I just spent the entire weekend with Sacred Games, first watching it and then writing about. Which has me thinking about other options for multi-season Netflix style miniserieses that I want to see.
I’m finally doing it! The Sanjay Dutt Hindi Film 101 series! And if his movie gets delayed again, well that’s just too bad, they will have to live with my having already posted his series way way too early (not really, I’ll probably repost all these posts the day it comes out for convenience).
I was trying to think of what to do for 420, a super druggie movie or a super conman movie or what, and then I realized, it has to be Shree 420.
I already did action film and rom-com lists to match this. My goal is, once you have finished the list of DVDs recommended on websites, or by the librarian, or handed to you in the DVD store, what next? And there is a surprisingly long list of films with strong female central characters in Hindi film.
Okay, you ready to fight me? The problem is, unlike actors, actresses never really get the chance to lead the industry, there isn’t a clear “Queen” the way there is a clear “King”. So this list is a bit of a judgement call, I realize that, and that means there is lots and lots of space for us all to argue.
I am trying a new thing, sort of cliff notes version of Hindi film history. Not the actual history (“Bombay Talkies studio was founded by Harivanshri Rai and Devika Rani…”), but the gossip history that everyone kind of knows if they’ve grown up with the films or if they’ve been following them for years. But I know that isn’t true for some of my readers and so, just for you, I am giving you the kind of informal oral history. Starting with the Kapoor Family (part 1 here).
The movie and the actor, not the actor nickname and his real life father. Although really, we have to talk about both, because one doesn’t make sense without the other. Oh, and also Rosie Thomas, my all time favorite Indian film scholar (tied with Anupama Chopra and Tejaswini Ganti) (oo, I just noticed while adding those links, Chopra’s Sholay book is now available on kindle! EXCELLENT!!! And Ganti’s Producing Bollywood! Oh, that is so TEMPTING! Can I justify buying them a second time just to have a different format?)
So, “Janam Janam” from Dilwale, song trailer released yesterday, is clearly referencing Raj-Nargis, not just in the images, but in the lyrics:
If you notice, when SRKajol meet again after years (which you can tell because SRK is hot-and-bearded instead of hot-and-youthful), their eyes meet, and it switches to fantasy-and then SRKajol switch to black and white tones, as does her car and their umbrella, while the rest of the background stays in color. It is a clear signal to the viewer, if the singing in the rain under an umbrella didn’t make it clear enough, that this is an homage to the black-and-white love song “Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua” from Shree 420 with Nargis and Raj Kapoor:
So, why this reference? Beyond just looking cool and making people go “Hey, it’s Shree 420! I love that movie!”
In real life, Shree 420 was made at the height of the Raj Kapoor and Nargis collaboration. While their earlier film, Awara, was more popular overseas, Shree 420 was more beloved at home. However, “Pyar Hua” foreshadows the ending of their personal and professional collaberation. No matter what promises they had made to each other, eventually, there was no where else for them to go.
Raj Kapoor was a genius, basically invented Hindi cinema, brilliant actor, brilliant director, brilliant producer, everything. But, terrible in his personal life! Oh my gosh! So bad!
Although, part of that could be because everything happened to him so young, he was oddly adult in some ways from the time he was very young, but never really adult in others to the end of his life. His father, Prithviraj Kapoor, was one of the first big stars of Indian film (see him and his nice legs in the photo below)
Although Prithviraj got fame and money from his film work, his heart was always with the stage. He founded Prithvi Theaters (still in operation today, run by his granddaughter) and poured his heart and soul into it. This meant his wife and children either stayed home and never saw him, or traveled with him on massive barnstorming tours of India, or worked backstage at the home theater in Bombay. By the time he was 21, Raj Kapoor had worked as a set designer, stage manager, director, and main actor. He had also basically raised his two younger brothers, serving as the disciplinarian and authority in their lives in the absence of their father. And then he rebelled against a life spent serving his father’s purposes by deciding to work in film, not the stage.
So, age 22, already a major film star, he decides he wants to produce and direct. Oh, and he also got married 3 months earlier to the sister of his friend and frequent co-star, Prem Nath. The families arranged the first meeting, but the two of them hit it off right away and rushed the marriage.
So, Raj is ready to make a film. And he has a script and he can star, but he knows he won’t get funding unless he find some big name to star opposite him. So he goes to see Nargis (one of the biggest female stars at the time, only 19, but acting since she was a child and acting as an adult female lead since she was 14). He knocks on the door of the apartment she shares with her mother, and she comes to answer it herself, with flour on her face since she was in the middle of cooking. He falls passionately in love at first sight, despite being newly married to a woman he claimed to have also fallen in love with at first sight, and who was also carrying his child by this point (Kapoor men-very fertile).
Nargis is not that interested in Raj Kapoor the man, find him young and a little chubby, but does like his script and agrees to do the role. By the end of filming, she is as in love as he. For the next ten years, they form a beautiful personal and professional partnership. His wife stays home, and gives birth to 5 children, in this same time. But Raj and Nargis go to all the industry events together, stay up until all hours discussing scripts and projects at RK studio (founded by the profits of their first film as co-stars, with a logo based on their iconic embrace from the same film), and make a series of all time film classics, along the way popularizing such Indian film staples as the rain song, the fantasy song, the father-son conflict, the childhood flashback, the underlying social message, and dozens of others. After ten years though, Nargis realized this was all she could ever have. Raj was never going to leave his wife, she would never have a place in respectable society, she could never have children, this was it, just being the work wife forever and ever.
This was foretold in Shree 420, made at the height of their love story. IT is the deeper meaning of “Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua”. “Pyar Hua” is a duet, and while Raj keeps repeating “Love is here, promises are made”, Nargis keeps repeating “Where do we go from here? Where can we go from here?”
So, she left him. Raj always tells the story as though it was something she had done to him, as though she broke some vow or promise. But from her side of things, what else was there to do? It had been ten years, she was nearing 30, her career and personal life were both stalled in the service of his dreams.
They never acted opposite each other again, or even interacted really. Nargis had her greatest role, playing “Mother India” in the film of the same name, and then retired and married rising actor and politician Sunil Dutt. She became a powerful political force in her own right, and had three children. Raj Kapoor went on to have a series of affairs with other actresses and to make more brilliant movies, but something was always missing after he lost Nargis. He never found an onscreen partner to match him as well as her, and his films never had quite the same depth and meaning as they did when she was helping him.
Onscreen and off, Nargis and Raj epitomized the New India couple of the post-independence era. She loved him and was completely devoted to him, but she also had her own career and her own goals (in their films, she played a teacher, a lawyer, an actress, a business woman). He loved her, and also wanted her to be his partner in all things, their romance was not just about passionate embraces, but also making him a better man, helping him succeed in his goals, helping him determine what those goals were.
And now we have Shahrukh and Kajol. A different kind of couple but, it is becoming increasingly clear, the couple that works for the modern India. They are equally devoted to each other, there is no longer any expectation that a woman loves a man more than a man could ever love a woman. She not only has her own goals, she can take the lead in them and force him to follow. In My Name is Khan, she was the main breadwinner for the household. In Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, she was the main lead of the film. And unlike Raj and Nargis-who eventually stagnated playing the same old couple falling in love-in each of their films, they have come together stronger than ever. SRKajol went from flirtatious college students to adults with children over the course of 6 films. And I have high hopes that now, in their 7th film, the pattern will continue. “Janam Janam” indicates that, I think. Rather than a song about “where do we go from here?” It is about “where ever we go, you are always with me and we will go there together.”
Yaaaaay! New Dilwale trailer, with a song I actually like!
We have all the classic Shahrukh faces, “I am stunned by your beauty”, “I am delighted by falling in love”, “I am feeling cocky because I know you like me”, and of course “you forgot I was sexy” (my favorite).
Plus, visually (even beyond the wet white shirt), there is all sorts of cool stuff! Did you catch the Shree 420 reference? Not only are they together under an umbrella in the rain, they actually turn into black and white as their eyes meet, which is just so cool and beautiful!
Like, as they fall in love again, they enter the magical other world of classic Indian film love stories. Plus, I love that this is the second time SRKajol has done “Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua”, which is a fairly strong acknowledgement that they are the new Raj Kapoor-Nargis.
The first time was in the homage to the history of Indian film song from Rab Ne Bana di Jodi, “Phir Milenge”. I saw Rab Ne in theaters, and in that whole cameo filled song, Kajol was the only who got cheers.
Anyway, homages to classic films are very tricky to pull off, you either do them as complete jokes and no one cares, or seriously, and then you get a lot of push back because people find it insulting to the original. Especially the children and grandchildren of the people who made the original, who may not be thrilled to see their legacy dragged through the mud (Ram Gopal Verma and your Sholay remake, I am looking at you!). If you recall, the other big Shree 420 homage in recent years was in the “Zoobi Doobi” song from 3 Idiots
But everyone was fine with that, because they actually cast Kareena Kapoor, Raj Kapoor’s granddaughter, in the Nargis part.
But SRKajol have now done Shree 420 twice, and gotten no blowback for it! So I think it is safe to say that they are the acknowledged spiritual heirs to the Raj and Nargis onscreen pairing. Even more than Raj and Nargis’ actual heirs. But hopefully with less offscreen drama.