of water, you are reminded of your privileges. But, to his hard luck, he can’t even get a single drop.
As the nameless man runs from apartment to apartment, trying to hide himself, he sees the naked truth of society and is thoroughly disturbed by it. In one of the apartments, he sees an alcoholic man mistreating his wife and in another he sees a man stealing from his own house so he can gamble. In one apartment, he finds counterfeit currency and another situation has him witnessing people quarreling over an empty barrel.
Directed by Sombhu Mitra and Amit Maitra, this RK Films production was one of the most unique films made by the production house. The banner was witnessing its golden period as Shree 420 had just been released and Raj Kapoor was the man with a midas touch. His persona of Charlie Chaplin-inspired ‘tramp’ was loved by the audience, but in Jagte Raho, it was shot with a darker lens. The directors also made this film with the same star cast in Bangla, Ek Din Raatre.
Raj Kapoor’s personality was also given a makeover for this film. Unlike his other characters, he doesn’t go around flashing his smile with adorable expressions. His face has an unkempt look, and even his eyes look desperate and empty. Unlike his other optimistic characters, this man has lost hope after experiencing a night of terrors. At one point, his nameless man is holding on to a rope on the side of the high-rise building where on one end, the mob has lit the rope on fire and the other end has men cutting the rope so he falls down and dies.
Jagte Raho is an immersive experience with its precise storytelling and stellar acting, but it is the music of the film that adds a layer of hope to an otherwise bleak story. “Jaago Mohan Pyaare” is one of the most popular tracks from the film that is still well known. Composed by Salil Choudhary with lyrics by Shailendra and Prem Dhawan, other tracks include “Zindagi Khawab Hai”, “Main Koi Jhoot Boleya.”
Jagte Raho is one of those Raj Kapoor films that deserves a lot more attention than it gets. Watching it in 2021, it might not feel contemporary but it is still a heart-wrenching story that could be placed anywhere in the world, in any era, and still make you root for the protagonist.
Jagte Raho is streaming on ZEE5.