The Awara Tramp – A Story of an Artist and His Muse

The Awara Tramp

Yesterday marked Charlie Chaplin’s 127th Birth Anniversary, and to commemorate the day I am back with another article. So let us sit back and relax and remember two of the greatest filmmaker of the world.

Raj Kapoor was born on 14th December 1924 in Peshawar, Pakistan (Then India) to Prithviraj Kapoor. Another addition to the famous Kapoor family, they were already the leading name in Indian cinema, with part of acting and theater. His Father Prithviraj actually acted in the First Indian Talkie (Movie with dialogues) Alam Ara (1931).

Raj Kapoor had his mind towards movies from a very young age, he starred in his very first movie at the age of 10 in 1935’s Inquilab. His first big movie break came at the time of Independence of India from Britishers in his lead role in Neel Kamal (1947) with Madhubala (Who was also debuting as leading lady). Both of their characters rocketed and never looked down. The very next year Raj Kapoor established R.K. Films and became the Youngest movie director of that time by making his directoral debut Aag. In 1949 his first success as Producer, director and actor of Barsaat came as he received a confidence which he used to change the history of Indian Cinema.

Enough of the history now, anyone could have told you all that, from internet. Let us talk about the 1950s, the decade of excellence for Raj Kapoor. I don’t know under what circumstances Raj Kapoor was introduced with Chaplin, but Raj Kapoor realized Charlie Chaplin’s Brilliance and found his muse in him.
Charlie in The Gold Rush

Charlie Chaplin was already a great film maker hailed as the Best Comedian of All time, he had become a worldwide icon with his countless short Movies and marvelous cinematic genius in movies like The Kid, The Circus, Modern Times, The Gold Russ and The great Dictator. While Modern Times and the Great Dictator are widely regarded as the greatest movies ever made. While there is not much confirmation, The Charlie Chaplin shorts were probably one of the first Hollywood movie ever screened in India. Cinema was relatively new and only within a reach to the rich society and the Britishers residing in India. So the normal masses never received a serving of Chaplin’s films. It is probable that Raj Kappor saw those movies and realized the importance of Chaplin’s persona and his story telling.


Charlie Chaplin created his persona for which he was famous for, the character of Tramp was lovable and had created this character in his shorts which he then also used in his feature length movies too. The Character of Tramp has something which a normal man can relate with. The Tramp is lovable, he owns no penny, he is care free. He makes people laugh, yet his face shows a different story. He is always in some kind of pain. The pain is hidden craftily behind his ever present smile. His Childlike persona coupled with a good heart makes him lovable. Chaplin also called his character Little Fellow, but behind the curtains beneath all things the little fellow was not little after all.

Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp and Raj Kapoor’s Character in Shree 420

In 1950, Writer Khwaja Ahmed Abbas wrote a script of a movie and wanted Mehboob Khan to direct it, but could not agree on the casting that Mehbook Khan wanted, so he withdrew the script from Mehboob Studio and Raj Kapoor got his hands on the script and decided to direct the movie.  He engineered the character of Raj, who is very poor on the ‘little tramp’ of charlie Chaplin. The Movie Awara was released in 1951 starring Raj Kapoor, Nargis and Prithviraj Kapoor. The way of dressing of Raj, his style of walking, his ever present habit of making people laugh and living with facial disguise without a mask, his silly comic timings among other things were directly taken from Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp.

The Literal translation of Awara in English interestingly gives us ‘vagabond’- a person who wanders from place to place without a home or job. More interestingly the synonym of Vagabond is Tramp. The Character of Raj, stuck between the criminals and love for rich and privileged Rita was portrayed to its core by Raj Kapoor and received acclaim for his acting. Charlie Chaplin had a short movie of the same name-Vagabond- released in 1916 too.

The Movie Awara is now regarded as one of the milestones of Indian Cinema, the movie was highly praised by Critics and accepted by the masses.  In 2012, TIME magazine added Awara in All-Time 100 Greatest films. It was nominated for Grand Prize of 1953 Cannes Film Festival.

The  Film was a success in Indian Subcontinent, it was also embraced by the audience of Soviet Union, the movie attracted an audience of 40 to 63 million making Raj Kapoor famous in Soviet Union. The Film was remade in Turkey after a decade because of the success it garnered there.

Charlie Chaplin was also busy that year as in 1952, he released his new film among wide controversies. Limelight, the movie has quite great importance in Raj Kapoor’s life too, which we will witness later.

After his success of Awara, Raj Kapoor realized that Indian audience was not accustomed to Chaplin’s Tramp, so he decided to carve out his tramp character in more movies. In 1955 Shree 420 Arrived, he remodeled his character as Tramp, a con man, who works hard for surviving in a world where everyone is disguised as a cheater. While the movie did not recieve as much critical acclaim as Awara, the movie grossed over 20 Million rupees in India, then a record. The Movie proved to be popular in countries like Soviet Union, Romania and Israel. The song “Ichak Dana Beechak Dana, Dane Upar Dana” was popular in Israel and was re recorded by a local singer Naim Rajuan.

Raj Kapoor singing Mera Joota hai Japani

Due to all these movies, Raj Kapoor became, a house hold name in Russia. It was said that in Russia Raj Kapoor was equally if not more famous than The First Prime Minister Of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.

The song Mera Joota hai Japani, in which the narrator shares his love for nation, by saying that while his clothes and other material things belong to different countries, his heart belongs to India , was embraced by warm hearts by Newly Formed Republic India. The Song is still equally famous as it was back then, representing Indian patriotism. May it be in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity (2013), the Indian Astronaut singing the song in Space Station; or Songs being played in the taxi in latest Deadpool. The Song never faded from Indian minds and will never fade.

Raj Kapoor Left with Chaplin in Middle and Nargis right.

Raj Kapoor, Nargis and other members of the Indian Film Delegation to Moscow met Charlie Chaplin in Switzerland on their way to Russia, in 1954. When the above photo was taken, there are mention of two times when Raj Kapoor met Charlie Chaplin and clearly was floored by him.

Raj Kapoor then went on to making a lot of successful movies without his persona of Tramp including Chori Chori (1956), Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti hai (1960-which won the nation award for best film), He directed and starred in Highly successful Sangam (1964) along Rajender Kumar and Vyjantimala. He also produced  hit social films like Boot Polish (1954 ) and Ab Dilli Door Nahin (1957) .

But He had a last trump card to play, and he was still not finished with his ‘Chaplin days’.

mera-naam-joker-the awara tramp

In 1970 Raj Kapoor produced, wrote, directed and starred in highly ambitious and brave movie Mera Naam Joker. The Movie took 6 long years in production and was longest movie ever made in Indian Cinema then. The movie spanned 255 Minutes. And it had two intervals. Upon release the movie turned out to be a Box office Disaster, both critics and audience were not ready for a movie longer than 4 hours. The Movie took Kappor family to financial crisis. But experts now label the movie as a ‘Misunderstood Masterpiece’. Now The film is considered a cult classic and if you have the patience of sitting through 4 hours has deep philosophical meaning. Who can forget the shattering of the heart in the end when it is dropped from the clown’s hands while he is singing “Jeena Yahan Marna Yahan Iske Siwa Jaana Kahan” and those last words echoing the philosophy of an entertainer that no matter how long the interval lasts, the ‘show must go on’.

Mera naam Joker was loosely based on Raj Kapoor’s own life as an entertainer and was based on Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight (Remember we talked about it) and The Circus. In Limelight Charlie Chaplin stars as an entertainer; a comedian Calvero,he is a joker struggling in his career who finds  happiness in suffering and inspires others to make their career.

Another time when the two artists met, they were there with another great actor Dev Anand, they sat together for three hours and talked with each other. Raj was sitting at the floor in the feet of Charlie Chaplin throughout the talk in chaplin’s backyard. Almost literally at the feet and when the meeting ended and at the bus stop Dev and Raj boarded the bus to leave, Raj Kapoor turned and kept looking at his fadin g figure walking back Dev anand says and we quote

“Raj kept looking back at the receding figure of Chaplin, which got smaller and smaller. Raj raise his hand and shouted, ‘Hey, little fellow, bye, bye. We love you.”

And so it was the story of an artist and his muse who was also an artist and how they changed the cinema.

Until next time, this is me signing of because in the end “The Show Must Go On…..”

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3 thoughts on “The Awara Tramp – A Story of an Artist and His Muse

  1. I am celebrating 103 years of Indian cinema on my blog till tomorrow. Consider writing a blogpost for the same. The topic will be of your choice except that it be related to Indian cinema. All you need to is post your blog and link it with the my blog. I will be sharing all the contributor links tomorrow on my blog, Facebook and Twitter. Here are the details,

    1. Interesting ,but I have my exam day after tomorrow. I can’t write any new post. Can we use this post or my other posts, which I have done on my series of best of Indian Cinema. I recently did a post about Dil Se, too.
      After exams I had a plan to work on other posts maybe we can collaborate then.

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