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Sangam: A love tangle
Raj Kapoor clapped for films. Once, that is. Born in Peshawar, son of Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj was a clapper-boy at the Bombay Talkies, before his dream and fantasy took him to dizzy heights.
In 1948, he opened his own studio, R.K. to make "Aag". Two years later, the studio was expanded, and today it stands at Mumbai's Chembur as a symbol of all that the man himself was renowned for.
Although Raj Kapoor was often compared to Charlie Chaplin's tramp, what is not as well known is the fact that the Hindi actor/director/producer was also deeply influenced by Capra and De Sica.
Kapoor's canvas was wide all right. From his early passion for social reformation - in a country that was savouring the first flush of political independence - he went on to explore finer and more delicate nuances of human behaviour. Later, his movies became sexually explicit, one of the reasons for this being a couple of box-office failures in the early 1970s.
But "Sangam" came before this disillusionment. Released in 1964, it was Kapoor's first colour work. It is a glossy (Raj was truly a showman) love triangle, where the affection between two men (Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar) is spoilt by a woman (Vyjayanthimala).
Both men love the woman, but shunned and ridiculed by Vyjayanthi and her parents, Kapoor lays aside his bagpipe and music to join the Air Force and ultimately win national honours.
Kapoor also gets his lady love, thanks, of course, to Kumar, who steps aside.
"Sangam" is a poignant tale with songs that have the power to move you even today, almost four decades after it ran to packed houses for weeks on end. "Yeh mere prem patra..", "Har dil jo pyar karega... and so on were on just about everybody's lips in the 1960s.
One of the very early pictures to use breathtaking European backdrops, "Sangam" was a veritable feast for the eye as well. From the snowy Alps to the delightfully decadent Paris, this piece of celluloid had a magnificent sweep.
"Sangam" also had a couple of thought-provoking messages. One, it seemed to say that the most valuable relationship a man can have is with another man, and we see this in Raj's pining for Kumar in the song, "Dost dost na raha..."
The other was a plea for a fairer treatment of women.
All these are debatable, but what is above such discussion is that "Sangam" leaves a wonderful impression even when one sees it today.
(This story/review appeared in The Hindu dated January 5 2001)