Shree 420


After seeing the song “Ramaiya Vastavaiya” from Shree 420, I yearned to see this Raj Kapoor and Nargis starrer from 1955.

I highly urge you to see this old classic. As many of the films of this era, it is classy cinema with lasting lessons and evergreen songs. The film describes the perils of a young, educated, hard-working but poor man who arrives in Bombay to make something of himself and is disappointed at every turn. Finally, for the sake of earning money and respect, he joins dishonest people in their dishonest work, meanwhile losing his love and self-respect. The remainder shows his regrets and amends.

I just want to share with you several points of this film that are worth mentioning from a today’s perspective. One is that contextually, little seems to have changed and an honest man has difficulty coming up in the world. The second aspect, relates more to film making itself. I was quite overwhelmed with the vision of the cinematographer and director in this film. I think that in terms of cinema, we are in an era where cinematography and dialogues are too direct and overt. There are two scenes in Shree 420 that prove this point.

One scene is where a drunk Raj and a sad Nargis argue over Raj’s decisions and Nargis is clearly very heartbroken and disappointed with him.While leaving, as he is drunk, he stumbles and falls suddenly. In that moment,  the spirit of an ever still Nargis leaves her body, and rushes to help him and sings of her longing for him. It’s one of the most spectacular scenes and piece of cinematography I have seen in a long time. What better way to picturise on screen the dilemma of a woman who struggles between her resolution and her emotion? She is heartbroken and cannot move or react physically when he falls but her spirit rushes to him with love and longing. What a most imaginative, creative way to describe human emotion!

In another scene, Raj who is slowly realizing his mistakes looks at himself in the mirror, dressed in an impeccable suit but with agony over his face. Suddenly, his image in the mirror is replaced with his old, poor, but happy self when he had first arrived in Bombay. The poor Raj tells him that he’s achieved all that he wished, is he happy? “Ab khush hai nai?” he asks mischievously. The rich Raj explains that he has everything but he is sad and upon that realization, the old Raj disappears from the mirror. Again, it is a wonderfully creative scene to visualize the self-struggle and realization of a man. The filmmaker has truly found excellent and covert methods to describe the internal feelings and struggles of his characters, something that is used very little in Hindi cinema today.

This film has made me realize that most of today’s filmmakers give too little credit to the audience. They tell us about character’s emotional journeys in very overt ways and mostly through direct dialogue. In a way, they simplify and stupify the content for us. It is clear from Shree 420 and that era of film-making that all of this is not necessary. You can tell as much of a story through visuals as you can with dialogues. And perhaps each piece of cinema should be a balance of both, and utilize both aspects in best ways possible. I hope we can see a trend back towards this in the next decades.


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