Home / Culture / BFI celebrates Bollywood Legend Raj Kapoor

BFI celebrates Bollywood Legend Raj Kapoor

The British Film Institute has announced details of a new festival of film celebrating the life and work of Bollywood legend Raj Kapoor.  A series of 8 recently restored films of the oft-venerated actor and director will be screened at the BFI Southbank Centre as part of the festival which will also feature a King’s College lecture from Rachel Dwyer and a four-day workshop entitled ‘Super Tramp Hindustiani-style’.  

Kapoor is widely considered one of the giants of Bollywood and was instrumental in the ascent of Bollywood cinema as a rival to its counterparts in the West; in particular Hollywood.  This selection of new 35mm prints is taken from the touring programme ‘Raj Kapoor and The Golden Age of Indian Cinema’; curated by Noah Cowan, Artistic Director of the Toronto International Film Festival.  

Largely unknown in Europe and North America, Kapoor was nonetheless revered not only in his homeland but throughout the former Soviet world, the Middle East and beyond.  He began his acting career with his father Prithviraj’s famed Theatre Company before taking on film roles beginning in 1935.  After a string of hits, Kapoor founded RK Films in 1948, becoming a producer, director and star for the first time with ‘Fire’, in which he shared the screen for the first time with the sultry actress Nargis who would become his long-term muse.  

Deriving his screen persona from the smirk and swagger of Clark Gable, the heightened emotions and showmanship of Gene Kelly, and – most importantly – Charlie Chaplin’s underdog heroism and sense of pathos, Kapoor rapidly became the biggest superstar in Indian cinema. Chaplin’s Little Tramp is the clear precursor for Kapoor’s most famous screen character: the vagabond in a too-tight suit, observing the bustling world around him with wide-eyed wonder. Unlike Chaplin, however, Kapoor moved his Indian-ised tramp (variously known as Raj, Raju or Rajan) up and down the social ladder, and into surprisingly unpleasant incarnations: self-obsessed artists, whiny rich guys and, in his maudit masterpiece My Name Is Joker (1970), a distinctly unfunny clown whose romantic yearnings verge on the pathological. Meanwhile, Kapoor’s stylistic innovations as a director helped set the template for the Bollywood film as it is today.

The Raj Kapoor Season at the BFI Southbank gets underway 1st February.
For more information, visit www.bfi.org/whatson

The Raj Kapoor Season: Film Schedule

This selection of eight new 35mm prints is from the touring programme Raj Kapoor and The Golden Age of Indian Cinema, curated by Noah Cowan, Artistic Director, TIFF Bell Lightbox and organised by TIFF, IIFA and RK Films with the support of the Government of Ontario.

Fire Aag
Wed 1 Feb 17:30 NFT1
Sat 4 Feb 20:20 NFT2
India 1948. Dir Raj Kapoor. With Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Kamini Kaushal.138min. Hindi with EST. U
Kapoor’s first film as director and star, the brooding, noir-ish Fire often feels like a 1930s Hollywood melodrama with an expressionistic twist, and with a distinct influence from Citizen Kane in its complex flashback structure. Kapoor stars as a theatre producer obsessed with the twinned ideas of ideal beauty and self-sacrifice, who meets and falls in love with three women named Nimmi at different phases of his life. In each instance she is taken away from him, destroying his dream of playing opposite her on stage for the rest of their lives.

Monsoon Barsaat
Fri 3 Feb 19:45 NFT2
Sun 5 Feb 15:00 NFT2
India 1949. Dir Raj Kapoor. With Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Prem Nath. 171min. Hindi with EST. U
Kapoor’s first mega-hit shuttles between the stories of a romantic idealist and his more carnally-driven best friend, who both meet and romance the daughters of innkeepers. Set in part against the gorgeous landscapes of Kashmir, Monsoon is beautifully shot, its black-and-white images constantly moving into deep focus and silhouette and elevating the star-crossed lovers to objects of veneration. The film also foregrounded the whisper within Indian commercial cinema, a type of intimacy and emotional dimensionality barely known on screen at the time.

Super Tramp Hindustani-Style
Tue 7, 14, 21 & 28 Feb 18:30 Studio
Course fee £30.00
Writer and programmer Behroze Gandhy leads a four-night course to complement our season of newly restored prints of the films of Hindi megastar, producer, director and all-round showman Raj Kapoor, whose influences included Chaplin, Capra and Vittorio De Sica, evidenced in his films’ humour and social critique. With his creation of a picaresque Indian tramp in a newly independent India, and his formal innovations, Kapoor played a pioneering role in making Hindi cinema the industry that it is today, and he is long overdue an international reappraisal.

Rachel Dwyer on Raj Kapoor
Thu 9 Feb 18:00 NFT3
Tickets £5
Raj Kapoor dominated Hindi cinema for four decades yet, although much is known about the man and the Kapoor acting dynasty, there is little writing about his films. The black and white films from the 1940s and 50s, starring Raj Kapoor and Nargis, form a group where the hero seeks a place for himself in the newly independent India. Mixing socialist ideals with Hollywood glamour, and their famous songs, it is their depiction of romance and passion that is his major legacy to Indian cinema. Rachel Dwyer is a leading expert on India and Professor of Indian Culture and Cinema at SOAS, University of London. Her critically acclaimed books include



Check Also

“Winston Churchill? He’s no better than Adolf Hitler” – Dr Shashi Tharoor.

He may be the subject of worship from London’s Parliament Square to the Oval Office …