The Indian Tramp

“Aawaara hoon…  aawaara hoon…

Ya gardish mein hoon aasmaan ka taara hoon…”

This was a diffident India singing of itself while contemplating its uncertain future, one it envisioned after liberation. This was personified by Raj Kapoor, embodying a clueless, puzzled, yet lovable tramp (following Chaplin’s footsteps). The tramp appeared in ‘Awaara’ (1952) or ‘The Vagabond’, and ‘Shree 420’ (1955) or ‘The Cheater’. He ventured into understanding and documenting the developing nation which had a new beginning after being reduced to a downtrodden state. He witnessed people forming societies and improving their conditions, in spite of being intimidated by corruption, unemployment, and the affluent upper-class society. He reflected these troubles on screen, tinged with drama, and music which drew people in. He sold dreams to people with tumultuous lives, along with melodies like ‘Mera jootha hai Japani’, ‘Pyaar hua ikrar hua’, and ‘Dil ka haal sune dilwala’. For all his work, he is fondly remembered as “The Showman” (Lipkov and Matthew, 1994).

“Yeh ghar hai ya Bhool Bhulaiya!”

He exclaims the above in a bewildered tone, hunting for an escape route in a huge mansion after getting hold of all the money which belonged to the needy (in Shree 420). He symbolically described the country’s difficult path to development as a honeycomb maze i.e. a ‘Bhool Bhulaiya’, as it indeed has been. With his films, we realized not only our struggles, but also those of Russia, which had then become independent of Stalin’s dictatorship. As the tramp would reiterate in his films, ‘yeh naya zamana hai, aur nayi roshni’ (A new beginning with a new dawn), both Russians and Indians could connect with each other emotionally and culturally. With this connection, there was a victory of cinema. The purpose of storytelling through films was fulfilled. Since then, Indians and Russians have had long discussions about their films and cultures (Lipkov and Matthew, 1994).

Kapoor’s films certainly were popular films wherein the melodies, and hard-hitting, emotional dialogues reached the people. Such realism would later be portrayed ‘empirically’ on celluloid by filmmakers like Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen, which gave birth to ‘parallel cinema’. A film selected from each of these universes- the popular and the parallel- when juxtaposed, create conflicts of authenticity and start a discourse. The subjects of these films were the same – the nation’s people aspiring to progress and form their identities, or in Kapoor’s words, an ‘Awaara’ India finding itself. Ray and Sen questioned the above mentioned socio-economic repercussions of India’s independence and critically analysed them. But Kapoor was hopeful. In his ventures, he found happiness among the populace. He responded to society’s difficulties like Andrew Duffresne did to Red in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ (1995): Hope is a good thing, Red.

Today, we see India shining at the global stage. On our way, we met with many difficulties and challenges. Though we are proud of overcoming many obstacles and accomplishing so much, there is no denial that there is a long way to go. Ray and Sen provided an education about these challenges. However, would our accomplishments be possible without the hope, the encouragement that Kapoor provided us with? Revisiting the past is possible through Kapoor’s pictures. If the fervour still exists in us to continue working towards progress, it is somewhere because of Kapoor’s spoons full of hope, freshened up with each passing day.

Author: Sautrik Mukherji

Lipkov, A., & Mathew, T. (1994). India’s bollywood in Russia. India International Centre Quarterly, 21(2/3), 185-186. Retrieved from



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