- Jagriti Thakur
- 14 February 2019
Staying awake of the social realities
Looking back at the Raj Kapoor classic 'Jagte Raho'
Raj Kapoor, the showman of Hindi cinema, gave dozens of superhits as an actor, director and producer. What made it possible, other than his brilliant performing skills, is the richness of the story, effective screenplays and earnestly written dialogues, in majority of his films.
One such film is Jagte Raho (Stay Awake), written and directed by Sombhu Mitra, along with Amit Maitra and screenplay by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas.
A social satire, this 1956 film is about a poor villager – we meet Raj Kapoor in his famous Chaplinesque avatar, though in a dhoti this time – who comes to the city with the hope of making a better life. Jagte Raho happens in real time i.e. in a single night’s time when the protagonist feeling thirsty enters an apartment block and is simply presumed to be a thief. Thus, begins the cat and mouse chase where not one but many thieves are caught apart from the protagonist, who is reminded by a little girl that if he is not the thief then he should not worry at all. The poor villager then leaves the building and the chaos behind and meets Nargis (guest appearance) in a temple who finally gives him water to drink.
Setting the Tone and Overshadowing
Without wasting a second, the tone of the film is set – it is night time in the city and the watchmen are roaming the streets shouting ‘jagte raho, jagte raho!’ Who are they asking to stay awake… themselves, the residents, the thieves or the viewers? Perhaps the message is for all.
We then meet the protagonist who is searching for some water to drink. When a watchman finds him kneeling against a fire hydrant, he rebukes and pushes him down, calling him ‘Chotta kahin ka’ (petty thief) going just by his shabby look and threatens him of dire consequences if he saw him there again. This is overshadowing i.e. what is going to happen later on in the story is subtly hinted right in the beginning – the poor villager is going to be framed as a thief.
The First Song
With roughly seven minutes into the film we are presented with the first song. A drunkard (played by Motilal), lost in his world, sings these sarcastic lines -
“Zindagi Khawab Hai, Khawab Me Jhuth Kya Aur Bhala Sach Hai Kya… Sab Sach Hai.”
Translation – Life is a dream, in a dream what is a lie and what is a truth… everything is a truth.
Songs in Hindi films are different from the Western Musicals, for they not only elevate the emotion of the scene, but also take the story forward in every possible way – introducing new characters, hinting of what is approaching, adding to the underlying theme of the story.
Here, the drunkard returns in the story, not able to distinguish between a man and a container, between his wife and the poor villager. Thus, touching the theme of the story – the elite ‘dressed in silk’ are either busy drinking or hoarding money, while the poor ‘a tramp’ is crushed even if he asks just for some water.
The main conflict in Jagte Raho is between the honest and the fraudster, between the poor villager and the hypocritical lot. The protagonist stumbles upon the secret world of the civilized city men complexing the conflicting situation further.
His first few encounters occur with the young lovers, the gambler who tries to steal his own wife’s jewelry and the drunkard; these situations are comic as well as sensitive, highlighting the predicaments of the so called upper class.
The movie then takes a dramatic turn as the Police are called for investigation. A journalist, disappointed on finding that the information about the dacoits is false, has to make do with a resident’s photograph who is arrested for brewing liquor illegally in his apartment. This causes a silent alarm bell to ring for many residents; a Punjabi song highlights this beautifully –
“Oye aiwe duniya dewe duhai/ jhootha pondi shor/ te apne dil to pooch ke vekho/ kaun nahi hai chor/ te ki mein jhooth bolya, koi na…”
Translation – The world appeals for no reason, the liar makes hue and cry. Why don't you ask your heart, who is not a thief! Hey, have I lied? No!
(Lyrics: Shailendra and Prem Dhawan, Music: Salil Choudhary )
The poor villager finally meets the biggest thug of all, a foreign return business man who mints fake money with help of a few others; when the thug finds out that the villager knows all about him, he first tries to kill him, but with the residents knocking on his door, he quickly fills the villager’s pockets with all the fake money and pushes him out through the window.
Hanging to a pipe, the poor villager is attacked by the entire society with stones until he empties his pockets and showers the crowd with the fake money; the residents immediately forget the poor villager and fight amongst themselves to collect the notes.
The climax holds its intensity till the last scene, though the verbose speech by the poor villager on the terrace mars the impact of the silence he maintained until then. Scenes like juxtaposing the image of Christ to the bleeding poor villager adds to the melodrama.
A little girl is rightly chosen by the writer for speaking the truth as children rarely hesitate from doing so. The poor villager realises the truth and then looking fearless, he walks out; neither the Police nor the residents notice him; the situation is frantic as all the criminals in the building are getting arrested one by one.
It is early morning now and he finds a lady singing in a temple –
“Jaago Mohan Pyaare Jaago/ Navyuga chumein nain thare…”
Translation – Wake up dear Mohan, a new day is here to welcome you.
The film ends here as the lady gives the poor villager water to drink.
Jagte Raho is not a hard core mystery or a thriller yet it endeavors to keep the viewer throughout on the edge. Following the linear structure, each scene has a micro story that is disrupted by the protagonist for he unknowingly strips the ones who are masked.
Though an off-beat topic was selected by the RK Productions, it was made sure that this film is liked by the masses; hence, the script is full of slapstick comedy, songs and dramatic visuals.
The theme of Jagte Raho is jagte raho; the makers are warning all to stay awake for the real criminal lurks within every individual, waiting for an opportunity to overpower the downtrodden. In the film, the poor villager tries to steal the counterfeit money, but his consciousness jolts him and he does not take the money. His consciousness is in contrast to the collective consciousness of the public.
Jagte Raho chooses a partially-realistic approach to narrate the story. In fact, majority of the characters, including the protagonist, are clichéd and some even come across as frivolous and yet, as a whole the film engages and entertains. And so, keeping in mind the era in which it was made, this film stays to be a good study for a screenwriter.
Jagriti is a trained screenwriter from the Film & Television Institute of India, Pune, with experience in media and journalism. Currently, she is an elected Associate Member of the Executive Committee of the Screenwriters Association, Mumbai, as well as a member with its Dispute Settlement Committee (DSC). She writes a blog on the art of storytelling: https://www.chimingstories.in/