Scene By Scene: A Look at Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Awaara

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There are so many wonderful moments in Indian cinema, but the one that captured my attention was from Awaara (1951). This is the second film that Raj Kapoor directed and acted in and this time he employed his nearest and dearest: his mistress and his father. It’s a monumental film in terms of its beautiful cinematography inspired by Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, and its introduction of Kapoor’s synonymous character of Raju the Tramp, inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s own Little Tramp. Awaara was one of the first internationally renowned films to compete at the Cannes Film Festival and was extremely popular in Russia and China, and allegedly Chairman Mao and Stalin quite liked it too!

The Scene
Raju (Raj Kapoor) and Rita (Nargis) have just finished swimming (In one of the many firsts in cinema Rita reveals her stylish swimsuit.) As Rita gets changed, Raju comes near and Rita tells him off and calls him a junglee. Raju is deeply offended and slaps Rita several times, and tells her off but then feels terrible and apologizes. But she says, to hit her some more and they embrace.

Why It’s Special

This is a rather contentious scene, feminists and other critics have been criticized Kapoor hitting a woman. But they’re missing the point; this is a hugely romantic moment because Kapoor and Nargis’ chemistry just burns the screen. Yes it’s a very shocking moment, but it is pure animalistic hunger for each other, which can see in Nargis’ yearning looks at Kapoor when he grabs her hair and pulls her to him. It is quite rare to find another scene that matches the intensity and audaciousness of these two characters being so emboldened by their love for each other. This scene conveys so much about Raju as a character as well, he objects to being called a junglee by the woman he loves, because he is determined to shake off his outcast state and become a productive member of society. This a very bold scene, where a woman is attracted to being hurt, and later Rita sings “Dum Bhar Jo Udhar Munh Phere” where she sings to the moon to hide away while she makes love to Raju. It’s this scene that I realized that even if Bollywood did have kisses back then they more than made up for it in erotic and beautiful moments like these.

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