Lost in Love: Raj Kapoor and Nargis
Ruddy-cheeked and light-eyed, Raj Kapoor was unmistakably Destiny’s blue-eyed boy. As a romantic actor, his onscreen romance with Nargis, fuelled by larger-than-life stories of their off-screen relationship, was a glorious chapter in the cinematic history of Hindi cinema. Raj Kapoor first showed his scene-stealing abilities in Mehboob Khan’s Andaz (1949), where he costarred with Nargis and Dilip Kumar. Kapoor played Nargis’s flamboyant but suspicious husband with aplomb. Flamboyance was his forte in other early successes like Dastaan and Sargam as well. Although, he was paired with Nargis from his first produced-directed and acted movie Aag(1947).
The film was ready to go on the floors and Raj was determined to get himself the best studio in town. Famous Studio in Mumbai’s central suburb, Mahalaxmi, had been highly recommended to him. He’d heard that Jaddan Bai was at Famous Studio where her son Akhtar Hussain was shooting Romeo and Juliet, the first production of Nargis Art Concern. Raj rushed to the studio to meet bibiji with the intention of quizzing her about the facilities that Famous offered. But he missed her by minutes. The unit, he was told, had packed up for the day and gone home.
Raj impulsively decided he’d drive on to Marine Drive where Jaddan Bai had her apartment. A quarter of an hour later he was outside her door ringing the bell. Jaddan Bai’s eighteen-year-old daughter Nargis was in the kitchen frying bhajias. Hearing the doorbell peal she rushed to open the door and was so startled by the sight of a blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked stranger shuffling outside her door, that she put a hand nervously up to brush away her untidy locks and smeared her forehead with the besan dough on her fingers. Raj was enchanted by the image of this lovely girl with besan on her forehead and hair. The crimson blush staining her cheeks as she realized what had happened, enhanced the pretty picture. Stammering with embarrassment Nargis asked him shyly who he was. Raj introduced himself as Prithviraj Kapoor’s son. Nargis recalled seeing him in the play, Deewar, at Prithvi Theatre and invited him in. But when Raj enquired about bibiji and learnt that Nargis was at home alone he refused to enter the apartment and hurried away.
He went straight to the home of his scriptwriter, Inder Raj Anand. “I must have that girl in my film. Write her into the screenplay of Aag,” he commanded. And Nargis walked into Aag in the ninth reel.
Later Barsaat (1949), a runaway hit, also brought to the limelight new music directors Shankar – Jaikishen, lyricists Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri and the actress Nimmi. The raw passion between Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Barsaat shot with a beautiful almost poetic use of light and shade drove audiences wild. The music of the film was hummed across the nation and along with Andaaz and Mahal that year, the songs were instrumental in Lata Mangeshkar’s climb to the top as a playback singer. In fact Raj Kapoor’s musical sense and feel for rhythm and involvement in music sittings have ensured the highest quality of music in his films.
Awaara (1951), the tale of a vagabond was perhaps his greatest triumph and was released in Russia as Bradyaga to unprecedented success. It’s dream sequence with huge statues set amongst the clouds to the strains of Nargis dancing to Ghar Aaya Mera Pardesi stands out even today!
Off-screen, her affair with the already married Raj Kapoor was a matching of soul and spirit. After Awaara (1951) she worked almost exclusively with him even turning down her mentor Mehboob’s Aan (1952). The Raj Kapoor and Nargis pair had chemistry hitherto unseen on the Indian screen. The passion that each had for the other poured out on the screen as they romanced each other in several films – The song Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua from Shree 420 (1955) with Nargis and Raj under the umbrella in heavy rain is subliminal romance at its best. Nargis knowing Raj Kapoor’s obsession for white took to dressing in white and was known as his lady in white. She even met the then Home Minister Moraji Deasai to try and get him to sanction a marriage between her and Raj Kapoor!
Song: Pyaar Huwa Ikrar Huwa Hai (Shree 420)
However by 1956 the pair had broken up, Chori Chori (1956), a breezy entertainer based on Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934), being their last film together. She did do a special appearance in his production Jagte Raho (1956) for old times sake and perhaps it was fitting that at the end of the film she is the woman who finally quenches Raj Kapoor’s thirst.
With Raj Kapoor out of her life, almost as if on cue, Mehboob offered her his magnum opus Mother India (1957). It is a well-known story that while shooting for Mother India, Nargis was trapped amidst lit haystacks. As the flames got higher and higher, Sunil Dutt playing her rebellious son, Birju, in the film ran through the fire and rescued her. He proposed to her and Nargis married Sunil Dutt and quit films after marriage.
While Raj Kapoor continued to explore social issues – Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960) or complex human relationships – Sangam (1964) there is a marked difference in his treatment of the heroine who became a sex object with a high accent on her physical attributes.
Reverting back to the Chaplinisque image, Kapoor made his magnum opus Mera Naam Joker (1970) about a clown who laughs on the outside and cries within and though absolutely brilliant in parts (particularly the first chapter of the adolescent hero discovering love and sex) the film, a highly self indulgent exercise flopped miserably at the box office shattering.
Raj bounced back with Bobby(1973) a teenage romance of young lovers fighting parental opposition that is aped by Hindi cinema till today.
The memory of his first meeting with Nargis stayed with Raj all his life. And when he was writing Bobby he dredged it up for Bobby’s (Dimple Kapadia) first meeting with Raj (Rishi Kapoor). The only difference was that Bobby wasn’t frying bhajias, she was baking a cake and smeared her hair with maida rather than besan. But it didn’t dim the enchantment for the young Raj. Who fell head-over-heels-in-love with her… again.
Although Nargis quit hindi cinema after her marriage, she did lend her voice and we do see her silhouette in Sunil Dutt’s ‘one actor movie monument’ Yaadein (1964) and she did make a comeback of sorts expertly playing a woman with a split personality in Raat Aur Din (1967) winning the National Award for the same. She died of cancer in 1981, the same year her son Sanjay Dutt made his screen debut with Rocky.
At 60, Raj Kapoor had lost none of his ability to push the audience’s emotional throttle. On June 3, 1988, Raj Kapoor, who had been suffering from asthma, finally succumbed. The script of Henna was ready but Kapoor was not there to direct it. In keeping with the theme of his life (as articulated emphatically in Mera Naam Joker) — the show must go on — his eldest son Randhir directed Heena for the RK banner.
Song: Jeena Yeha Marna Yeha (Mera Naam Joker)