Approach to post Independence India – Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt

While travelling in a car, I heard an almost forgotten ‘Dil ka haal sune dilwala‘ playing on the FM. The simple lyrics of the song and the eternal image of the very own Indian tramp/vagabond Raj Kapoor make the song immortal. While I was listening to the words carefully, I suddenly realised we don’t anymore have songs that laugh about our troubles.

This song actually talks about an encounter that the protagonist had with the police. The last two paragraphs of the song, talk alternatively about hope for the future and precautions the poor have to take to stay out of trouble in a country like ours. What struck me was that nowadays we just don’t see a song that sounds so happy but actually talks about the degeneration of the society. The song is all about laughing at and along with your troubles, but telling it like it is – seedhi si baat na mirchi masala…

Kapoor’s tramp was besieged with problems but always hoped for a better tomorrow. He complained about the system, but believed ‘Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi’. The fifties were a time of optimism in the new republic of India. And so despite the poverty, the problems, people felt the end of the British era would surely bring some positive change. Raj Kapoor’s protagonist knew he could do better, but he didn’t resent where he was in the moment. It was not resignation, but a kind of calm acceptance – Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai. His movies showed an imperfect world which was still ideal and in the end, all was well.

Contrast that to Kapoor’s contemporary Guru Dutt, who also told it like it is, but offered no hope. He was a realist, almost to the point of pessimism. His view of independent India is best described in the song from Pyaasa, Jinhen naaz hai hind pe woh kahaan hai… A scathing report of the actual state of the country which everyone had thought would once again become the golden bird after independence. The song is bitter and harsh. The picturisation equally grim.

Dutt’s look at the whole situation was one of cold observation and his films also reflected the all or nothing perfectionism of his life. His most famous protagonists were always struggling to come to terms with lost hopes and dreams while facing an indifferent world. What is striking about a song like Jinhen Naaz or Ye Mahalo ye takhton is the loss of innocence. No other film maker of his times would have let these immortal words by the lyricist Sahir be part of a film. Even the happy go-lucky songs like Ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahaan sing of the isolation capitalism brings in. While Dutt’s earlier movies show the urban India in the 50’s crime, romance et all, his later movies, considered to be classics are the ones that show the eventual decline in human relationships, the effects of capitalism and the impact of a loss of idealism.

While Raj Kapoor’s protagonist though aware of the flaws of the system, is more concerned about how he can progress despite them and maintain a personal optimism. Guru Dutt on the other hand is the idealist who doesn’t see the point of optimism if things are not the way they should be. But thanks to the two of them, we can see a fair enough portrayal of the whole spectrum of nationalism of a young nation.