Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Focus on Raj Kapoor

Raj Kapoor
Raj Kapoor

From 16 February to 14 March 2012, ACMI presents Focus on Raj Kapoor, a spotlight on the late actor, director and producer who revolutionised Indian cinema.

An extensive career retrospective, Focus on Raj Kapoor features several new 35mm prints. Revealing an on-screen persona inspired by the smirk and swagger of Clark Gable, the heightened emotions and showmanship of Gene Kelly, and the underdog heroism and pathos of Charlie Chaplin, Kapoor helped set the template for the Bollywood films of today.

A film of many firsts, Fire (Aag) (1948) was Kapoor's debut as producer, director and leading man. It also saw him perform for the first time with his on-screen muse, Nargis. A brooding, noir-ish melodrama, Fire tells the story of Kewel (Kapoor), who is banished from the family home by his father, but manages to scrape together enough money to build a theatre where he eventually hosts a performance by his beloved Nimmi (Nargis).

Kapoor had his first megahit with Monsoon (Barsaat) (1949), a film that focuses on two key characters: romantic idealist Pran (Kapoor) and his more carnally driven best friend, Gopal (Prem Nath). The film brought together Kapoor's enduring team of collaborators including composers Shankar and Jaikshen, lyricists Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri, cinematographer Radhu Karmakar, art director M.R. Achrekar, playback singers Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh (who sang the songs Kapoor mimed to), and his leading lady, Nargis.

A contemporary retelling of the ancient story of Rama's banishment of Sita, The Vagabond (Awaara) (1951) brought Kapoor international success. Four generations of the Kapoor family appeared in the film, and it also marked the debut appearance of the Charlie Chaplin-inspired tramp persona that Kapoor would become known for. Featuring an extended dream sequence that revolutionised Hindi cinema by introducing the idea of externalising characters' inner conflicts through song and dance numbers, The Vagabond was also nominated for the top prize at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival.

In Where the Ganges Flows (Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai) (1951) Kapoor revived his trademark tramp character to play Raju, a man on a pilgrimage to the Ganges who becomes sidetracked by the womanly charms of a bandit named Kammo (Padmini). He attempts to convert Kammo's band of brigands into modern day Robin Hoods and through a series of twists and turns, the stage is set for a dramatic confrontation with the rural police. The film was awarded three major prizes at the 1986 Filmfare Awards: Best Music (Ravindra Jain), Best Director and Best Film.

With a nod to Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine, Boot Polish (1953) is Prakash Arora's realist tale set on the same streets as Slumdog Millionaire. An orphaned brother and sister are forced onto the streets to beg by their wicked aunt until a kind stranger encourages them to join the boot polish trade. But the children become separated when the monsoons arrive and the demand for boot polishing evaporates. Embodying Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's campaign for social reforms, this was Kapoor's second film to be nominated for a Palme d'Or at Cannes.

In the film Shree 420 (1955), Kapoor adopts his most well known Chaplinesque role. Playing a poor but educated orphan who arrives in Bombay with dreams of finding his fortune, it's not long before he is drawn into a life of gambling and fraud. Meanwhile, he attempts to woo school teacher Vidya, who tries to help him change his ways, but a life of crime continues to tempt him. The film features several legendary musical numbers, including the rousing 'Mera Joota Hai Japani' ('My shoes are Japanese') which was embraced by a newly independent India.

In Stay Awake (Jagte Raho) (1956), Kapoor plays a tramp on the hunt for a glass of water that wonders into a luxury Calcutta building and exposes the behind-closed-doors perversions of the city's upper middle class. A socialist comedy-thriller directed by Sombhu Mitra and Amit Maitra, the film was the first Indian film to win the Grand Prix prize at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

Sangam (1964) was Kapoor's first colour film and a world-wide hit. Featuring four hours of pure spectacle, it established a trend for Bollywood films to seek out exotic locations around the world (often Switzerland) for their song and dance sequences. Starring Kapoor, Vyjayanthimala and Rajendra Kumar in a love triangle, Sangam provides a whirlwind tour through suburban mansions, European vacations and scotch-sipping parties. The film screens with an intermission.

My Name is Joker (Meera Naam Joker) (1970), Kapoor's legendary box office disaster, was condemned as an exercise in self-pity at the time of its release, but has since had its reputation revived by Western critics who have proclaimed it is as a self-reflexive masterwork. Kapoor reinterprets his trademark tramp persona, removing all trances of heroism to appear as a saccharine, love-obsessed clown. A compulsively watchable film, My Name is Joker runs for almost four hours and screens with an interval.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Kal Aaj Aur Kal) (1971) marked a return to form for Kapoor after the critical failure of My Name Is Joker. The film also stars three generations of Kapoors: Raj's father Prithviraj, Raj himself and son Randhir, the director of the film. When Rajesh (Randhir) returns home after studying abroad, his grandfather (Prithviraj) sets a plan in motion for an arranged marriage. But problems arise when Rajesh refuses to marry anyone other than his girlfriend Mona, played by Randhir's real life fiancée Babita.

In the 1973 film Bobby -  the follow up to My Name is Joker - Kapoor delivers a paean to youth, casting his son Rishi in the lead role of Raj. Born into a wealthy family, Raj falls in love with his former maid's granddaughter, played by Bollywood icon Dimple Kapadia in her first cinematic role. Packed with zany sets, outrageous costumes, and an abundance of physical comedy, Bobby combined traditional Indian sounds with western music and in the process, established a new genre of Bollywood film.

Produced, edited and directed by Kapoor, Love Sublime/Love, Truth and Beauty (Satyam Shivam Sundaram) (1978) was his studio's attempt to return to prominence after releasing a string of epic action films. A raunchy meditation on love and beauty, the film won two Filmfare Awards for Best Music and Best Cinematography. It tells the story of village girl Roopa (Zeenat Aman), whose face is disfigured as the result of a childhood accident. When Ranjeet (Sashi Kapoor) visits the village to oversee the construction of a major dam he falls in love with Roopa, only to discover her disfigurement on their wedding night.

God, Your River is Tainted (Ram Teri Ganga Mailli) (1985) was Kapoor's most financially successful film, and signalled his return to telling stories with a social message. Highlighting the endemic corruption within Indian society, he used the state of the Ganges as a metaphor for his country's decline. It featured the male lead Narendra (played by Kapoor's son Rajiv), fleeing his politically corrupt home of Calcutta for the more pristine headwaters of the Ganges, where he falls in love with Ganga (Mandakini).

ACMI Film Programmer James Nolen says, "While Raj Kapoor remains largely unknown to Australian audiences, he is regarded as an important cultural icon, not only in India, but throughout the Middle East and beyond. The films he made during the Golden Age of Indian cinema continue to have an impact on the Bollywood films of today."

Starting his career in 1935 as an actor performing in his father's theatre company, Kapoor acted in small film roles before founding the production house, RK Films, in 1948. The Indian government officially recognised his contributions to Hindi cinema by awarding him the Padma Bhushan in 1971 and the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1987.

Direct from TIFF Bell Lightbox, the films of Raj Kapoor have recently been screened at MoMA in New York and will be travelling to several other locations in 2012 including the British Film Institute.

Curated by Noah Cowan, Artistic Director, TIFF Bell Lightbox, and organized by TIFF, IIFA, and RK Films, with the support of the Government of Ontario. ACMI Coordinating Curator, James Nolen.

Focus on Raj Kapoor screens exclusively in Australia from 16 February to 14 March at ACMI in Melbourne. For full program information and screening times, please visit acmi.net.au

Further information

Frances Mariani
Communications Coordinator
[direct phone] 61 3 8663 2475 [fax] 61 3 8663 2498 [mobile] 0434 603 655
[email] frances.mariani@acmi.net.au    

 
 
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