Awaara : Criticizing Elitism
Updated: Jul 24
Warning: This is a spoiler-filled analysis, so if you haven’t seen Awara, I envy you as you have the opportunity of experiencing it for the first time.
“Sharifo ki aulad humesha sharif hoti hai, aur chor-daaku ki aulad humesha chor daku hoti hai” this dialogue summarizes the conflict in the film Awara. This film is written by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and directed by Raj Kapoor. K. A. Abbas was a journalist, a great literary figure, scriptwriter, and director. He has written films like Neecha Nagar, which is the first Indian movie to win Palm d’Or.
According to Awaara’s Wikipedia page:
Awaara blends socialist and reformist themes with the crime, romantic comedy, and musical melodrama genres. The film became an overnight sensation in South Asia and found even greater success abroad in the Soviet Union, East Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. Awaara was the first Indian film that crossed the international barrier. In particular, the song "Awaara Hoon" ("I am a Vagabond"), sung by Mukesh with lyrics by Shailendra, became hugely popular across the Indian subcontinent, as well as in countries such as the Soviet Union, China, Bulgaria, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Romania. The film was also nominated for the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953. The film was a big blockbuster in socialist countries like China and the Soviet Union; it sold an estimated 100 million tickets in China and 100 million tickets in the Soviet Union. In 2012, Awaara was included in the 20 new entries to All-Time 100 greatest films by TIME.
So, what exactly is a Melodrama?
A melodrama is a dramatic work wherein the plot, which is typically sensational and designed to appeal strongly to the emotions, takes precedence over detailed characterization. Melodramas typically concentrate on dialogue, which is often bombastic or excessively sentimental.
Before analyzing any movie, you should know the context on which it is made. So, Awaara was released in 1951, four years after India finally attained Independence. British ruled India for almost 100 years, which means almost all the Indian population of the 1950s were born in the British ruled India and doesn’t know what the independent nation feels like. In Pre-independent India, through films and music artists always tried to motivate people to fight for the nation and its independence. “Aaj Himalaya ki choti se fir humne lalkara hai” from Kismet(1943). And in Post –independent India, artists started motivating people to build a nation by showing them what is wrong with society and our country; and why we need to forget our past and correct our self to become a better nation. “Chhodo kal ki baatein, kal ki baat purani” from Hum Hindustani(1961) and "Hum laaye hai toofan se kashti nikaal me" from Jagriti (1954). Some of the films that are considered classic and tried pointing out the flaws in the system are Neecha Nagar, Shree 420, Jagte Raho, Do Aankhein Barah Hath, Mother India, Bandini, Pyaasa, etc.
Let’s try to deconstruct Awaara through a writer’s point of view:
Stating the intentions from the first frame:
The film cleverly plays its starting credit alongside a poor child sitting below a lamppost, sharing his food with a stray dog. It stamps the intention of the creators that the class doesn’t define the character of a person. Even the child who has just one roti to eat is compassionate enough to share his food with an animal; it is the inherent human values that define human beings, not the class.
Engaging the audience by planting questions:
The first scene of the film takes place in the courtroom, where proceeding of the case is about to begin in which Judge Raghunath was attacked by a young man named Raj. It immediately throws a question to the audience, “Why did Raj try to kill Judge Raghunath?”. And now the film is not about how it is going to end but how did we get here?
Raj hasn’t appointed any lawyer to fight for him, but Rita comes to his rescue. Turns out he doesn’t want to get rescued, he just wants to get hanged for his crimes. Another question, “Even if he failed in killing Judge Raghunath, why does he want to get hanged for murder? Whom did he kill?”.
Judge Raghunath believes Raj attacked him because Raj is a criminal and hates people who are in a better position, Raghunath feels as Raj is a vagabond and has a criminal track record since childhood, his parents must be criminals or vagabonds only. This familiarizes us with the elitist nature of Judge Raghunath.
Through Rita and Judge Raghunath’s conversation, we find out that Judge Raghunath has thrown his wife Leela out of the house, the audience automatically develops a notion that Raj is the son of Judge Raghunath and they can see the irony in Judge Raghunath’s assumption about Raj’s family but “why did he throw Leela out of the house?”
Searching for the answers…:
In the flashback, we find out that Leela is Kidnapped by Bandit Jagga. Jagga was convicted by Judge Raghunath for a false rape case on the pretext of Jagga’s father’s criminal record. Jagga plans to rape Leela to take revenge, but he finds out she is pregnant.
“Sham, Daam, Dand, Bhed” is one of the most popular Chanakya Niti. So, there is a task which is beneficial for you, and you want someone to do it for you. The first niti is Sham, which means trying to convince someone to do the task by talking to them and trying to make them understand that the task is important, and it will be beneficial for both the parties. If you fail in Sham, try to bribe them for doing the task, this is known as Daam. If you fail in Daam, warn them that they will come under serious trouble if they refuse to do the task, this is known as Dand. And if you fail in Dand, exploit the person’s weakness, be it family, assets or secrets or anything for which the person cares, this is known as Bhed.
Bhed is the most powerful policy, and Jagga opts to use it against Judge Raghunath. He knows insecurities will seep inside Judge Raghunath; once he finds out, Jagga has safely returned Leela, after holding her captive for a few days, and she is pregnant.
Bhed made Shri Ram doubt Mata Sita’s character. Allegory of Ramayana is used in Awaara, Judge Raghunath’s sister-in-law says “Toh kya tum bhagwan Raam se bhi badhkar ho? Jante ho sati Sita ko bhi agni pariksha deni padi thi isi duniya ke kehne pe”. This makes Judge Raghunath insecure, and doubts creep inside his mind. But Ramayan allegory is working in a subtextual layer also, which is in the lines of the film's theme i.e. "we always get inspired and intimidated by the authority above us; but we should never forget to question anything or anyone, which we feel is wrong irrespective of their position".
In an evocative scene Leela delivers a son beside a drain while “Julm sahe bhari, janak dulari” is playing in the background, which tells the audience that Leela is nothing but a reflection of Mata Sita.
…but answer should provide a new perspective to the audience:
So, now we know the answer to “why did he throw Leela out of the house?” but it also breaks our notion that this movie is about whether Raj is his son or not. We already know the answer but we don’t know the way to move forward, we are instantly hooked to unravel the journey with our protagonist. Breaking the notion is important to make the film engaging else when the film gets predictable and the audience has nothing more to feast into, they slowly start losing interest from the film.
Raj grows up in Mumbai’s slum, here ironically, going to a school is considered taboo. Raj also believes that people who are not going to school are enjoying their life to the fullest. He is forcefully sent to school by his mother, who wants to make him a Judge like his father, though Raj doesn’t know who his father is. This sequence shows how an environment and locality shapes your mindset and perception about what is right or not, not the lineage. We need reforms to educate people and develop the locality so that no one succumbs to the dark side of the city.
Raj is thrown out of the school; to feed his hungry mother, he steals bread but gets caught and thrown into prison. This highlights that one of the reasons behind people opting for crime is to feed themselves and their families. Subtlety is not the strong point of Awaara, so Raj explicitly says that if he had found the food that day, he would not have ended up in prison.
Raj Kapoor has said “In Awaara, I tried to prove that Vagabonds are not born, but are created in the slums of our modern cities, in the midst of dire poverty and evil environment”
Fighting your demons…:
So after Raj’s first stealing, Jagga becomes his teacher. Raj continues stealing and become a frequent visitor to prison. But Leela thinks Raj works for a company, and when he is spending time in prison, she believes Raj is traveling all over the world for business.
He accidentally meets Rita, who is his childhood friend; there is still a spark between them. Whenever Rita calls him Junglee, he gets agitated, and on one of the occasions, he hits her. The reason behind his anger is his inner conflict. He never wanted to become a criminal. In his mind, he is still an honest man that her mother wanted him to be; that is why he never gathered the courage to tell her the truth. So, whenever Rita calls him Junglee, he instantly gets reminded of the fact that he is nothing more than a mere thief. He gets agitated because he doesn’t want to face his truth and reality. The hardest phase for any person is when s/he loses respect for her/himself, and Raj is born and brought up in this phase.
But every time Raj finds himself lost in the dreamy world of love, compassion, and a better life with Rita; Jagga, brings him back to reality and crushes his ambition of getting out of the swamp.
His conflict is highlighted by “Ghar aaya mera pardesi” dream sequence, where Raj is fighting with his reality and aspirations of a better life. Rita tries to uplift him but he sulks in the dark reality.
He decides to change his reality by working honestly in a factory but get fired from the job when the manager finds out he is an ex-thief.
Raj to Manager: “Agar chor uchakko ko aap kaam pe nahi rakhna chahte, toh kya aap ye chahte hai ki wo humesha chori daake se hi apna pet bharte rahe?” This is the socialist and reformist ideology that K. A. Abbas wants to propagate through Awaara.
Raj is feeling lost; he is petting a dog when suddenly a passerby steps on the dog. Raj shouts at the man, the passerby calls Raj Junglee, and at that moment, Raj realizes his value is similar to the stray dog. Raj again gets agitated and tries to kill the person but leaves him when he remembers Rita. Rita is not a character who is present in the film just to add glamour quotient or to be an object of desire for our protagonist. She is a bridge that connects Judge Raghunath and Raj. She is a bridge that connects the upper class and the lower class. She is hope and motivation that people like Raj need to fight their inner and outer demons. In a way, K. A. Abbas is telling the audience that for climbing out of the swamp of crime and unemployment, upper-class people should help lower class people. They need support like Rita and not resistance like Judge Raghunath.
Rita finds out Raj is a thief when he steals a necklace from Judge Raghunath and gifts it to her. But Rita still supports him and wants him to come out of the dirty lanes of the past; she understands the circumstances that have lead Raj to do wrong deeds.
Raj to Rita: “Rita, maine tujhe dhokhe me rakha, maine apne aap ko bhi dhokhe me rakha”
Raj meets Judge Raghunath and has a realization that even though Raj is a criminal, but as a human being, he is far better than Judge Raghunath; it makes him understand his self-worth.
…and getting defeated by them….
Jagga is running away from the police; he hides in Raj’s house. Leela is shocked to see Jagga after so many years soon she finds out Jagga is the reason behind Raj’s leaning towards crime. Jagga tries to kill Leela, but she is saved by Raj. Raj kills Jagga in the self-defense. Raj killed a wanted bandit; he killed the man who influenced him to be a criminal; he killed his biggest demon. On the surface, it may look like that without Jagga, Raj is a free man and will live a better life. But Raj knows that the real demon is the society and the system, which will never allow him to live a better life and he knows that it is a stupidity to expect equality and justice from the society. Police arrive there and arrest Raj. So that is how the question “whom did he kill?” raised in the first scene is answered in this scene.
Rita plans to fight for Raj and asks Leela to state in the court. But Leela accidentally comes under Judge Raghunath’s car when she sees Judge Raghunath after so many years. Her face gets completely damaged. Leela narrates the whole story to Rita. Raj comes after Rita. Leela tells him that Judge Raghunath is his father. Leela wanted father-son to get united, but Raj feels that Judge Raghunath has intentionally tried to kill Leela to hide the truth. Leela succumbs to the injuries.
Raj is burning with the anger of abandonment, like Karn from Mahabharata Raj is agitated by the fact that he belongs to a reputed family but lived his entire life as a fatherless son. He knows he deserved better, he deserved a name, he deserved respect, he deserved a good life, he deserved a better father. Raj can imagine his life if his father hadn’t abandoned his mother; Leela must have still been alive. These thoughts are all boiling inside him; he feels he is about to explode. He has lost all the hopes of a better future and doesn’t have anything to lose now. So, he somehow manages to escape from the prison to kill Judge Raghunath, but he fails to do so.
In the continuation of the court hearing of the first scene, Rita tells the court that Judge Raghunath should also get punished because of people like him, vagabonds like Raj gets born. Raj knows the verdict of the court; he knows swamp has engulfed him.
Raj to the Court: “Qaatil ban-ne ke baad kam se kam itni azadi toh mili ki apni awaz aap ke kaano tak pahuncha saku… pehle kabhi humari suni hoti toh shayad aaj mai is katghare me khada nazar nahi aata… Rita devi ne mujhe faansi se bachane ki bahut koshish ki; is mukadme me hi nahi, meri zindagi me bhi… magar main apni safai me kuch kehna nahi chahta, main bura hun, bachpan se awaara hun, khooni hun, apradhi hun… aap jo chahe mujhe saza de sakte hai, magar kya aap samajhte hai ki mujhe faansi dene se ye paap, krodh, hinsa aur apradh ka zahar jo aap ki duniya me faila hua hai, ye door ho jayega?... main apko apne zeevan katha sunana nahi chahta magar itna zarur kehna chahta hum ki apradh ke keede mujhe khoon me apne maa-baap se nahin mile the, us gande gutter se mile the jo humare chawl ke pas se behta hai… wo gutter aaj bhi wahan beh raha hai aur apradh ke keede ab bhi usme pal rahe hai aur aur saikdo hazaro gareeb bacche jo aaspas ke chawlo me rehte hai rozana in keedo ke shikaar ho rahe hai… meri fikr na kijiye, in baccho ki fikr kijiye, apne baccho ki fikr kijiye… aisa na ho ki aap, aur aap, aur aap, aur aap ka baccha bhi meri tarah is kataghare me bar-bar kahe ki meri rago me bade shareef baap ka khoon hai… kabhi main bhi apke baccho ki tarah hasmukh aur masoom tha, sab maaon ki tarah meri maa bhi sunahre sapne dekha karti thi, kaha karti thi ki mera beta bada ho kar pehle vakeel banega fir magistrate aur fir judge, apne baap ki tarah... main janta hu is adalat ka faisla kya hoga aur main har saza bhugatne ke liye taiyaar hun, mere paapo ki yahi praschit hai… magar mujhe ek aur adalat ke faisle ka intezar hai, mai jaan-na chahta hun Judge Raghunath tumhare man ke adalat ka kya faisla hai?”
This monologue summarizes the motivation of the film. It is the culmination of thoughts of the number of vagabonds, unemployed, and criminals. It is the anger towards the system, who is not allowing equality to seep in minds; it is the anger towards individuals who make and rule the system. It is the anger that demands reforms, equality, and rebellion.
After the monologue Judge Raghunath accepts Raj as his son and apologizes to Raj for all the pain he caused to him. But for Raj it is not so easy to overcome his grudges, maybe he will never consider Judge Raghunath as his father. Being a father is more than just transferring genes.
…only to overcome the fear of demons:
Court understands Raj’s circumstances and reduces the prison time. Raj is impressed by the judge; he realizes that judges can be compassionate also, which gives him new hope. Rita feels she has failed in the task of saving Raj, but for Raj, this is like an act of penance, which is important to move on in life. In prison, Raj promises Rita that he will become a judge after coming out of the prison; he is again hoping for a better life. The film ends with the Awaara title track and a symbolic shot where he is looking at the window, which is the only source of light in the dark prison while the cell door closes behind him.
This film is a classic example of “Man vs. Society”. What is “Man vs. Society”? It occurs when the character is not pinned against a single person but injustice present in society. In Awaara, Judge Raghunath is a part and representative of the society that has always treated Raj unfairly. Judge Raghunath is the anti force of Raj. But what is the significance of other characters? I have already mentioned Rita is the bridge between two opposite forces and ideologies. Leela signifies the good elements present in society, she is the positive influence behind Raj’s nature. Jagga signifies the helplessness or greed of people. Going in Jagga’s direction is not their choice but they eventually succumb to it, when the society leaves no other option for the character.
P.S.: Similar to the film, I have written Judge Raghunath throughout the analysis. In the film, everyone calls him Judge Raghunath or Judge Saab which indicates that his post or designation is more important for society than his characteristics and to symbolize that he is distant from everyone’s emotional comfort zone. Being a Judge has now become his identity, and he is nothing more than a figment of his designation & power.
Have you read the blog without seeing the movie? Please go on youtube and watch the gem today? Leave a comment before you go!