The work of actor, director and Hindu megastar, Raj Kapoor with a season of eight newly restored prints.
It includes Fire (1948), My Name is Joker (1970), a Kings College lecture from Rachel Dwyer and a four day course entitled Super Tramp Hindustani-Style.
Raj Kapoor was one of the giants of Indian cinema, and is synonymous with the rise of the Bollywood.
Largely unknown in Europe and North America – except of course to millions of fans of South Asian descent – Kapoor is revered not only in his homeland but throughout the former Soviet world, the Middle East and beyond for the films he made during the Golden Age of Indian cinema.
Beginning his career as an actor as part of his father Prithviraj’s famed theatre company, Raj moved into small film roles beginning in 1935, before founding RK Films in 1948 and making his debut feature as producer, director and star with Fire, in which he shared the lead for the first time with his on-screen muse Nargis.
Deriving his screen persona from the smirk and swagger of Clark Gable, the heightened emotions and showmanship of Gene Kelly, and – most importantly – Charlie Chaplin’s underdog heroism and sense of pathos, Kapoor rapidly became the biggest superstar in Indian cinema.
Chaplin’s Little Tramp is the clear precursor for Kapoor’s most famous screen character: the vagabond in a too-tight suit, observing the bustling world around him with wide-eyed wonder.
Unlike Chaplin, however, Kapoor moved his Indian-ised tramp (variously known as Raj, Raju or Rajan) up and down the social ladder, and into surprisingly unpleasant incarnations: self-obsessed artists, whiny rich guys and, in his maudit masterpiece My Name Is Joker (1970).
Meanwhile, Kapoor’s stylistic innovations as a director helped set the template for the Bollywood film as it is today.
The BFI Southbank is open to all. BFI Southbank Box Office tel: 020 7928 3232 or see www.bfi.org.uk/southbank.
FULL LIST OF PROGRAMME.
>> Fire Aag.
India 1948. Dir Raj Kapoor. With Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Kamini Kaushal.138min. Hindi with EST. U.
Kapoor’s first film as director and star, the brooding, noir-ish Fire often feels like a 1930s Hollywood melodrama with an expressionistic twist, and with a distinct influence from Citizen Kane in its complex flashback structure.
Kapoor stars as a theatre producer obsessed with the twinned ideas of ideal beauty and self-sacrifice, who meets and falls in love with three women named Nimmi at different phases of his life.
In each instance she is taken away from him, destroying his dream of playing opposite her on stage for the rest of their lives.
Wed 1 Feb 17:30 NFT1, Sat 4 Feb 20:20 NFT2.
>> Monsoon Barsaat.
India 1949. Dir Raj Kapoor. With Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Prem Nath. 171min. Hindi with EST. U Kapoor’s first mega-hit shuttles between the stories of a romantic idealist and his more carnally-driven best friend, who both meet and romance the daughters of innkeepers.
Set in part against the gorgeous landscapes of Kashmir, Monsoon is beautifully shot, its black-and-white images constantly moving into deep focus and silhouette and elevating the star-crossed lovers to objects of veneration. The film also foregrounded the whisper within Indian commercial cinema, a type of intimacy and emotional dimensionality barely known on screen at the time.
Fri 3 Feb 19:45 NFT2, Sun 5 Feb 15:00 NFT2.
>> Super Tramp Hindustani-Style.
Writer and programmer Behroze Gandhy leads a four-night course to complement our season of newly restored prints of the films of Hindi megastar, producer, director and all-round showman Raj Kapoor, whose influences included Chaplin, Capra and Vittorio De Sica, evidenced in his films’ humour and social critique.
With his creation of a picaresque Indian tramp in a newly independent India, and his formal innovations, Kapoor played a pioneering role in making Hindi cinema the industry that it is today, and he is long overdue an international reappraisal.
Course fee £30.00 Tue 7, 14, 21 & 28 Feb 18:30 Studio.
>> Rachel Dwyer on Raj Kapoor.
Raj Kapoor dominated Hindi cinema for four decades yet, although much is known about the man and the Kapoor acting dynasty, there is little writing about his films.
The black and white films from the 1940s and 50s, starring Raj Kapoor and Nargis, form a group where the hero seeks a place for himself in the newly independent India. Mixing socialist ideals with Hollywood glamour, and their famous songs, it is their depiction of romance and passion that is his major legacy to Indian cinema.
Rachel Dwyer is a leading expert on India and Professor of Indian Culture and Cinema at SOAS, University of London.
Her critically acclaimed books include One Hundred Bollywood Films and Yash Chopra, both published by the BFI. She is currently working on Bollywood’s India: Indian Cinema as a Guide to Modern India for Reaktion.
Tickets £5, Thu 9 Feb 18:00 NFT3.
>> The Vagabond Awaara.
India 1951. Dir Raj Kapoor. With Raj Kapoor, Nargis. 193min + interval. Hindi with EST. U.
One of the greatest and most famous Indian films ever made, Awaara was a global sensation and marks the first appearance of the tramp persona that would make Raj Kapoor famous: a sly, sexy bandit, a carefree underdog who could charm a rock.
Collaborating for the first time with star writer KA Abbas, Kapoor concocted a modern day version of the tale of Rama’s banishment of Sita, and the film’s marvellous, extended dream sequence revolutionised Hindi cinema, introducing the idea of externalising characters’ inner conflicts though song-and-dance numbers.
Wed 15 Feb 19:00 NFT3, Thu 23 Feb 19:00 NFT2.
>> Where the Ganges Flows.
Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai India 1951. Dir Radhu Karmakar. With Raj Kapoor, Padmini, Pran, Chanchal. 167min. Hindi with EST A controversial entry in the Kapoor canon, this film (nominally directed by the studio’s cinematographer-inresidence) sees Raju – portrayed this time as at best a naive innocent and at worst a total simpleton – as a pilgrim to the river, lured from religious observances by a tomboyish female bandit.
Ardently pursuing her, he bumbles into an outlaw encampment, and attempts to convert the brigands into latter-day Robin Hoods. Kapoor’s performance is a constant question mark: is he indeed a fool or is it a put-on? Hilarious; with his cleverest use of (often charmingly raunchy) double entendres.
Mon 6 Feb 19:50 NFT2, Sun 12 Feb 14:45 NFT2.
>> Boot Polish.
India 1953. Dir Prakash Arora. With Kumari Naaz, Rattan Kumar, David Abraham. 149min. Hindi with EST A tear-jerking neo-realist tale in the mould of Vittorio De Sica’s Shoeshine, this follows an orphaned brother and sister who are forced by their horrid aunt to beg on the streets, until their lives are torn apart by the monsoons.
Although credited to Prakash Arora, most sources insist Kapoor largely directed Boot Polish himself, and the film clearly bears his authorial stamp; though it’s also writer KA Abbas’ most explicit articulation of the beliefs underlying Nehru’s campaign for social reforms, especially the contention that the poor must be helped to find work in order to further their self-respect Tue 21 Feb 20:10 NFT2, Sun 26 Feb 15:20 NFT3.
>> Shree 420.
India 1955. Dir Raj Kapoor. With Raj Kapoor, Nargis. 169min. Hindi with EST. U Referring to the Indian penal code statute for fraud, Shree 420 is perhaps Kapoor’s most famous incarnation of his tramp persona.
Arriving in the big city to make his fortune, bumpkin Raju is introduced to the urban underworld following brief encounters with a moralistic oligarch and a Cassandralike beggar. Wooing honest schoolteacher Vidya while secretly dipping into a life of gambling and petty fraud, Raju is inexorably drawn into more dangerous criminal territory... Post-Partition changes to the major Indian cities loom large over the film’s tragicomic situations, with the teeming city streets a vivid backdrop for the film’s celebrated musical numbers.
Thu 9 Feb 19:50 NFT3, Mon 27 Feb 17:30 NFT2.
My Name Is Joker Meera Nam Joker.
India 1970. Dir Raj Kapoor. With Raj Kapoor, Simi Garewal. 224min + interval. Hindi with EST. PG Kapoor’s legendary film maudit, clocking in at almost four hours, was condemned as an exercise in self-pity throughout the Indian film world, but its reputation has been gradually revived by Western critics, who saw in it echoes of Chaplin’s Limelight and proclaimed it a self-reflexive masterwork.
Kapoor completely undermines his tramp persona, removing from it all traces of heroism and social justice: here is a saccharine, mopey, love obsessed clown whose one goal in life is to ‘make Jesus laugh’. A compulsively watchable, astonishing train-wreck of a film.
Sat 18 Feb 16:00 NFT2, Fri 24 Feb 18:30 NFT2.
India 1973. Dir Raj Kapoor. With Rishi Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia. 168min. Hindi with EST. U Following the commercial and critical disaster of Meera Nam Joker, Kapoor directed this charming paean to youth starring his son Rishi, which became an enormous hit among young urban audiences and exhibited a welcome devil-may-care innocence.
The film concerns Raj, the teenage son of a wealthy family, who falls in love with their former maid’s granddaughter.
When Raj’s parents try and arrange a marriage for him with a brain damaged heiress, the young couple run away, pursued by a horde of bounty-hunting bandits. Zany sets, outrageous clothes, delightfully corny physical comedy, and amazingly eclectic music.
Sat 25 Feb 17:40 NFT2. Wed 29 Feb 19:50 NFT2.