by Sneha Goud – Managing Editor
I’m a newbie when it comes to Bollywood. I didn’t spend my childhood memorizing the words to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. But as I tell my friends, I’m trying to be more “ethnic” so I was excited to hear the Museum of Modern Art was presenting an eight-film series “Raj Kapoor and the Golden Age of Indian Cinema” last month.
Raj Kapoor is known as the Charlie Chaplin of Indian cinema; he was also called the Great Showman. His box office hits in the 1940s and 1950s often starred him as the “tramp” character, such as in Awaara, Shree 420, and Mera Naam Joker. Kapoor’s films often featured social issues he was passionate about, such as poverty, unemployment, and cultivating pride in in India’s new independent state. Kapoor was also a musician; the music in his films were always woven into the story and a highlight of the plot.
I was pleasantly surprised and entertained by the quality of the Kapoor film I saw, Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai or Where the Ganges Flows. Kapoor plays Raju, a traveling musician with a heart of gold, who is adopted by a group of bandits after he helps the sardar (or leader). Still viewed with suspicion by the rest of the village, Raju performs the titular song above, which some consider to be similar to India’s national anthem.
My favorite part of the film was the appearance of the actresses. Padmini, who played Raju’s love interest, was beautiful and charismatic. When she first appeared onscreen, I was shocked by her full figure – and then ashamed of myself for my reaction. I’ve been so brainwashed by modern cinema, I had forgotten what a curvy, healthy woman looks like.
Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai is a great introduction to “Old Bollywood.” The music and dancing is charming, the performances are moving, and though the run time is a little long, the film provides context to a crucial, often forgotten part of Indian cinematic history.