There are three sides to this story. Judge Raghunath (Prithviraj Kapoor) believes, “Shareefon ki aulad hamesha shareef hoti hai aur chor daku ki aulad hamesha chor daku hoti hai.” On the other hand, Raj (Raj Kapoor) believes, “Yeh jo roti hoti hai na, yeh zulmi badi bewafa hoti hai.” He would know, because when he was young (Shashi Kapoor, as the younger Raj, tugs on your heartstrings like only he could), he even took up a part-time job as a boot polish boy just to earn his school fees, but poverty turned him into a thief, and an awara. Then there is the pretty Rita (Nargis), who is caught in the crossfire between her mentor-guardian and childhood sweetheart, and who believes, “Dil kisi kanoon ko nahin samajhta.”
The year was 1951. In Awara, Raj Kapoor saw an opportunity to make a strong social comment on the India that was emerging four years after Independence. In Raj’s own words, “Awara celebrates the innocence of the Republic, newly born, learning to cope with the difficult world.” In the book, Raj Kapoor Speaks, his daughter Ritu Nanda mentions how Raj famously bought the script of Awara from KA Abbas, who had initially offered it to Mehboob Khan. Khan was dilly-dallying on the script and was keen to make it only if he got Ashok Kumar to play the judge and Dilip Kumar the son.
Abbas refused to wait and went to narrate his script to Raj, who sealed it with one word, “Done.” Incidentally, the casting was a risky business for Raj as well. Father Prithviraj famously turned down the role and told his son, “Prithviraj does not play the role of the hero’s father.” Abbas saved the day by retorting, “No, you are not playing the hero’s father. It is Raj Kapoor who is playing the hero’s son.”
In Awara, Raj channelled his Charlie Chaplin tramp avatar — which was quite apt since his character was literally a tramp, born on the footpath. That image of him in the hat and coat, swinging a watch that he’s just stolen as he goes about singing Awara hoon… is imprinted on our collective DNA.
Awara was his third directorial venture after Aag and Barsaat and one has to doff one’s hat to Raj’s sheer range, showmanship and ambition to craft Awara as a three-tier saga. Awara is as much a social film on the nature versus nurture debate, as it is a father-son confrontation drama, but at its heart, it’s a beautiful, noble love story. This completeness of Awara is, perhaps, the reason why it was included in Time’s 100 all-time greats and was the Grand Prize nominee at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953.
The romance of Awara is about being a better man, it’s about fighting for legitimacy and a right to have an equal future. It’s a classic father-son story. Even though he hates his father for throwing his pregnant mother on the street on the basis of suspicion, the son asks him, “Tumhare man ki adalat ka kya faisla hai.” The film is also about a woman’s fight to bring out the potential of the man she loves in front of the world. After the necklace gift scene, when she comes to know that the man she loves is a thief, Rita tells Raj: “Achche ho, bure ho, nirdosh ho, apradhi ho, jo bhi ho tum mere ho.”
Raj and Nargis did on screen what only they could. When they meet after 12 years, they stare longingly into each other’s eyes. She says, “Kitne badal gaye ho tum.” He replies, “Aur tum zara bhi nahin badli.” She wants to know, “Kahan kho gaye they Raj?” He says, “Tumhari talaash mein.” Sigh.
Then there is the famous beach moment — Nargis rocks a one-piece swimsuit — where she calls him a “junglee” and he slaps her four times and she throws herself at his feet. I’ve never made peace with the slaps or Nargis’s happy abdication that “maarna chahte ho toh lo maar lo”. I don’t even buy Raj’s inner turmoil, which he articulates as, “Kisse maaroon? Tumhe ya apne aap ko?” I get it that he’s awara, and it gnaws at him that he doesn’t deserve the love of this woman, but the slaps still rankle. What makes it okay is the beautiful man-woman conversation that follows as the lovers croon Dum bhar jo udhar mooh phere. That one expression by Shailendra, Chand ko chanda roz hi dekhe, meri pehli raat, makes this song unforgettable for me.
Then there is Ghar aaya mera pardesi — regarded as India’s first dream sequence song — that earned French dancer Madame Simkie a mention in the main titles for the “Dream Sequence Dance Direction”. Awara was the first film to be shot in RK Studios and it’s a film that travelled continents. The love for Awara in Russia was well documented when the film’s lead pair visited the country. n
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