His dominating images were that of the Lovable Tramp and paradoxically of the Eternal Showman. Reams have been written about Raj Kapoor, and on his 83rd birth anniversary, we check out some rare angles
THE EPITOME OF PASSION
Raj Kapoor was born on December 14, 1924 to Rama and Prithviraj Kapoor, who was still in college then. It is said that early on Ranbir Raj (his real name) had determined that one day his Babaji would be known as his father. And in many ways, he achieved this. Raj was conferred the Dadasaheb Phalke Award 16 years after his father. The President actually stepped down from the stage to present the unique honour to the ailing actor-filmmaker. In a very tragic coincidence, Prithviraj and Raj both passed away weeks after receiving this highest honour in the land for contribution to cinema.
Raj Kapoor was clear from the beginning that cinema was his destination, and so his affair with his father's Prithvi Theatres' plays was not extensive, though he did plays there both as a child artiste (Deewar) and adult (Pathan) and learnt about everything from sets to costumes and music. He was just 11 when he made his first screen appearance in New Theatres' Inquilab starring Prithviraj Kapoor, Durga Khote and K.C.Dey. But not satisfied only with acting Raj soon started 'right at the bottom' (as his father instructed) with Chandulal Shah of Ranjit Studios as the fifth assistant to director Kidar Sharma, who was to later introduce him as a leading man in 1947 in Neel Kamal opposite two more sensational debutantes Madhubala (as Mumtaz) and Begum Para. By the time he made his lead debut, Raj was had already married a distant relative, Krishna, in an arranged match.
THE SMART INVESTOR
While learning his directorial and cinematic ropes in the early and mid-'40s, Raj Kapoor was still taking up whatever acting assignments he could in Gauri, Valmiki and others. Among these non-featured roles was a V.Shantaram film for which Raj Kapoor was paid a 'high' amount that Prithviraj indignantly told him to return to the filmmaker. But Shantaram refused and Raj Kapoor used the money to buy a plot of land at Chembur, and on that land RK Studios came up!
THE MUSICAL PRODIGY
Raj Kapoor had rhythm and melody deep within him. In Kolkata (then Calcutta) where his father Prithviraj Kapoor was based for years, he spent every spare moment with New Theatres' music greats like R.C.Boral, Pankaj Mullick, K.L.Saigal and Kanan Devi and even learnt music from Boral. He even sang his own songs for S.D.Burman in one of the films they did together.
Raj Kapoor, as lyricist Hasrat Jaipuri once revealed, thus become one of those rare filmmaker-actors (like V.Shantaram and Satyajit Ray) who could also compose music. The blueprints of so many RK hits like Bol Radha bol, Jeena yahaan, Satyam shivam sundaram and Sun sahiba sun were given by him to his composers, as also endorsed publicly by Lata Mangeshkar. Raj could also sing very well, play several instruments including the accordion and could conduct the orchestra.
On February 6, 1947, Raj Kapoor launched his first production and directorial debut Aag with a small muhurat and pooja at Eastern Studios in midtown Mumbai. Shooting began after a week and the film was released exactly a year later at Shimla. Its budget was an astronomical Rs 3.5 lakhs, and Raj mortgaged his first car and even borrowed money from his domestic servant Dwarka. The offbeat film starred three leading ladies including Nargis as well as relatives who were into acting and was released by Raj himself after distributors refused to touch it. It did not do too well commercially.
THE TRENDSETTING VISIONARY
If Aag was semi-autobiographical and reflected Raj's life, one-sided crushes and early upheavals, his next Barsaat(1949) showcased his first obsession for presenting love as a mix of spirituality and physicality. Learning the right lessons from the response to Aag, Raj told a simple tale, reinvented Nargis and their chemistry and signed a fresh music team - Shankar-Jaikishan, Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra. History was made as the score forever changed the complexion of film music and its sales, and the quartet along with Raj, Nargis, Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh went on to become the most successful filmmaker-star-musicians combo ever. The blockbuster's profits helped Kapoor build RK Studios, now an institution and Mumbai landmark, and the first film he made there was Awara(1951), the first Indian movie and music score to make a mark abroad, especially in Russia, where it was released with the title Brodigaya.
n Besides Barsaat, Raj Kapoor had explored and discovered the flamboyant and light sides of his persona in films like Andaz(1949) and Dastaan(1950), and he put it to good use with his character in Awara(1951). It was here that Raj Kapoor highlighted the aspirations of the basically-innocent Indian who wanted a better life after Independence. The tramp was modelled on Charlie Chaplin and yet was identifiably Indian, and Hindi cinema's first dream sequence was a skilled Indianized adaptation of Gene Kelly's An American In Paris. The leitmotif was developed further with Shree 420 (1955) and other films, but after Shree 420, Raj took a 9-year-hiatus from direction, even though he was said to have ghost-directed some or all of the films that came from his banner, which included Jagte Raho, Ab Dilli Door Nahin and Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai.
n Raj had three major troughs in his career, but each time he rose from them as triumphantly as the phoenix. After Shree 420 his next two productions Jagte Raho and Ab Dilli Door Nahin flopped. This was the phase when Raj was also influenced by European and socially-conscious cinema and so he announced the dacoit-reformation saga Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai without songs. But because of the two flops (earlier Aah had not done well too) distributors pressurized him to include songs, and though his music team protested, Raj cajoled them into creating a historic score. The second trough came after his self-indulgent and semi-autobiographical Mera Naam Joker (which he himself directed) and Kal Aaj Aur Kal. Reeling under debts, Raj announced a light romantic quickie, Bobby. And so three 45-plus veterans - Raj and his writers K.A.Abbas and V.P. Sathe - spun a benchmark teenage cult film!
The third trough came after his pet obsession of many years, Satyam Shivam Sundaram, faced critical as well as commercial rough weather, preceded by the indifferent success of Dharam Karam and followed by the disaster of Biwi O Biwi, two more RK productions. Raj launched Prem Rog, soon took over the directorial reigns from his writer Jainendra Jain, and went against the trends of the time to make the hard-hitting social blockbuster Prem Rog followed by his allegorical swan song Ram Teri Ganga Maili that became his highest grosser ever. When Raj passed away, he had begun work on Henna, and his groundwork paved the way for Randhir Kapoor"s version proving a major blockbuster in 1991.
n Raj had an unerring eye for talent across all fields of cinema. He had spotted Shankar and Jaikishan who were musicians with Prithvi Theatres and later were assistants who had a huge contribution in Ram Ganguly"s music in Aag. Along with S-J, he changed the course of film music composition and orchestration and gave Mukesh and Lata Mangeshkar their individualistic and contemporary identities.
Hasrat Jaipuri was a bus conductor and Shailendra a Railways employee. Raj put all of them on a salary, gave them the freedom to work outside his banner, and gave Hindi cinema two each of the greatest composers and lyricists.
Raj"s publicist V.P.Sathe was roped in as writer with Awara, his talented sons Randhir Kapoor (both as actor-director in Kal Aaj Aur Kal) and Rishi Kapoor were introduced along with Dimple Kapadia and later Mandakini. Shailendra Singh and Nitin Mukesh were introduced as singers, and Suresh Wadkar got a major break too. Among Raj"s other proteges were writers Jainendra Jain and K.K.Singh.
When he was awarded an honorary degree in Teheran in 1955, Raj Kapoor was amused no end as academically he had been a school dropout! Raj appeared as himself in Naseeb and three films by great directors, Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anand¸ Manmohan Desai's Gangaa Jamunaa Saraswati and K.Vishwanath's Eeshwar(which Raj wanted to produce) are dedicated to his memory,with Anil Kapoor's character in the last modelled after Raj in every way. But the greatest tribute to him remains his great-grandson Ranbir Kapoor being named after him and making a smash screen debut in 2007 with Saawariya.