AWAARA (Raj Kapoor, 1951)

Opulent melodramatic trash from India, not quite redeemed by a progressive social message, Awaara (The Vagabond) is saddled with too much story, and infantile, convoluted story at that, and interrupted by witless tunes and listless dances. Deep from the bowels of Bollywood, and testing the heroic endurance of the audience, the film does boast a few advantages: sweeping black-and-white cinematography by Radhu Karmakar, a few razor-sharp cuts, and a few gritty looks at Bombay’s impoverished underbelly. A young thief, on trial for stabbing to death his smarmy criminal mentor, is contextualized via flashback by the route he has travelled that has trapped him in a sordid, hopeless social environment. Although atrociously “acted,” particularly by producer-director Raj Kapoor as the young thief, the movie has its moments, including some fine and some half-baked flourishes of silent-film expressionism—but not a sufficient number of such moments to break the monotony of the silliest, most farfetched narrative in creation. At least all the musical numbers should have been expunged, resulting in a halved length that’s easier to sit through. This indeed may have been done for the film’s original U.S. release, which is half the total length.

The love story between reunited childhood friends would have benefited from the dropped music most of all.

Embarrassing: Closeups of eyes of two of the characters that presume to show resemblance because they are father and son provide no such evidence, even though the actors themselves are father and son!

Indeed, much of Awaara seems a strenuous attempt to prove one thing or another.


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