Feature Length Films

Mr. Khan’s Review on Awāra (1951)

A review on Indian melodrama feature length classic film, Awāra (1951). The film is directed and produced by Raj Kapoor and stars the famous onscreen couple of Raj Kapoor and Nargis. The film is an All Indian Film Corporation production and is also produced and distributed by R.K.Films.

+ Crew

  • Directed by Raj Kapoor 
  • Cinematography by Radhu Karmakar
  • Written by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas
  • Music by Shankar-Jaikishan
  • Edited by G.G. Mayekar
  • Produced by Raj Kapoor

+ Note

Awāra is considered to be one of the greatest, all time classic of Bollywood cinema and also a film that solidified Raj Kapoor’s influence on Indian Cinema. It tackles themes like crime and social issues, accompanied by musical melodrama. Upon its release, Awāra became an instant sensation not just in India but also overseas in Africa, Middle east and the Soviet Union for its socialist/ reformist approach on poverty and lack of social justice for the common man. The film is estimated to have sold over 200 Million tickets worldwide and considered to be one of the most successful films of all time. In 2012, the film was even included into the 20 new entries added to the All-Time 100 greatest films by TIME magazine.

+ Main Cast

  1. Raj Kapoor as Raj
  2. Shashiraj as Young Raj (child artist)
  3. Nargis as Rita
  4. Baby Zubeida as Young Rita
  5. Prithviraj Kapoor as Judge Raghunath (Raj’s father)
  6. K. N. Singh as Jagga
  7. Cuckoo as Bar dancer
  8. B. M. Vyas as Dubey (Rita’s father)
  9. Leela Misra as Mr. Raghunath’s Sister-In-Law
  10. Leela Chitnis as Leela Raghunath
  11. Honey O’Brien as Dancer
  12. D. Basheshernath (Grand Pa) as a Judge

+ Plot

The film is a quintessential Bollywood melodrama; a young boy named Raj (Raj Kapoor) is born in the slums of India after his mother was rejected by his biological father (Prithviraj Kapoor) due to the suspicion of having an extramarital affair with another man. While living the life of a petty criminal, Raj has a change of heart when he meets the love of his life, Rita (Nargis) who is his childhood friend but is brought up in a higher social class. Will an alleged son of a criminal remain one by association or can one change himself for the better? Will Raj be able to successfully redeem himself or is doomed to live the rest of his life as a petty thief? 

+ High Points

i – The Raj Kapoor/ Nargis duo is and will always be one for the ages. The enigmatic onscreen chemistry that these two permeate will remain unmatched.

ii – Whenever Raj Kapoor is onscreen, his magnetic personality will always draw you into the film. No matter if you’re a Bollywood fan or not, his wit and charm is unparalleled with anyone else that has graced the silver screen of Bollywood.

iii – Awāra was the beginning of the creative collaboration between Raj Kapoor and Khwaja Ahmad Abbas who made several films together after this, spanning almost 30 years of work together. When analysing its script, direction, music and performances; one cannot be much surprised as to why their minds came together so well, time and time again.

iv – Some of the most memorable songs that we all know and love originate from this film; “Awaara Hoon”, “Tere Bina Aag Yeh Chandni”, “Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi”, sung by the great Lata Mangeshkar. Shankar Jaikishan’s composition is in a league of its own and Awāra’s Soundtrack really solidified its place in the early decades of Bollywood cinema.

v – Awāra stars generations of Kapoor family all in one film; Raj Kapoor plays the protagonist, his real life father Prithviraj Kapoor plays his father, Raj’s brother Shashi Kapoor plays Raj’s younger self and finally, Raj’s grandfather D. Basheshernath also has a cameo role as the Judge in the film. Since they were so familiar with each other’s acting skills, the Kapoor family played off one another with such ease and surprisingly, this conglomerate of Nepotism never proved to be detrimental to the film.

vi – Some of the superimposition of pictures and sequences to visually depict grief and longing are very clever and innovative for its time. 

vii – A man who is born in criminal lifestyle destined to become a criminal?  Does he deserve redemption for his wrongdoings? Will he ever be accepted by society? The social issues addressed in the film were and are still very relevant in the modern day.

viii – The ending is surprisingly very convincing and well written. It refuses to be seduced by the typical “Bollywood happy ending” and leaves a slight question mark in our hearts and minds.

ix – The gritty Set Design of the slums of India, rain sequences convey gorgeously the feeling of emotional solitude and isolation.

+ Low Points

i – Although the film is mostly entertaining, it does drag on from time to time, namely the childhood sequence which could’ve been easily reduced for the betterment of the film as a structural, coherent narrative.

ii – The melodrama and dialogue can be very tacky and eye rolling at times. 

iii – Jagga as the antagonist is incredibly silly, does not pertain to have the viciousness and imminent threat that a Bandit should have. One could easily compare him to Gabbar Singh from Sholay (1975) who had the ruggedness and tenacity of being Evil. Even during his most menacing scenes, Jagga comes off goofy and has definitely not aged well.

iv – So as the main plot of the film goes, Jagga kidnaps the Lawyer’s wife because he wrongfully accused Jagga of his crime. When Jagga finds out that the lawyer’s wife is pregnant, he decides to let her go back to her husband in order to create a misunderstanding that perhaps she had an affair with Jagga while being in his vicinity. Okay… but what if she had already told her husband before the kidnapping that she was pregnant? Jagga didn’t know that, how was he so sure that she didn’t? The catalyst to the plot apparently has no strong basis to it.

v – Although the dream sequence contains one of the most memorable Bollywood song of all time “Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi”, it does bring the whole film to a halt and disrupts the overall flow of the narrative. The costumes design and makeup of “savages” in the dream sequence have also unfortunately not aged too well.

+ Overall

It certainly goes without saying that Awāra will always remain a classic and a pinnacle of artistry in Bollywood cinema. Even after Sixty plus years, it has certainly stood the test of time. Although the melodrama is laid on thick, the charm lies in its performances by the two main leads (Raj Kapoor and Nargis) and the timeless songs of yesteryear. If the modern audiences can get past the “Black and White”-phobia, this timeless classic has a lot to offer. 

Rate: 4 out of 5 stars

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