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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Main Raj Kapoor Ho Gaya, Review: A drunk, moping, slum-dweller, and his three muses

Main Raj Kapoor Ho Gaya, Review: A drunk, moping, slum-dweller, and his three muses

Most films have at least a semblance of reference to the title. Some, though, choose to get philosophical when picking a moniker for their screen vehicle. Then there those that have a prosaic sentence as the title, and neither prose nor poetry to justify it. Main Raj Kapoor Ho Gaya is one such. What the title means is “I have become Raj Kapoor.” Raj Kapoor, of course, was the cinematic genius who acted, directed and edited a host of memorable films, during the period 1949-89. Is Main Raj Kapoor Ho Gaya about reincarnation? Far from it. Is it about somebody whose body of work stands in comparison with Raj Kapoor’s? Banish the thought. It is about a drunk who calls himself Raj Kapoor, occasionally hums a few lines of songs from Raj Kapoor’s films, and has performed a marionette act in tandem with his slum neighbour-benefactor as a tribute to Raj Kapoor. Once or twice, others join in his humming. A few posters of Raj Kapoor’s movies are seen on the lead actor’s walls. End of reference to Raj Kapoor.

Set in a sprawling Mumbai slum, the film is about ‘Raj Kapoor’, who falls in love with fellow slum-dweller Suman. Suddenly, Suman dies in a freak accident. Raj cannot bear the shock. Once the owner of a reputable motor garage, he becomes an alcoholic. Pinto, a bar owner, gives him free alcohol every day, out of sympathy. His only two companions are a maid (played by Shravani Goswami) and his former side-kick at the garage, Raghu (unidentified). The maid owns two kholis (hutments), of which she has given one for Raj. She also takes care of Raj’s food and other basic expenses. Raj often dreams and hallucinates about Suman. He has a kind heart and often gets milk to feed stray puppies. And then, one incident changes his life forever, once again.

Raj and Raghu are sauntering back home when they see a woman running for her life, being chased by a car. Catching up with her, the occupants attack her and she gets hit on the forehead. Raj sees Suman in the girl. He and Raghu decide to save the girl and get into a fight with the assailants. They manage to chase the pursuers away. The woman is unconscious. When she recovers consciousness, she seems to have lost her memory. Raj and Raghu take her to the police station. However, the officer on duty turns out to be a lecher, and tries to take advantage of her. Luckily, Raj, Raghu and the maid arrive in time, and the girl is saved. The trio decide to take her to their kholi and keep her there till she regains her memory. During her stay there, both she and Raj develop soft corners for each other. It is then discovered that the girl has a blood clot in her brain.

This film is a Manav Sohal show, coming after P.K. Lele a Salesman (2018), which he also wrote, directed and acted in. There is a poster on a wall, of the P.K. film, if you are careful enough to notice. He has worked in TV before. There was the germ of an idea in this film, but instead of allowing it to germinate, Manav Sohal gets into multi-track mode. He begins with preaching that all Gods are one, but he does not profess to know the meaning of what he heard at a Gurdwara. Immediately afterwards, he proceeds to paraphrase it perfectly! The slum lingo angle is carried to far. Tropes abound. The police officer trying to take advantage of the girl at the station by locking the front door is hard to digest. Another trope is the women’s hostel warden trying to sell off the girl to a politician. The puppy is used once too often. And why do people give him milk when he asks for it, since he does not have any money? Raj seeing his dead beloved in almost any woman is yet another trope.

When Raj needs a place to move into, Pinto pulls out a key and says he has a flat that is lying vacant. Raj is shown to get involved with as many as three women. To give him credit, the Suman’s death and the fight with the girl-chasers are imaginatively captured. One can never be sure whether it was necessary because it was really raining while shooting, but umbrellas keep popping-up every few minutes. Of course, there is an iconic scene of Raj Kapoor and Nargis under an umbrella, too tempting not to duplicate, not enough justification though. I cannot recall any other customers at Pinto’s bar except Raj and Raghu. Likewise, the maid, who works in as many as four houses, is always available, whenever required.

Raghu’s girl-friend Babita, a bar-dancer, is taken by Raghu to meet his mother. She goes wearing a cleavage revealing dress. Would his mother accept her? She gets promptly thrown out. Then, incredulously, we have a scene where the mother is coughing uncontrollably, and Babita, again wearing a plunging neckline, is feeding her a cough syrup. The mother says that Babita has saved her life and agrees to the alliance immediately. Why is there no mention whatsoever of Raj and Suman’s families? And how and why and when did he become ‘Raj Kapoor’?

There are flashes of talent in the writing and direction of Manav Sohal, though they surface only rarely. An episode in a TV serial might have been more befitting for his prowess. In the film, this episodic structure appears contrived. Even the way he divides the episodes – by a tilting sky shot of the huge colony – is both predictable and unimaginative. It is obvious that he believes in improvising scenes while acting, perhaps in an effort to goad his co-stars on, or to act as a drama prompter. However, they go nowhere. Tall and presentable-looking Manav takes on the role of a drunk bumpkin, probably to prove his versatility. That is granted.

From the cast, I could only recognise a couple: Virendra Saxena and Anand Jog. Virendra looks the part of Pinto but cannot convince us with his diction and accent. Nevertheless, he has a meaty role, for a change. Anand Jog, who, like Mahavir Shah, has villain written all over him, plays the police officer up to no good. But leading the cast, besides our home-grown Raj Kapoor, are three ladies: Shravani Goswami, Kanchan Pagare and Smita Dongre. (Remember, Raj Kapoor had three heroines in Mera Naam Joker). All acquit themselves well. Shravani looks a little older, to be paired with Manav. Several artistes put in guest appearances: Brijendra Kala, Manish Goel, Raj Premi, Zahid Ali, Daya Shankar Pandey, Tarun Khanna, Gufi Paintal, Nishi Gandhawad and Chahat Pandey. Either they all had blink and miss roles, or I failed to recognise them. The actors playing Raghu and the doctor are competent.

Cinematography and editing are nothing to write home about.

In summation, Main Raj Kapoor Ho Gaya will not suffer one bit if the entire Raj Kapoor strand is edited out. Moreover, fans of the great showman Raj Kapoor will find nothing they can relate to, and will be downright disappointed. Any number of disclaimers, like the one in the beginning of the film, that this film is not about Raj Kapoor and his muse, Nargis, will not prepare audiences for what is in store. Good performances are not enough to save the film. Raj Kapoor would not have been pleased with this half-baked product.

Rating: * ½


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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