5 RK Films That Were Far Advanced For Its Times
Ranbir Raj Kapoor, popularly known as Raj Kapoor (he dropped his first name before entering Bollywood) or simply RK, was an iconic figure in Indian cinema. He was nicknamed the ‘Charlie Chaplin of Indian cinema’ since he was seen in many films in roles similar to Chaplin’s Tramp. RK enjoyed a huge fan following not only in his home country India, but also in Russia, Africa, the Middle East, China and many other Asian countries. Today on the occasion of his ninety-second birth anniversary, we explore five RK films which were way ahead of their times and left their mark on not only Indian filmmakers, but also on international cinema in general.
Jaagte Raho (1956): Jaagte Raho, meaning “stay awake” was a landmark film which defined global cinema, since it was one of the world’s first films where separate stories were weaved together in a single film. Raj Kapoor, who plays a village bumpkin on the run in the film, discovers the not-so-respectable lives and activities of ‘respectable citizens’ while he takes refuge in different flats of a particular building to escape from the building’s residents who mistake him for a thief. While modern cinema explored this particular story format of multiple storylines only lately through Love Actually, Salaam-e-Ishq, Bombay Talkies and others, Jaagte Raho enjoyed much success and recognition at that time in the form of a Bengali remake, a Crystal Globe Grand Prix at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and a Certificate of Merit at the National Film Awards.
Mera Naam Joker (1970): This classic film was unique for many reasons. Besides depicting the female protagonist Mary (Simi Grewal) in bold costumes which was considered taboo in Indian cinema, the film also explored the male protagonist’s entire life journey, which was a first. In Mera Naam Joker, Raj Kapoor played a circus clown named Raju who despite personal setbacks and miseries, plays the role of a joker to the hilt, even if it means losing the love of his life and his mother. It truly celebrated Raj Kapoor’s spirit of showmanship and introduced the world-famous dialogue, “The show must go on…” The film, directed by RK himself, also portrayed Raju’s crush on his teacher Mary and dealt with the concept of voyeurism, by depicting his teenage version (played by his son Rishi Kapoor) watching Mary undress in a bush by a lake and later fantasise about her at night. The film was also purported to have one of the biggest budgets and an impossibly long running time of 255 minues and like Raj Kapoor’s earlier film Sangam, had two intervals.
Prem Rog (1982): During an era when widows were looked down upon and ostracised from the society, Raj Kapoor dared to project on celluloid a story about widow remarriage. It explored the relationship between a man who was in love with his mentor’s daughter, but did not reveal his feelings for her due to her high status in the society. However, when exactly one day after their marriage, her husband dies and later she is raped by her brother-in-law, she is forced her to return home. This turn of events pushes the male protagonist to fill joy in her life and marry her despite her widow status, come what may.
Sangam (1964): Besides being Raj Kapoor’s first film in colour and his magnum opus, Sangam had many other elements which distinguished it from other films of its times. Sangam had two intervals and one of the longest running time of 238 minutes. It was also one of the first films which delved into true and steadfast friendship within a love triangle, even before Shah Rukh Khan’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and John Abraham’s New York were conceived. Here, although Sundar (Raj Kapoor) and Gopal (Rajendra Kumar) fall in love with their common childhood friend Radha (Vyjayanthimala) who in turn is in love with Gopal, Gopal sacrifices his love so that Sundar, who is an orphan, can marry her. However after the marriage, Sundar comes to know about his friends’ past love for each other and things turn ugly. But Gopal’s death and the remembrance of Radha’s faithfulness to him forces Sundar to reconsider his marriage with Radha and he begins life anew with her.
Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978): Satyam Shivam Sundaram, directed, produced and narrated by Raj Kapoor, was a powerful and coming-of-age film which addressed partnership and equality in marriage and relationships. The film explored the various facets of love and lust and had Shashi Kapoor and Zeenat Aman in lead roles, who played husband and wife respectively. Zeenat plays a village belle whose face was partially disfigured in her childhood after burning oil fell on it. But Shashi Kapoor, who plays an engineer who has recently arrived to the village, is smitten by her pure and powerful voice and decides to marry her. After the marriage the scarred portion of her face shocks him completely, making him believe that he was fooled into marrying someone else, which prompts him to disown her immediately. But Zeenat does not lose hope and with her face covered, she continues to meet her husband who still pines for her constantly as he does not know his lover and wife are one and the same. At the end of the film, he comes to know the reality and realises how foolish and immature he had been all along to judge his wife based only on her looks and not love her for her character and virtues.