Monday, June 02, 2008

Barsaat

[Contains spoilers!]

Disclaimer: I watched Raj Kapoor's Barsaat with fellow blogger and owner of our single brain, Post-Punk Cinema Club. As a result, I was a bit distracted by the fun chatting and I spent a lot of time laughing at how funny PPCC is and then wondeirng "Oh wait, was that something Very Important and Artistic that I should be thinking Serious Thoughts about?" Fortunately, despite the shared brain, PPCC and I do not always agree about everything, most notably the attractiveness of Byronic heroes and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (PPCC is pro both, whereas I say "blech"), so I was not waylaid further by the additional distraction of swooning. Good thing, too, as it turns out I would need all the supply of swoon I could find for watching Pyar Kiya Jaa a few days later.



Barsaat is my first Nargis movie, as well as my first with Raj Kapoor as an actor (and only third as director, the others being Bobby and Satyam Shivam Sundaram). A week mulling it over has not really given me any particular insight, except that I think it's really interesting that the title means "monsoon" or "rainfall" but there isn't any rain in the movie. It seems to me that the story's meaning is laid bare by the characters' dialogues and behaviors - love is powerful and not always sunny, and that to stave off its darkness, you need to treat the people you love carefully and with respect and affection.

Oh! Maybe that's the title reference? That loves brings storms and tears as well as sunshine and joy?

Early in the movie, while galavanting through the countryside en route to a summer getaway, Gopal (Prem Nath) and Pran (Raj) debate: "Is there a universal scale to measure good and bad" wonders Gopal. "Yes," says Pran. "The greatest scale is you wouldn't hurt anyone's feelings. That is the difference between the good and bad." Gopal teases Pran for being such a poet and wallowing in melancholy, and Pran criticizes Gopal's id-based behavior: "That's the difference between us. You only see the sparkle. You don't see that to light the sparkler you require fire."

That sums it up, really; Barsaat is a cause/effect lesson in playboy contrasted with poet. The story gives exemplars of both approaches: a lesser version of love, based on baser instincts and refusal to accept responsibility for other people's feelings, and a fuller, wiser concept of love that is more real and true because includes a wider range of experiences (not just instant gratification) and is responsive to how both people feel. Raj and Nargis (Reshma) are the solidly cohering couple who show compassion for each other and weather the storms, inseparable even by class difference, disapproving fathers and friends, aggressive suitors, and major physical traumas.

Prem Nath's character learns the importance of valuing people too late. (And yet another female character who has sex outside of marriage is punished severely. Great.)

This is certainly an approach to love that I can support; it's much more realistic and firmly rooted - and ultimately sweeter - the consequence-free method lived and suffered by Gopal and his tragic love Neela (the sweet-faced Nimmi in her first movie).

And while the film's lesson in responsibility and joy is straightforward and simple, the movie is very rich in effect, thanks to lovely visuals and strong performances. So enamored am I of bright color palettes that I forget how beautiful black and white can be, and Barsaat was a great reminder. There are many visually striking scenes, but I never felt jarred (something I cannot say for Raj's used of striped filters in Satyam Shivam Sundaram). Subtext-wise, too, things are mostly kept under control; while the characters may talk about love, they're also clearly thinking about sex, but the effect is generally one of passion rather than lecherousness (also something I cannot say for SSS). There is too much brooding for my liking, but it struck me as mostly working in service of the admirable aim of knowing yourself and those you love. Certainly according to the dichotomy set up by the movie, 'tis better to brood than not, so I made it through with minimal eye-rolling. The self-sacrifices of Reshma, Pran, and Neela do not sit as well with me, but that's one of those areas that Hindi films and I rarely agree on, so I'll just move on. PPCC describes Raj's performance here as 60% amazing/40% over-the-top performance, and that's not at all my preferred balance for almost any actor. I've read other opinions that feel Raj became OTT and self-indulgent far too often in his films, but I didn't really see much of that here. What I did see I can mostly chalk up to his character being painted as poet, and, much to my satisfaciton, Gopal voices some of the same critiques of Pran's moping that I was tempted to yell at the screen.

Forgive me for not saying more about Nargis.

She is fantastic in this and I can't wait to see more of her films. Her portrayal of Reshma is adorable and lively and fun, and Nargis's huge, generous grin suits her perfectly. She makes Reshma believably gorgeous, despite the occasional trauma-drama behavior of the character. I loved her constant sniffing - such a cute little quirk.


Some miscellaneous thoughts:

  • I wonder what Lo Spinario is doing in the living room of the fellows' rental house?
  • There's a great scene of Pran and Gopal at a swanky club, rich in 40s elegance
    contrasted with the chaotic streets outside, where Reshma has been taken by her loutish fiance to buy bangles.


    Also note the wavy lines and arcs in the club and then the coil of wire and Reshma's big earrings! Visual symmetry! Or something! Cool!
  • Another nifty visual.
  • I really liked the depiction of friendship, both between Pran and Gopal and later between Reshma and Gopal, who develop a sibling-like bond as they wait for Pran's recovery.
  • Throughout the movie, I wondered why there were so many shots of sources of light. And then I remembered Pran's line about needing fire to light a sparkler.



    Maybe that's it. Maybe Raj is trying to remind us that a source of power - heat, light, both necessary and potentially painful - is required to fuel love? I don't know. Whatever the reason, the constant imagery of light sources is a very neat effect, visually, even if I don't understand it.

Today is the twentieth anniversary of Raj Kapoor's death, and I'm only beginning to know anything about this important figure in Indian cinema. I hope people will post their suggestions about what I should watch next (other than Awaara and Shree 420, which are already on my list). The DVD of Barsaat I rented included a short feature on the importance and impact of Raj Kapoor, and one of his relatives (I think one of his sons, I forget who) said that when you worked with Raj, he inspired in you belief in what you were doing, belief in the characters. That was basically the effect I felt from this movie, and my hat is off to him for creating characters I found compelling despite their wobbles across my line of tolerance for trauma-drama and for forwarding the idea that we should treat the people we love carefully.

26 comments:

yves said...

Hi Beth,
Great to see you enjoy what I too have been so enthusisatic about recently, those fantstic Raj Kapoor-Nargis movies!
Yes, we do read this fact about RK having become an OTT actor after he stopped his partnership with Nargis... I'm not sure myself. But certainly his association with her made for very entertaining cinema.

Which ones could you watch? Well, you've got the two best that I know, Awaara and Shree 420. I also loved Jagte Raho, where he plays alone without Nargis, and I've seen Andaz, which is a very nice study onthe nature of love. I've heard Aag is also quite good. But: Shree 420 first!!!
Cheers
yves

sanjay saini said...

Hi Beth,

I liked your comments on Barsaat. I will suggest you to watch my personal favorite RK's Teesri Kasam. Directed by one of the finest filmmakers of India, Mr. Basu Bhattacharya. This film is based on an Indian noval with same name. It was produced in 1966 and was big hit. I dont know how much do you like hindi songs and dance because this film's backdrop is a 'Nautanki Company' hmm.... an Indian opera sort of..... Its music also was big hit of its time.

memsaabstory said...

Hmmm. Maybe I will watch this. Although if the message is one of treating those we love carefully, it seems hypocritical coming from RK who was pretty careless with his loved ones apparently.

I did like Shree 420 a lot, probably the best of RK/Nargis I've seen (behind Andaz, which RK didn't direct, and which Dilip Kumar was also in).

I do love Premnath in his younger days too. I've said it before and Ill say it again---so handsome!

Beth said...

Yves - based on my very limited experience, I'm definitely a fan of Nargis and Raj together! I look forward to more.

Sanjay - Thank you for the suggestion! That sounds great. I do indeed love the songs and dances (though don't write about them very much, not really sure why) - I'll try to give this one a listen soon.

memsaab - I think that's what it's about. Or it could just be an excuse to show some trauma-drama. I make no promises! It is very pretty to look at, and the songs are good too (as PPCC said). And Nargis is so cute in it - she kept me going through some of the muck for sure.

Sumanth said...

This was the first break for music directors Shankar - Jaikishan.

http://www.downmelodylane.com/sj.html

Raj Kapoor introduced Shankar-Jaikishan to the Film world with Barsaat (1949). Barsaat was also the first film for the lyricists Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri. The team thus formed with Barsaat remained as a unit till the end. Together they gave a number of hits like: Barsat, Aah, Aawara, Shri 420, Chori-Chori, Boot Polish, Anari, Jis Desh Me Ganga Behti Hai, Main Nashe Me Hoon, Aashiq, Deewana, Ek Dil Sau Afsaane, Sangam, Teesri Kasam and Mera Naam Jokar.

ajnabi said...

Those screencaps really are stunning. What a cinematographer!

OTOH, I wouldn't have know this was the same movie the PPCC reviewed if you both hadn't said so. Very different takes! :-)

the PPCC is a big fat idiot said...

Ahh, so THAT'S what the movie was about! Thank God you picked up on the intellectual stuff, I was totally out for the count!

I can second the recommendation to watch Teesri Kasam. It is divine, and Raj isn't OTT at all, but rather is gorgeously subtle. After reading Philip Lutgendorf's review, I always am planning to watch Anari - directed by H. Mukerjee, and noted by several reviewers for being, like Teesri Kasam, a toned-down "simpleton" Raj.

indiequill said...

Beth - welcome to Raj Kapoor in b&w, my preferred Raj Kapoor watching period! as soon as color makes its way into his consciousness, he generally went crazy or so it seems to me.

In addition to Teesri Kasam, I also recommened Jagte Raho. Andaz, even though it makes me MAD sometimes, is worth a watch for Nargis and Dilip Kumar. Yes, I said it: Dilip Kumar. Chori Chori is a remake of It Happened One Night and its just as sweet.

More depressing but interesting films include Chalia with Nutan and Phir Subah Hogi with Mala Sinha which is a take on Crime and Punishment.

And if you're majorly into Madhubala ( and who could blame you?) then Neel Kamal is their joint debut i think. it's a rather sickly sweet melodrama from what I remember of it (i was a wee wee thing when i watched it last) but she was absolutely lovely.

Beth said...

Sumanth - very interesting! I've only heard music from Aawara and Mere Naam Joker so far (that I know of), and it's great to have a list of more to try.

ajnabi - Aren't they? The movie is gorgeous. Very rich and interesting to look at.

PPCC - Well, you know, that's what I got out of it, but I have definitely been known to be out to lunch. I'm waiting for other people to chime in, especially because I'm halfway convinced my interpretation is too simple.

Divine! Subtle! Gorgeous! Toned-Down! Sign me up!

indiequill - Yay! I love your assessment of things :) Doing an It Happened One Night (which I haven't seen since college)/ Chori Chori double-header sounds like a ton of fun!

It's official: I am going to go broke buying movies.

justanotherfishinthesea said...

Was thinking of reviewing this myself. But u have done a great job. I agree with you on the brooding bit. It was a bit too much, but overall I liked the movie. It would have been nice if the pace after Reshma's fall in the waterfall had been a bit faster. Also I really loved Nimmi's portrayal of Neela in this. First time I have seen one of her movies and am really inclined to see more of her films now. Many people have recommended Raj Kapoor films to you. My favorites of his are Awaara where the dream sequence is introduced with Nargis (a movie I have seen about 50 times) and of course the timeless Shri 420.

Beth said...

fish - Thank you! Good point about the pacing - my disc actually had some skipping in that part, so I decided not to comment in case the flow of things was really undermined by the technical problems I was having - and agreed, Nimmi was great.
I'm definitely looking forward to Awaara and Shree 420.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Lo Spinario- heeh- yep he definitely looks in that much pain :)

One day, I'll grow up and appreciate Raj- until then, I am quite happy admiring Prem Nath's poofy hair :D

CanadianKen said...

I enjoyed "Barsaat" a lot. For one thing, the songs are marvelous. But I'm such a fan of the wonderful Nimmi that everyone and everything else generally take a back seat for me when she's onscreen. A very impressive debut. If you want to see this actress in full bloom, check her out in "Aan"('52),a Cecil B.DeMille style fairy-tale in full color - or her finest hour "Amar"('54) in which she beguiles Dilip Kumar (and audiences) ih a memorable succession of scenes and song sequences. Madhubala doesn't have a chance.

Beth said...

Shweta - Brilliant! And now whenever I walk past my museum's cast of Lo Spinario, I will think of Raj :)

No need to grow up. Don't do it unless you can take with you the ability to appreciate a good hair poof.

Ken - They are indeed. I'm glad to know more about Nimmi - she was so lovely here. A full-color fairy tale sounds just the thing! I'll keep an eye out.

Ash said...

well this is some reminder for me to get back to Raj Kapoor...I suggest you watch Shri 420 first... finest I should say like the others here :p

between the dance sequence reminded me of our present jodha-akbar dance number, Gowarkar has seen Barsaat!!!

Gm Beth,
Ash

memsaabstory said...

The music is gorgeous. S-J had assisted the music director on RK's first film as a director, Aag (which I hated) and he was so impressed by them then that he signed them up for this one.

FYI ppcc: I have started watching Anari, and have not been irritated by it, but haven't been able to get through it yet either. Maybe we could do a watch-along and that would do the trick!

headmistress said...

I haven't watched a bollywood movie in far too long, but Barsaat has always been on the list for the lovely Nargis. These stills are all so lush... must add this to my rental list...

Beth said...

Ash - That's interesting! I hadn't thought to compare those two. I'll have to rack my brains a bit and see if I can remember. Most of Jodhaa-Akbar is a blur to me now, with most impressions being steamrolled over by the beautiful clothing and jewelry.

memsaab - Indeed it is. And watch-alongs solve everything! (Except chatting/giggling-based distractions.)

headmistress - Ooooh, can't wait to know what you think! "Lush" is totally the right word.

bird's eye view said...

I haven't watched barsaat but love some other Raj Kapoor films including chori chori ( remake of it happened one night), and teesri kasam, with him and waheeda rehman. Great music and amazing stories. Even his forst or second directorial venture, aan, is pretty good.
Chhalia with Nutan is good as is Anaari.

FairCruelty said...

Definitely watch Jaagte Raho...nolove story here but a marvelous commentary on middle class life. Its a simple story that has many sad-funny moments. One of my favorite Raj Kapoor movies

Beth said...

bird's eye view - I just bought Chori Chori and am so excited to see it - it sounds perfect! PPCC just did a good review of it.

FairCruely - (Interesting user name!) That sounds really good too - I'll try to hunt it down!

Jasmine said...

Hi Beth

I enjoyed Chori-chori! The songs and acting plus Raj-Nargis pair - the movie was too good!

Hope u like it too

cheers

Meera

*~mad munky~* said...

another vote for Chori Chori here...it's not depressing and it has great songs - just how i like them!! ;o)

pKrishna said...

Beth - you said you bought Chori-Chori back in 2008, yet you haven't reviewed it here. Why?

Jagte Raho is an off-beat RK film. There is no female lead, though Nargis makes an appearance in the end of the movie. It is a commentary on cacophony of a city life, and in the entire movie RK rarely speaks a word. He just observes, and makes us observe.

I have a very soft corner for his Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behtee Hain. Watch it for the excellent songs, watch it for his portrayal of a innocent wanderer, watch it for the fine villain portrayal of Pran, watch it for the bewitching Padmini, with whom he made just one more film.

This is off the RK-theme, but how about Aishwarya Rai in "Raincoat"

I just read one of your comments "If you don't love her, then just don't marry her. If you do love some other person, just go marry her. Done and done!"

Wish it were that simple.

pKrishna said...

Oops, forgot "Aah" another of RK's films with Nargis.

Your Film Censor Board Certificate is great!

Beth said...

pkrishna - Because I haven't seen it! :) I didn't even remember I had it. My "to be watched" pile has been raging out of control for about a year now...

Jagte Raho sounds really interesting!