Awaara (1951) – A Grand Social Drama and Worldwide Hit

This is a certified classic. A landmark in Hindi cinema history which won the Grand Prize at Cannes 1953, was a massive worldwide hit and was the best-grossing film in the world (yes, even beating out Hollywood where Quo Vadis? earned 30,000,000 Dollars in 1951 while this film garnered a hefty 250 Million Dollars at the box office), beloved in the Soviet Union and China (where most of its profits came from) for its socialist messages, the emergence of hope in a country that was building itself as ‘India’ after Independence and most of all the first burst of what we would come to know as Hindi Cinema that we know today that would later be remade and remade as the decades went on.


Raj is on trial for murder as Judge Raghunath is ready to have his trial begin, but finds he has no attorney until Rita (his ward) steps forward as an attorney for Raj. What unravels next is a flashback on how we came to this point and what all of these characters are to one another. Friends from childhood turned lovers, wives who are smeared with rumours, evil fathers and most of all the question if one is born to become a criminal or is society the one that turns good men into crooks. It is the latter if you are wondering.


Raj Kapoor is the star, he produced, directed the movie and Khwaja Ahmad Abbas created the story and wrote the screenplay. This was not Raj’s first movie, that was Aag in 1948 where Nargis had a small part, but in Barsaat in 1949 she was the leading lady. The two famously had a long-lasting love affair (while Raj was still married and had kids) and their chemistry shows on screen with every interaction.

Nargis was already a star, having done movies before Independence and the Partition in Bombay while Raj’s father Prithviraj Kapoor (who plays Judge Raghunath) had opened up the Prithvi Theatre (still managed by the Kapoor’s, specifically Sashi Kapoor’s children) where his sons acted and worked behind the scenes until Raj went off to star in movies. Prithviraj had done a few movies but preferred the theatre. The family had come from a good place in the societal hierarchy in Punjab before having to move because of The Partition. One of many families to do so, moving to Bombay for opportunities and a chance to start anew.

Raj went off to make his mark in films and after a string of successes and leading roles he set up RK Studios (now used as a space for filming, in the bargaining to be sold at some point and thus lost by the Kapoor family thanks to insufficient management). The country was now independent, immigrants flowed in and the whole place was rejuvenated by this new excitement of what one could do with this new country that was now completely theirs and not the British Raj’s colonial playground. Most in mind in the minds of the people was the need for social consciousness and how to help those in need. The need of the many, the slum dwellers, the poor, the orphaned, the one’s society had cast aside — all this amalgamated in this one movie, capturing a worldwide need for both change and questioning society’s (especially the rich) with helping the poor and not hindering them.

(The first instance of a fantasy sequence within Hindi cinema, showed within a dream, which would later be changed from the fantastical setting sequences to the Alps of Switzerland and forests and flowering fields as the decades past)

The film is very enjoyable to watch all the way through. Full of beautiful moments like the above fantasy song sequence, every moment with Nargis and Raj and the cinematography. The film uses shadows and light to its advantage in the last shot which is Raj looking out of a window as the sunlight hits him. It is truly beautiful.

(Raj’s younger brother Sashi plays the younger version of (film) Raj, and he is just adorable. Also, a picture of Sashi when he is older, looking much more grown-up, pretty and debonair. The Best Kapoor indeed. No one is as pretty as him)

The film in a way turns this story about family into a family picture by casting the people Raj (the actor) is close to with his family members. Nowadays it would be called Nepotism, but when your father is an acclaimed stage and screen actor and your younger brother can act and is the cutest child ever to be put on celluloid to play a younger you, it is hard to complain.

(The song that was a hit in the Soviet Union and China. Said to be Mao’s favourite.  Awara Hoon mans ‘I am a vagabond’ translated from Hindi. Also, the first instance of the Chaplinesque vagabond avatar of Raj, which would be later be perfected in Shree 420 (1955), another of Raj ‘s classic films and very much loved in India to earn a bucketful of references in other films)

The film itself dwells in the complex family ties and acknowledging the poor and their circumstances which aren’t due to their lack of ambition, but the lack of opportunity within the system. Littel Raj is kicked out of school because he doesn’t cut the mark to pass, all the while he has been shining shoes to earn money.

Rita played by Nargis goes to the same school as he does and they are friends, even though they are from a different class. This later grows in to love. Judge Raghunath is a friend of Rita’s father Dubey (played by B. M. Vyas) who likes the boy while Judge has his suspicions, believing that a son of a thief is a thief.

For this outlook, in the past, when sent a thief named Jagga (played by K. N. Singh) into prison for rape, while he says he didn’t do it. For this action, his wife Leela (played by Leela Chitnis) is kidnapped and held captive for four days with Jagga and his men before being returned. But because of her stay there, it is questionable if her son is Jagga’s or Judge’s (throwing the same question asked of Sita’s virtuosity after being kidnapped by Raavan in the Ramayana), but she insists that it is Judge who is his father and the film confirms this, though just enough is left unanswered if he really is Jagga’s.

Either way, the message is the same, of acknowledging past deeds and how to rectify them. That every action has consequences and those who are in the top are at fault for the poor and their troubles. It should be noted that at Rita’s birthday party they sing ‘S/he’s a jolly good fellow’ to her as she descends down the stairs. The upper class is still very British in style, but the ones like Rita who help the downtrodden and see past the sins of their father’s and love are the best. Even those who later come to see reason do so and all end up relatively well, though how happy of an ending it will ultimately be is up for the viewer to decide.

Thank you for reading! 

One thought on “Awaara (1951) – A Grand Social Drama and Worldwide Hit

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s