Barsaat – 1949
In many ways Raj Kapoor’s ‘Barsaat’ (1949) heralded the onset of spring for the Indian cinema. To millions of cinema-goers, Barsaat spelled romance. It glamorized special brand of necking and hugging on the screen that came to be known as the caveman style of love-making. It popularized Nargis and Raj Kapoor as a star couple in a sweeping fashion.
To catch the aura of romance, Barsaat stressed the equation of pairs to great effect. Raj Kapoor and Nargis as the screen lovers had their romantic counterparts in Premnath and Nimmi, musical twin-selves in the form of the new composers, Shanker and Jaikishen and lyrical ones in the form of the new poets, Shailendra and Hasrat. Jal Mistry’s black and white photography in romantic tones and on lovely locales anticipated the coming of a similar vogue in colour.
Aag and Barsaat are films that can fail in the romantic period of film-making in Raj’s career. These films of romance are Raj’s films of the big search. In Barsaat, as in Aag, the hero’s image, of a lover-cum-artist is restlessly in search of answers to the big question of his very existence. The question; “What is beauty?” asked in Aag picks up a new theme in Barsaat where the lover asks us all: What is love?” Two friends on a hill-station, Raj Kapoor and Premnath, argue and play out the reply, each with his own convictions about the points raised by the question.
” Raj’s love for a girl of the hills played by Nargis eventually proves that love is immortal and divine and supersedes that of his friend, who fails to prove his own contention that love is but material and transitory. The latter’s romance with another rustic girl played by Nimmi, which he treats as a touch and go affair assumes a tragic form in its fatal end, teaching him a lesson for life.
Of course all this high-flown metaphysical aspects of the story does not constitute the whole of Barsaat. The spirit of Barsaat lived in its songs and the ingenuity with which Raj was able to mould the popular appeal of his image as the super-lover for the audiences of the ‘fifties.’ Two streams of influences crossed and mixed with each other in the figure of the screen lover.
Raj, in the role, combined the identification, both with the tragic lover of ‘Devdas’ and the divine romantic figure of Shree Krishna at the same time. In the most electrifying sequence of the film, Raj standing on a mount, violin in hand, begins to play the famous opening strains of the song “O, o, mujhe kisi se pyar ho gaya.” And then Nargis, maddened by the call of his violin, comes tearing through woods and streams in the dark night to finally fall inert and helpless into his arms. The violin replaced the flute in this clever transferring of the ancient Radha-Krishna myth to modern romantic fantasy.
And as Devdas, the lover was forever wrecked by feelings of agony and pain for his beloved. He was distant even when she was closest to him and both were in the throes of great suffering when separated from each other.
The strains of melody were at their sweetest in Barsaat. People simply raved over the songs. Shanker and Jaikishen were able to infuse a musical variation of their own into the widely known forms, mainly through the use of a strong Western orchestra. But the violin was the heart of the melody in Barsaat. For the first time it was used as the primary instrument underlining the score, thereby breaking the tradition of the piano and the harmonium.
The folk forms that were used predominantly were the Pahadi of Punjab, heard vividly in songs like “Meri ankhon mein bas gaya koi re”and “Mera lal dupatta malmal ka” and the “Marsiya” or Muslim songs of mourning could be discerned clearly in songs such as “Chhod gaye balam, mujhe hai akela chhod gaye” and “Main zindagi mein har dam rota hi raha hoon.”
The voluntary change-over which Raj Kapoor underwent, from the super-lover image to that of the small, funny Chaplinesque tramp, right from his next film Awara, marks a crucial but calculated move in his career, which finally met a sad fate in the debacle of ‘Mera Naam Joker.’
For your viewing pleasure, here is the complete film.