Raj Kapoor Speaks
Price: Rs 750
Raj Kapoor Speaks is credited to his daughter Ritu Nanda, but don't look out for her in this glossy coffee-table spanning 200 pages. Indeed, it is as though Raj Kapoor speaks through the volume but he says nothing that avid lovers of his films don't already know – be it about his kind of cinema or his worldview.
That he was in love with the idea of love and projected it in full-blown form on the big screen, consciously using his craft for the masses is already known. The book borrows generously (but with selective convenience) from previously published interviews in newspapers, magazines and quotes from interviews and profiles already floating in the market without crediting the source or the author. Instead, the information is merely clubbed under the overall style of the work, letting only the 'Showman of the Millennium' talk.
Incidents, anecdotes and memories make up this volume, largely as RKspeak but also includes his father Prithviraj Kapoor remembering RK's childhood in first person! Thank God the mother is kept out of the family frame. The pattern is repeated over the rest of the book with the other members of the family recounting their experiences – fortunately, all of whom are alive and therefore more believable! While one concedes that the autobiographical narrative makes the book more personal, there is no denying that Nanda tides over awkward issues – such as RK's women and his disagreements with his brothers (especially between Shammi and Raj) by simply giving them cursory attention in his own voice.
There is an effort to prove his devotion to wife Krishna by reproducing a single letter from the man's memoirs in original form. But the well-documented turbulent nature of the relationship that RK and Nargis, which the duo shared for years, is glossed over. For instance, at a point he says, "Nargis understood me, and I understood her. You know, I cannot explain my feelings towards her. No, it is not love, though I do like her very much. I think it is the feeling that one good artiste has towards another." Wonder who Nanda is trying to convince with this simplistic explanation and wonder how one can explain away the onscreen chemistry that just could not have been borne out of brilliant acting. Wonder what happened to honesty and truth?
Officially speaking, Raj Kapoor Speaks has been culled from an earlier edition brought out to commemorate the 100 years of cinema (published as Raj Kapoor by Isskusstuvo Publishing House, Moscow, 1980) and authored by Ritu Nanda, again.
All this is not to suggest that there is nothing new on offer. The effort is commendable in that it explores new facets of a well-known man and is probably the first work, which tries to explain RK's obsession with the female form. It has RK reminiscing about his childhood when he used to bathe with his mother, Ramsami. That's where his fascination with the female nudity began. Apparently, so stuck was he by her beautiful body when they bathed together that the memory stayed with him for the rest of his life. It is from here that a need to explore, understand and expose (literally) the 'woman' arose and found fruition in his cinema later.
Though the book is obsessed with words such as "showman", "spectacle" and phrases like "entertainer for the masses," there are honest moments when you get but glimpses of a man who entertained the masses at their level because he had risen through the ranks himself and understood the psyche of the underdog. "Thank God, I have not studied too much. (He was a matriculate). Thank God I am not bookish, thank God I am not literate, thank God I am a fool or a buffoon. I am just simple and down to earth so that I can identify and feel for the other one. I can smile with him; I can share his pain and I can share his joy – both, sitting on the footpath."
There are other moments when he acknowledges that there can be no going back in films just as there is no return path in life. "Film is a collective enterprise, it is not an individual, personal expression like writing or painting. When a writer begins to write all he needs is paper and pen and a typewriter. When he doesn't like what he's written he just tears it up, and starts writing again. Probably a painter does something similar. But a film-maker – unfortunately, by the time he really sees what he has done, he cannot go back and start again. He has no money… This business is expensive. But once you have gone into it, what you do is pray to God, or try to believe each time that it is the biggest box-office hit you are making."
But even in the dreams that this God wove for his beloved junta, there were no concessions made for the fine craft that the medium demanded. And craft that only a filmmaker of Rk's caliber could've have understood. An incident recalled explains his keen desire for authenticity. "Even in his early years, Raj Kapoor went to great lengths to achieve the authentic look. To get the cloud patterns right in the last scene of Shree 420 where the tramp walks into the sunset, he set out with his unit for Khandala. But nothing was quite right and the unit carried on, past Khandala and beyond, till they reached Ooty, several hundred kilometres away with the unit members in their summer clothing shivering in the cold. The shooting that began as a two-hour trip ended after three days."
What is not captured in this work that seeks to tell you about one of the biggest filmmakers in the history of Indian cinema is the fiery energy that the man exuded all the time – the energy that one of the greatest actors of Hindi cinema captures in a few words while paying tribute to the filmmaker. Says Amitabh Bachchan: "He carried with him all the time, an undaunted spirit and a rare passion for life. Many a mortal could have survived a lifetime merely by walking past him and picking up a miniscule portion of his spirit and energy."
The blue-eyed boy of the masses did not make "films for drawing room conversation. I am making films to entertain the millions of this country. So I have my music, my romanticism, a beautiful script, dancing nice visuals and there we are! All is well, everybody is happy and God is great." Indeed!
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