At 24, Raj Kapoor opened his own studio and began creating lengthy musicals known as Bollywood films. An actor, director and producer, the Pakistan-born Kapoor was called the “Charlie Chaplin of India cinema” because he often played happy-go-lucky roles.
However, in his 1949 hit “Barsaat,” he appears as a moody musician/poet in love with Reshma (Nargis), an innkeeper’s daughter. Alas, Reshma’s father has already arranged her marriage to another.
The black and white, 171-minute movie opens with Kapoor (as Pran) pushing a disabled vehicle while his friend Gopal (Prem Nath) relaxes behind the wheel. Like the lopsided car scene, Pran and Gopal are opposites. While Pran is loyal, Gopal is fickle — breaking his promise to return to Neela, another innkeeper’s daughter, during monsoon. Meanwhile, Pran pines for Reshma, playing his violin so passionately that his fingers bleed. Obsessed, Reshma sneaks away from her father’s house to suck off the blood. Discovering her with Pran, Reshma’s furious father warns, “You will ruin our name and our honor!” And, with that, he literally cuts her loose.
Kapoor’s 1978, 160-minute “Satyam Shivam Sundram” is no less tragic. A Hindu priest loses his wife when she gives birth to their daughter, Rupa (Zeenat Aman). Raised by her father and uncle, Rupa is called “unfortunate” and shunned by other children. Allowed to finally celebrate a birthday as an adolescent, Rupa is accidentally burned and horribly disfigured. Since her only value is in becoming some man’s wife, her father asks, “Why did you not die at birth?”
Yet, even with half her face veiled to hide the scars, Rupa is stunning with a voice so enchanting that Rajeev, a handsome engineer, is instantly enthralled. Arriving in town to oversee a new hydroelectric dam, Rajeev (Kapoor’s younger brother Shashi) pursues Rupa through abundant green fields against brilliant auburn skies. After begging her for marriage, Rajeev finally lifts her veil on their wedding night only to recoil in horror. Rupa is then forced into a bizarre game of deception.
“Bobby” is 168 minutes of disco divas in psychedelic saris speaking English jargon. It begins with a boy at an adult party, drawing a chalk figure on the back of a guest’s suit then, biting the cheek of an aunt who hugs him.
Soon, Raj (Kapoor’s son Rishi) is sent to reform school. When he returns at 18, his parents throw him a lavish birthday party where the neglected rich kid falls for his ex-nanny’s granddaughter, Bobby (Dimple Kapadia).
Of course, Raj’s father disapproves because Bobby’s dad works with his hands, has brusque manners, dresses like a local and is a Christian. When Raj’s father attempts to marry his son off to a businessman’s daughter, Raj and Bobby rebel.
This 1973 film offers eclectically diverse music — Sufi sounds and Latin flavors featuring men in sombreros and Indigenous masked dancers with spears.
Although all three Kapoor films have English subtitles, most of the infectious music, sadly, does not.
Another multi-hyphenated film talent is New Zealand’s Taika Waititi. Besides writing, producing and directing, the son of a Maori father and Ukrainian Jewish mother also acts.
In his latest feature, “Boy,” an eleven-year old longs to reconnect with his ex-con father after seven years. Although the main narrative is fiction, Waititi included family members behind the scenes and shot on location at both his grandmother’s house and his former school. He also wrote the script, but denies ever having issues with his own dad, an artist he describes as “playful.”
Casting himself as Boy’s father, Waititi felt overextended with directing duties yet opted to take the role when he couldn’t find the right actor.
“I really do love myself that much,” he says not entirely joking. “I am that good.”
He also felt he could better direct the children if he appeared in the scenes with them.
A significant part of Boy’s story is his obsession with Michael Jackson, which Waititi admits to sharing. The self-confessed “big kid” says he loved Jackson because he wore clothes that look they were designed by kids and bought things grown-ups never would.
Adds the “Boy” creator, “I’m really scared about growing up.”
Raj Kapoor and “The Golden Age of Indian Cinema” showcases from March 29 to April 11 at the SIFF Film Center.