Bollywood’s one and the only showman Raj Kapoor’s production house, i.e., the great R.K. Banner started making movies with Aag in 1948 and with that very first product, it established itself as a banner which believed in presenting quality movies only. The astounding success of movies like Barsaat (1949) and Awara (1951) made R.K. banner as synonymous with quality cinema and its fame crossed the bounds of the nation to shine worldwide. And for the next many decades, R.K. Banner maintained its standard movie-after-movie. In the same sequence, there came a movie whose lead characters were two children. This beautiful movie which is relevant even today is Boot Polish (1954).I am never able to wipe an incident from my mind which had taken place years back on a local station of Mumbai (then Bombay) when two young children simply fawned me to get my shoes polished by them. When I asked them whether they will be able to give me change because I did not have loose notes at that time, the poor children (one boy and one girl) refused and then pleaded me to have mercy upon them because they were too hungry. I can’t describe in words how I felt about it at that moment but I gave them some money and could not get my shoes also polished because the train had arrived and I could not afford to miss it. But the incident kept on haunting me for long and till date I have not been able to get it out of my memory-store. I watched Boot Polish on TV thereafter and as the movie progressed, that real life experience appeared to me as coming alive on the screen.Coming back to the movie, Boot Polish tells the story of two orphan children – Bholu (Ratan Kumar) and his younger sister, Belu (Baby Naaz). The fostering aunt of theirs is a wicked lady (Chaand Burke) who forces them to beg on the streets. They feel that begging is wrong but don’t have any other option. Destiny brings them into contact with a kind-hearted bootlegger – John Chacha (David) who inspires them to lead a life based on hard-work and earn self-respect for them. The innocent children save money and buy a shoe-polish kit . Now they don’t beg but earn money by polishing the shoes of the people. Their villainous aunt expels them from the house. The poor children are now under the sky to support themselves by all means. The ill-fate strikes them when first the rainy seasons arrives and people no longer approach them to get their shoes polished. And thereafter, John Chacha gets arrested when he tries to sell liquor to get some money to buy food for these hungry kids. Then starts a chain of heart-piercing incidents bringing about the separation of the brother and the sister. As times change, their fate also takes a twist and they get reunited to lead a better life now.
Boot Polish is a very touching movie and able to move the spectator deep within his / her heart at several places. Any emotional person will find it hard to stop his / her tears while watching this movie. The writer – Bhanu Pratap, the director – Prakash Arora and the ultimate visionary – Raj Kapoor all have worked in harmony to make it a memorable movie. The movie does not bore at all any place and it can be watched many times. Though more Bollywood movies based on children came later also, this movie is definitely in a league of its own.Through the character of bootlegger John Chacha, the filmmaker has reaffirmed my faith that belonging to an illegal or seemingly unethical profession may tag a person as a bad one but he / she may still be carrying a treasure of goodness in his / her heart. Any bootlegger, any smuggler, any bar-girl, any sex-worker may be a shining minaret of goodness, benevolence and humanity; only his / her circumstances / misfortune may not be allowing him / her to get rid of the wrong profession. It’s easy to misunderstand / blame someone, it’s very difficult to understand him / her and see the positive side of his / hers. John Chacha of Boot Polish is one such character only whom you should see by going beyond the veil of his illegal profession. When he gets arrested by the police, he is not sorry for himself but for the lonely children whom he won’t be able to help now.
However, I have some reservations about this movie, mainly its script. Begging and moreover the begging of the children (who are actually forced by the grown-up ones behind the sight) has always been a great problem in India. It was there when Boot Polish was made and it is there when this review is being written. Frankly, several boot-polishing children found on the railway stations and the scavenging children seen in the train are no different from the beggars. This is the real, ugly face of the so-called shining India. And when this movie was made, India was not shining even on paper. Hence the script-writers could have done better by focusing the story on this issue only. However the track of first begging and then shoe-polishing of the children is short and the major footage has gone to the other happenings in their life. I, therefore, felt that the filmmaker’s motive was more to exploit the sentiments of the audience and less to draw attention to a burning issue. The problems of the children have been resolved in the climax in an utterly filmy way which seldom happens in real life.All the same, I have no hitch in admitting that quality-wise this black and white movie is by all standards, a very superior movie. True to the repute of the R.K. Banner, this movie scores in all the departments – may it be the art direction or the cinematography or the acting or the background score or the music- everything is superb. Just superb !The movie belongs to the child artists – Master Ratan Kumar and Baby Naaz and both have delivered performances of a life time. They make you smile, they make you weep. Mainly, it’s them which makes this movie a winner all the way. The viewer is bound to lose his / her heart to these innocent faces and their innocent mannerisms. Among others, seasoned artist – David deserves a special mention. He never acted badly throughout his career and Boot Polish is a showcase of his abundant talent.
Raj Kapoor’s permanent music directors – Shankar Jaikishan have composed memorable melodies including Chali Kaun Se Des Gujariya Tu Saj Dhaj Ke (Talat Mahmood – Asha Bhosle), Lapak Jhapak Tu Aa Re Badarwa (Manna Dey), Tumhaare Hain Tumse Daya Maangte Hain (Asha Bhosle – Mohammad Rafi), Raat Gayi O Raat Gayi Phir Din Aata Hai (Asha – Manna Dey), Theher Zara O Jaanewaale (Asha – Madhubala Jhaveri – Manna Dey), Taaron Ko Dil Ki Baat Sunaaye (Asha), Saari Duniya Hai Mujhpe Deewaani (Asha) etc. with the beautiful lyrics penned by Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri. But the song which is definitely immortal is – Nanhe Munne Bachche Teri Mutthi Mein Kya Hai, Mutthi Mein Hai Taqdeer Hamaari, Humne Kismat Ko Bas Mein Kiya Hai (sung by Rafi and Asha). This lyric authored by Shailendra is not just a filmy song, this carries great literary value. Just go word-by-word and feel the assertions inherent.
I recommend this great movie to one and all who are interested in watching socially relevant quality cinema. I hope against hope that things will improve for the innocent unsupported children in our country with the efforts of us all humming the following lines of the song Nanhe Munne Bachche Teri Mutthi Mein Kya Hai -‘Aane Waali Duniya Mein Sabke Sar Pe Taaj Hoga, Na Bhookhon Ki Bheed Hogi Na Dukhon Ka Raaj Hoga, Badalega Zamaana Ye Sitaaron Pe Likha Hai.’
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