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If Raj Kapoor’s Sangam was made in 2022, he would be the villain and not the hero. Here’s why

Watching Raj Kapoor-Vyjanthimala's Sangam in 2022, it is evident that this is over three hours of male privilege being shoved down the audience's throat.

raj kapoorRaj Kapoor and Vjayanthimala in Sangam. (Photo: Express Archive)

When Raj Kapoor established RK Films at the age of 24, he was considered a trailblazer. Throughout the 1950s, one film after another, RK Films churned out movies that were loved by the audience, and aside from being entertaining, they were socially conscious. While these films may get a little preachy at times, they forced the audience to examine their surroundings while also initiating a conversation about the problems that the common man was facing. But as the 1960s rolled around, RK Films turned a new chapter. Now, when Raj Kapoor took on the director’s role, he tried a plethora of subjects, some of which haven’t aged as well. The first film that Raj Kapoor made in the decade was his first film in colour. Starring himself, Vyjayanthimala and Rajendra Kumar, the film was Sangam.

Sangam has everything that an RK banner film was known for – great cast, accomplished actors and melodious music. The film even treated its audience to a European vacation via their visuals, which was quite a big deal back in the day as not many movies were shot in foreign locations, and it was a big draw for the cinema-going audience. But upon watching the film again, it is evident that Sangam is over three-hours of male privilege being shoved down the audience’s throat. Allow me to explain why.

Vyjayanthimala’s Radha keeps rejecting Sunder’s advances but he doesn’t stop pushing her buttons.

Sangam has Raj Kapoor playing Sunder, Vyjanthimala playing Radha and Rajendra Kumar playing Gopal. Sunder has been in love with Radha ever since they were little kids, and his obsession has followed him well into their adulthood. So much so that when he asks her if she will ever be with him in the song ‘Bol Radha Bol’, she says a definitive no, but he just won’t take that for an answer. From stealing her clothes as she takes a dip in the lake, to almost manhandling her as she says she is just not into him – he simply does not back off. He shows up at her house when he wants, tricks her into an outing when he feels like it and just assumes that a love letter that she has probably written is meant for him.

Reading this in 2022 must make you feel like Sunder is the villain of this story but that’s where you are wrong – Sunder is the ‘hero’ of this story who faces no repercussions for his actions and is actually ‘rewarded’ in the film. It simply isn’t possible for a film to have only morally righteous characters but when objectionable characters are rewarded for their problematic behaviour, that’s where you start wondering about the conditioning of the Hindi film audience.

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The film’s events take various bizarre turns, which include Sunder becoming an Air Force officer, him going to war so he can prove to Radha that he is worthy and later, him being presumed dead. In the meanwhile, Radha and Gopal, who have been in love from the start but haven’t acted on it because of Sunder’s constant interference, are ready to get married. Well, turns out Sunder isn’t dead and as soon as he returns, Gopal ‘sacrifices’ his love so Sunder can marry Radha. In all of this, there is not even a single scene where Radha is asked about her wishes, and this is the woman who cringed at the thought of being with Sunder. But as it happens in Hindi films that are often written by men, Radha turns into a pativrata patni in just the next scene!

The film does not care what Radha wants, and at no point does it even pretend to care for her.

Radha is metaphorically tossed around between the two best friends, until the last 15 minutes of the film where she finally asks if she will ever have a say in this, but as expected, no one cares what she thinks. The men do as they please and Radha is just supposed to love her husband because that’s what sanskari women do.

It is so jarring to see a female character in a Raj Kapoor film who does absolutely nothing but dreams of being with her lover, or later prances around Europe with her husband. I say jarring because the female characters in films previously directed by Raj Kapoor had purpose and agency. In Awaara, Nargis is a lawyer who also happens to be at the center of the love story. Her profession isn’t just a tag for her but also serves an essential purpose in the story. In Shree 420, Nargis again plays a morally upright school teacher who walks away from her beloved because he is a dishonest man. So it comes as a shock that Vyjanthimala is shown to have absolutely no character arc in the film, other than being someone’s love interest.

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Sunder and Gopal are best friends who both love Radha, but neither cares about her wishes.

Raj’s Sunder, who has all the red flags that one should be looking out for, finally married the woman he has always dreamed of but as soon as that’s done, he is a changed man. On their first anniversary, he finds an old love letter and starts questioning his wife as if she was some stranger. She is heartbroken, embarrassed and wants to prove her innocence, but he implies that she has probably been with other men. And by this point, you question if this ‘hero’ ever deserved the love of his life, and more so, a movie.

Sangam is a love triangle that was meant to appeal to the masses, and the noteworthy part is, it did. The film is still remembered for its evergreen music, and a few years ago, it was reported that the film might be heading for a remake (thank god, we haven’t heard anything more on that front). As problematic as Sangam seems now, it is worth noting that the audience of the 1960s was exposed to a limited worldview, but for a filmmaker of Raj Kapoor’s calibre, who was making more wholesome films in the 1950s, Sangam seems like a step back.

First published on: 29-01-2022 at 08:10:24 am
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