There was an unusual beauty in the manner in which Rishi Kapoor's Devdhar asked the residents of his village what they thought about the relationship between Radha and Shri Krishna, who going by the Hindu mythology are the epitome of selfless love. The villagers were left with only a death stare at Devdhar holding Manorama's hand -- trying to protect her from age-old traditions and customs.
Devdhar's only motive to ask the damning question was to make people realise they had no right to question the relationship he shared with Manorama. This was the year 1982, where nobody could think of weaving of entire narrative around widow remarriage. But it was Raj Kapoor's vision that could finally give Indian cinema a rare gem in the form of 'Prem Rog'.
Devdhar was not your run-of-the-mill hero, who would sing and dance to romantic songs to impress a village belle. He was a saviour, in many ways a knight-in-shining-armour for Padmini Kolhapure's Manorama -- he fought the entire society to make his childhood love live again. And not just because he wanted to be with her.
There's one scene in the course of climax of the film, where Devdhar stands in front of Manorama's uncle, and questions him about the customs that have been streamlined and infused into the cultural psyche of a regular person by them -- the affluent class.
"Yeh aapka niji maamla nahin hai. Yeh gair insaani taur tareeqey aapke aalishaan mahalon se nikalkar reeti-riwaaz aur parampara bankar saare samaaj mein naasoor ki tarah fail jaatey hain... Yeh aapka niji maamla nahin hai, [This is not your personal matter. These inhuman practices emanate from your upper class and get moulded into customs and traditions before wiping out an entire society]" Devdhar tells a speechless Thakur.
Was it Rishi Kapoor's knack of delivering his lines with his face, than his voice box, that made this scene a stellar piece of art? Or was it just the vision of the director who thought ahead of the timeline he was in that made the entire narrative lift up?
It was a combination of both -- the larger share, however, succinctly can be attributed to Raj Kapoor. 'Prem Rog' was, at the least, a gamble -- and a bold one -- to challenge the societal constructs at a time when no one would dare to. He weaved a love story into a social drama -- and gave the perfect formula for filmmakers to follow for many, many years to come.
The way Raj Kapoor put forth Manorama in a non-chalant, almost-reckless way was another scoring point of 'Prem Rog'. Before and after this, the director presented all his heroines as supremely sensual and feminine, be it 'Satyam Shivam Sundaram's Paro (Zeenat Aman) or 'Ram Teri Ganga Maili's Ganga (Mandakini). Manorama was a stark contrast to all of them. She was innocent, naive and very simple. She did not know of love until she got Devdhar's support at the time she needed it the most. And when she did fall in love, there was no turning back for her.
Padmini Kolhapure was a perfect foil to Manorama's battered soul. Her angst-filled eyes when she gets raped by her brother-in-law reeked of what mettle Kolhapure was made of. It was a first for Raj Kapoor -- when he made vulnerability, and not sensuality, his lead actress' biggest asset. And Padmini Kolhapure was a more-than-welcome help for him in achieving that.
"I don't think I have done as much for any other film of mine as I did for 'Prem Rog'. The story was complete but the screenplay was written over a period of probably a year or so, and you cannot be precise about the length of a film. You may exceed and I have always exceeded," one of the excerpts in 'Raj Kapoor: The One and Only Showman', an updated version of a photo book published in the late 1980s on the legendary actor, director and producer by his daughter, Ritu Nanda, says.
The excerpt continues to divulge how Raj Kapoor was so invested in filmmaking. "I am at this very stage of Prem Rog now, where I am trying to prune and largely I have done it, but it is a very, very painful thing, especially if you also happen to be the producer of the film, because you have unnecessarily spent so much time and labour and money. I keep telling myself: 'You idiot, Raj Kapoor, you will never learn, you always overdo it!'" it says.
Raj Kapoor's vision -- of taking on the holy cows of patriarchy, tradition and caste and yet uniting the lovers at the end -- was translated onto the silver screen with great help from the entire team of 'Prem Rog' -- Shammi Kapoor, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Nanda, Sushma Seth, Raza Murad, Tanuja, Laxmikant Pyarelal, Lata Mangeshkar, Suresh Wadkar, Jainendra Jain, Kamna Chandra and KK Singh among others.
Raj Kapoor began his work in an age of optimism -- with his brand of cinema being born in an age of idealism. Idealism still works, but with time it has come to be mixed with frills -- so not required for a message-driven narrative. By that measure, 'Prem Rog', with an exceptionally large scale, a social message, and a love story interwoven with it, showcased how the showman believed in the power of filmmaking -- he wanted his film to make people think. And think loud.
On his 95th birth anniversary, India TV recommends 'Prem Rog' for the message it conveys, Rishi Kapoor's screen presence, Padmini Kolhapure's brilliance, its stellar music, and most importantly, to admire and appreciate Raj Kapoor's genius even more.