New age directors – Sooraj Barjatya, Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar got accolades for making blockbuster movies and picking the pulse of the youthful audience with perfection while themselves being at tender age. However decades back, a very young man had proved his talent at a similarly tender age of 24 years and within less than a decade, that young man started being called as the showman of Indian cinema and amassed a lot of respect. This 24 years old youth was Raj Kapoor who had demonstrated his worth in his directorial debut itself which was Aag (1948).Aag (fire) is an emotional story whose protagonist Kewal (Raj Kapoor) wants to make it big in the world of theatre. He starts cherishing this dream since his childhood itself and one more extension of his dream is to stage the classic story of Sanskrit poet – Bilwamangal and his sweetheart – Chintamani with himself playing the role of Bilwa, the hero and his childhood buddy – Nimmi playing the role of Chintamani, the heroine. Destiny separates Nimmi from him and after growing up, not only he starts pursuing his dream with the help of Rajan (Premnaath) but also searches his Nimmi only in every girl he comes across. However, his thirst of getting the association of his childhood-love, Nimmi in his life and his theatre-world remains unquenched. The ladies entering his life have to leave him due to the worldly constraints. One day, out of frustration, he sets his own theatre on fire and gets burnt. His face is disfigured and uglified due to the burnings suffered. However, finally he gets married to a girl selected by his parents, only to get the most pleasant surprise of his life on their first conjugal night.This black and white movie is a showcase of the brilliance and the abundant talent of the great artist – Raj Kapoor. How he could make popular and impressive movies becomes clear when we watch this maiden venture of himself as a filmmaker (producer as well as director). He had the vision and the ability to pick the pulse of the audience as to what it thought and what it wanted to see on the screen. Aag is not so pleasant as his later movies are. In fact, it is a dark movie, delving deep into the psyche of a youth with sky in his eyes and the pain of losing his childhood-love in his heart. The fact that the hero tries to locate his childhood-love (Nimmi) in every woman he comes across tells a lot about the passionate love and the peculiar lover-psyche. The excellent direction of Raj Kapoor proved it at that time itself (in the forties) that cinema is indeed the art to make believe. To be frank, during certain sequences of this movie, I shed tears for the main protagonist because Raj Kapoor was able to make me feel his pain. When a girl Nirmala (Kamini Kaushal) has to part ways with him quite reluctantly, the viewer is able to see and realize the pain in her heart (in addition to the pain in the heart of the hero). It’s the sheer brilliance of Raj Kapoor that he repeats this scene (with the same dialogues bidding farewell to her) after a few reels with another leading lady (Nargis) and no monotony is felt by the viewer. In the climax, the viewer can empathize with the happiness of the protagonist as well.Raj Kapoor could make his musical team properly with his second movie – Barsaat (1949) only. However at least one member of his musical team – Mukesh got associated with him in this movie itself and he sang one of the most memorable songs for him in this movie only – Zinda Hoon Is Tarah Ki Gham-e-Zindagi Nahin (a pain-soaked Ghazal authored by Behzaad Lakhnavi). Ram Ganguly composed touching songs for this movie including Kaahe Koyal Shor Machaaye Re, Dekh Chaand Ki Or, Raat Ko Ji Chamke Taare, Dil Toot Gaya Ji Chhoot Gaya, Solah Baras Ki Bhayi Umariya etc. The female songs are in the voice of Shamshad Begum. In fact, the music has also helped the narrative to be emphatic.This movie cannot boast of high production value considering the limited resources of Raj Kapoor at that time. Still technically, it is admirable by all means. Cinematographer has done a brilliant job in conveying the intensity of the story through the use of lights and shadows. In fact, I feel that considering the darkness of the story and its presentation, it’s good that it got made in the black and white era. The lack of colours has assisted the darkness and the intensity embedded in the screenplay and the characters to come out vividly before the audience.Performance wise talking, Raj Kapoor has proved in Aag that he was not just an excellent director, he was an equally excellent actor too. He has depicted the ambitions, emotions and frustration of the young protagonist very well through his eyes, gestures and voice. Nargis got associated with the R.K. Banner with this movie and gave the glimpses of the famous Raj-Nargis chemistry that became properly visible in the later movies of the banner. Kamini Kaushal and Nigar Sultana have also done pretty well. Premnaath (Raj Kapoor’s brother-in-law in his real life) also got associated with him in Aag and proved that he was a class apart. Raj Kapoor assigned him a meatier role in his next venture – Barsaat.
One interesting trivia is that three decades later to Aag, Raj Kapoor again used the incident of the burning of the face of a lead character in Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978). This time, it was the heroine of the movie. The sound of the foot-steps of Raj Kapoor’s much later and over-ambitious project – Mera Naam Joker (1970) can also be heard in this movie (through the coming in and going out of women in the protagonist’s life).
I recommend this black and white emotional saga to all the fans of Raj Kapoor, all the viewers liking emotional movies and those who are interested in knowing how the art of filmmaking evolved in Bollywood post the Independence of our country. Despite certain weaknesses and certain over the top things, this maiden venture of the great showman is highly laudable.
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