Kapoor, Raj

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Nationality: Indian. Born: Ranbirraj Kapoor in Peshwar (now in Pakistan), 14 December 1942. Education: Educated in Calcutta and Bombay. Family: Married Krishna (Kapoor), three sons, two daughters. Career: Entered film industry as clapper boy, late 1930s; assistant on Bombay Talkies, then production manager, art director, and actor, Prithvi Theatres, early 1940s; first leading role, in Neel Kamal, 1947; directed first film, Aag, 1948. Awards: Filmfare Award for Best Director for My Name Is Joker, 1970. Died: Of complications from asthma attack, in New Delhi, 2 June 1988.

Films as Director:


Aag (Fire) (+ pr, role)


Barsaat (+ role)


Awara (The Vagabond) (+ role)


Shri 420 (Mister 420) (+ role)


Sangam (+ role, pr)


Mera Naam Joker (My Name Is Joker) (+ role, pr)


Bobby (+ pr)


Satyam Shivam Sundaram (+ pr)


Prem Rog (+ pr)

Other Films:


Inquilab (role)


Hamari Baat (role); Gowri (role)


Valmiki (role)


Neel Kamal (role); Chithod Vijay (role); Jail Yaatra (role); DilKi Raani (role)


Gopinath (role)


Andaz (role); Parivartan (role); Sunehere Din (role)


Banwara (role); Banware Nayan (role); Dastaan (role); JaanPehchan (role); Pyaar (role); Sargam (role)


Ambar (role); Anhonee (role); Aashiyana; (role); Bewafa (role)


Dhoon (role); Paapi (role); Aah (pr, role)


Boot Polish (pr)


Jagte Raho (pr, role); Chori Chori (role)


Ab Dilli Dur Nahin (pr)


Sharada (role); Parvarish (role); Phir Subah Hogi (role)


Anadi (role); Char Dil Char Rahen (role); Do Ustad (role); Kanhaiya (role); Main Nashe Me Hoon (role)


Jis Desh Me Ganga Behti Hai (Where the Ganges Flows) (pr, role); Chaliya (role); Shriman Satyavadi (role)


Nazraana (role)


Aashik (role)


Dil Hi To Hai (role); Ek Dil Sou Afsane (role)


Dulha Dulhan (role)


Teesri Kasam (role)


Around the World (role); Diwana (role)


Sapnon Ka Saudgar (role)


Kal, Aaj Aur Kal (pr, role)


Dhadram Karam (pr); Do Jasoos (role)


Khaan Dost (role)


Chandi Sona (role)


Biwi O Biwi (pr); Abdullah (role)


Gopichand Jasoos (role)


On KAPOOR: books—

Barnouw, Erik, and S. Krishnaswamy, Indian Film, New York, 1965.

Sarkar, Kobita, The Indian Cinema Today, New Delhi, 1975.

Abbas, Ahmad, I Am Not An Island: An Experiment in Autobiography, New Delhi, 1977.

Burra, Rani, editor, Looking Back 1896–1960, New Delhi, 1981.

Willemen, Paul, and Behroze Gandhy, Indian Cinema, London, 1982.

Ramachandran, T.M., 70 Years of Indian Cinema, Bombay, 1985.

Dissanayake, Wimal, and Malti Sahai, Raj Kapoor's Films: Harmonyof Discourses, New Delhi, 1987.

Reuben, Bunny, Raj Kapoor, The Fabulous Showman: An IntimateBiography, Bombay, 1988.

On KAPOOR: articles—

"Special Issue" of Film Français (Paris), Spring 1953.

Tesson, C., "Le Rêve indien," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1985.

Thomas, R., "Indian Cinema: Pleasures and Popularity," in Screen (London), May/August 1985.

Hollywood Reporter, November 1985.

Sahai, M., "Raj Kapoor and the Indianization of Charlie Chaplin," in East-West Film Journal (Honolulu), vol. 2, no. 1, December 1987.

Obituary in Variety (New York), 8 June 1988.

Chandavarkar, Bhaskar, "The Music Director Who Wasn't," in Cinema in India, vol. 2, no. 3, July/September 1988.

* * *

Raj Kapoor was the best-known screen personality in India. He acted major roles in over fifty films, produced more than a dozen, and during the course of a thirty-five-year career directed six of the most popular films of the Hindi cinema—Awara, Shri 420, Sangam, Mera Nam Joker, Bobby, and Satyam Shivam Sundaram). The popularity of Raj Kapoor's work derives from a paradoxical achievement: he intensified in his films both the lavishness and the social consciousness of the Hindi cinema. His films are characterized by elaborate sets, evocative music, new stars, dramatic confrontations and narrow escapes from heartbreak. At the same time he addressed poverty, injustice, and the plight of individuals insisting on their own way against the massive force of social conventions. Indian audiences responded enthusiastically to Raj Kapoor's mixture of entertainment and serious issues; his films articulate at some level the longings of an entire people.

Raj Kapoor's first film, Aag, is restrained by smallness of scale; the set is modest and the fiery character of the emotional triangle in the story is rendered chiefly through high-contrast lighting. But his third and fourth films (Awara and Shri 420) disclose a fully operatic style. In Awara, the key court scene is played in a deep, amply lit hall; and in both Awara and Shri 420, the houses of the rich are magnificently spacious, fitted with winding stairs, high ceilings and tall, curtained windows. For music, Raj Kapoor employed the lyricist Shailendra and the composers Shankar-Jaikishen, who specialized in brightening up traditional melodies; a number of their songs for Awara Hun, Mera Joota Hai Japani are among the most popularly known in India. Raj Kapoor also delights in soaring camera movements, as over the courtroom in Awara and under the circus tent in Mera Nam Joker. The speed and freedom of the camera contributes to the audience's sense of dynamic progress.

Raj Kapoor's films deal with important cultural experiences: Shri 420 is concerned with the ruthlessness confronting new migrants to the city; Awara with the malign influence of slum environments; Sangam, Bobby and Satyam Shivam Sundaram with tensions between spontaneous affection and social protocols for intimacy; and Mera Nam Joker presents the loneliness of a circus clown as an archetype for people who have been uprooted. Both plot and music invite viewers to identify with the experiences of unfortunate protagonists. Meanwhile the mise-en-scene directs the attention of viewers to the furnishings of rich houses (Shri 420 and Awara), to the mountain spectacle of various Himalayan resorts (Bobby), to a spacious temple courtyard and a daringly costumed dancer (Satyam Shivam Sundaram), and to entire acts of the Soviet State Circus (Mera Nam Joker).

Since the time of Raj Kapoor's first films, filmmaking in India has moved toward greater generic variety and coherence. From the perspective of the new political films, Raj Kapoor's productions seem complacent; from the perspective of the new realist films, his work seems gaudy. Nonetheless, his work is certain to be remembered for its spectacular vitality.

—Satti Khanna