Don’t judge people by appearences, the iniquity of social class – and by implication caste too, unless I’m reading too much into it, and the corruption of youth by poverty.
The 1951 Bollywood film hangs on this last in particular, with a story that revolves around the moral assumptions of Judge Raghunath (good people have good children) and his son Raj, born after Raghunath threw out his pregnant wife in a jealous rage.
Raj, played by Awaara’s director and producer Raj Kapoor, is an interesting character, comic for at least half the film, even as we see his transition from innocent child to delinquent to gangster-in-training.
Awaara’s signature song of “I’m a tramp” apparently references the Charlie Chaplin character of the same name, though seeing the way the police are presented and how the chase sequences filmed put me more in mind of the Keystone Cops if anything from that era of Hollywood comedy.
Given the subject matter, the comedy can’t continue. Raj’s jaunty twinkle finally cracks when he hits Rita (Nargis), a shocking moment because up until then he can’t seem to shake his smiling, happy-go-lucky demeanour.
Despite the earlier comedy, and that Kapoor twinkle, as we follow the character moving from child to man it was not Chaplin but another Hollywood icon that Raj reminded me of.
The swagger, the rebellion against society – I felt sure Awaara’s scriptwriter Khwaja Ahmad Abbas had picked up some tips from The Wild One. And yet Awaara was released the same year as Marlon Brando’s A Streetcar Named Desire and both came out a good two years before he rode with a motorcycle gang.
So Awaara has some lovely touches – Nargis’ dramatic courtroom entrance at the beginning, KN Singh playing the nefarious villain Jagga with Peter Lorre-like sliminess and an amazing dream sequence that’s swathed in dry ice – and makes its social point while entertaining along the way.