While he abandons his son, Raghunath dotes on his ward Rita. In contrast to Leela, Rita, as her name suggests, is modern, Westernised, educated and strong. She turns against her mentor by falling in love with Raj, a criminal or an awara (literally, a vagabond); the very person a judge must punish. Both Raj and his symbolic father Jagga are victims of circumstance and injustice. Nothing underscores this problem more effectively than the fact that Rita grows up to be a lawyer and puts the patriarch Raghunath himself on trial for ill-treating and almost murdering his wife. Confrontations ensue as father and son fight each other, vying for Rita’s affection. On Rita’s twenty-first birthday, Raghunath buys Rita an expensive necklace but Raj steals it from him. Visually, the episode borders on incest: father and son ‘woo’ Rita as each tries to deck her with the glittering necklace. The entire sequence culminates in Rita’s bedroom, where Raj eventually confronts Raghunath as the man who has caused his mother’s death. A childhood photograph of Rita shatters as Raj raises a knife to his father and literally hits the wall. The shattered photograph looms large on the screen, serving as a shocking reminder of Rita’s threatened integrity. Raj recognises Rita’s moral and intellectual supremacy as the photograph – a leitmotif that appears at several critical moments – halts the drama of possession, showing Raj the way. In fact, the entire climax is organised according to Rita’s ‘honourable’ point of view, where the judge is finally judged. Like the girl in the photograph, Rita directs the audience in and outside the film towards the truth. In the final analysis, Awara is driven by an altruistic imperative which shows that criminals are not born but made; they are victims of social injustice, prejudice and indifference.
Nargis’s collaboration with Raj Kapoor played a significant part in Awara’s success. Her portrayal of Rita is effortless: like Kapoor, she incorporates several elements of her star persona into her performance, which is notable for its ease of expression and sexual intensity. In a marked departure from the sublimation and transcendence that is typical of films from this period, the Nargis–Raj Kapoor romance is characterised by its frank eroticism and free-spiritedness. Nargis wore her hair in a bold bob that emphasised her Westernised, broadminded outlook. She ignored gossip about her intimacy with Kapoor and assisted him in almost all aspects of filmmaking, including set design, camerawork, the staging of song and dance numbers and the running of R. K. Studios.5 The couple was wildly popular not only in India but in the Soviet Union as well, where ‘babies were christened after them’. 6 Above all, Awara is remembered for its socialist vision and the searing intensity of the Raj Kapoor–Nargis duo, which emerged as an enduring icon of love in modern India.7
1. Raj Kapoor admired Orson Welles and was particularly fond of his use of low-key lighting. See Madhu Jain, The Kapoors: The First Family of Indian Cinema, New Delhi, Penguin, 2005, p. 98.
2. Kapoor plays on the symbolic meanings of whiteness, treating it is a sign of the purity of character, while marshalling a more complex association with whiteness as a sign of deceit and exploitation, particularly during India’s colonisation. For further details, see Gayatri Chatterjee, ‘Rita and Raghunath: Pursuits of Whiteness/Incest’, in Awa-ra, New Delhi, Wiley-Eastern Limited, 1992, pp. 111–118.
3. K. A. Abbas’s screenplay is influenced by the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA), which echoes Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru’s socialist objectives (as also Kapoor’s extension of the tramp figure). Several Marxist intellectuals were associated with this influential organisation, including Abbas.
4. Malti Sahai includes a persuasive analysis of these differences in her article ‘Raj Kapoor and the Indianization of Chaplin’, East-West Film Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1987, pp. 62–76. 5. Raj Kapoor established his own production company after the enormous success of Barsaat (Rain, 1949). The studio logo was based on a scene from Barsaat, where Kapoor leans over Nargis in an erotic pose, as if to kiss her, and Nargis arches her back seductively.
6. T. J. S. George, The Life and Times of Nargis, Chennai, East-West Books, 1994, p. 77.
7. The Kapoors are often referred to as the first family of Indian cinema. Cousins Ranbir and Kareena Kapoor now represent the fourth generation of actors descended from greatgrandfather Prithviraj Kapoor. Further reading Paul Willemen and Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema, New Delhi and London, Oxford University Press, 1995.
Cast and Crew:
[Country: India. Production Company: R. K. Studios. Director: Raj Kapoor. Screenwriter: K. A. Abbas. Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri. Music: Shanker Jaikishan, Sunny Castellino. Playback singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Mukesh, Rafi, Manna Dey, Shamshad Begum. Cinematographer: Radhu Karmakar. Art Director: M. R. Achrekar. Editor: G. G. Mayekar. Choreographer: Madame Simkie, Krishna Kumar, Surya Kumar. Costumes: Om Prakash, Madame Chorosch. Cast: Raj Kapoor (Raj), Nargis (Rita), Prithviraj Kapoor (Judge Raghunath), Leela Chitnis (Leela), K. N. Singh (Jagga), Shashi Kapoor (young Raj), Zubeida (young Rita), Cuckoo (nightclub dancer), Leela Mishra (sister-in-law), B. M. Vyas (Rita’s father), D. Bashesharnath (Judge).]
The Routledge Encyclopedia of Films, Edited by Sarah Barrow, Sabine Haenni and John White, first published in 2015.