Raj Kapoor was one of those men in Bollywood who loved romance, loved glamour and was a rampant heterosexual. He loved women so much that he laid waste those closest to him: Nargis, his muse, and Krishna, his wife. But this combination of the romantic and the heterosexual made him one of the most erotic of film-makers (he attributed his obsession with breasts to a childhood fantasy that he described in some detail to his biographer and close confidant Bunny Reuben).
Here are the 10 moments from his films that stand out as most erotic:
Nargis quenches thirst in ‘Jagte Raho’
When I saw this scene from the 1956 film Jagte Raho for the first time, I hadn’t even heard of Sigmund Freud. A man has been thirsting all night and is awakened by a child’s gentle touch. That glorious bhajan, Jaago Mohan Pyaare, begins to play in the background. The young man offers obeisance to the harbingers of the navayug (new age) mentioned in the song: Gandhi and Nehru and Vivekanand. And then, to the acute embarrassment of us all, Raj Kapoor cuts straight to Nargis crouched in complete obeisance to Mohan, the image of Krishna. She has just bathed, and is carrying a pot of water. God, state, woman, man, child, dawn, water—how much symbolism can one song take? And how can all this be so exciting? When she pours water for him, her face soft with maternal love, there is something mythic, something romantic, something Freudian (or Jungian) about the moment. It is one of the most brilliantly erotic moments in Hindi cinema without a single jhatak or matak.
Raj Kapoor and Nargis in ‘Shree 420’. Image: So Many Cinemas by BD Garga/ Eminence Designs
Zeenat Aman performs ‘puja’ in ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’
The title song in Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978) is an all-time male favourite. Once again, it is dawn. Once again, a woman sings to wake god and man and birds in a temple. Once again, “jaago” rings out in the clear, beautiful voice of Lata Mangeshkar, giving it her best because with this she had returned to RK after a long while. And then, when she saw the barely-clad Zeenat Aman worshipping the lingam, she decided never to sing for him again. But thousands of men all over the country long for a tribal woman like that Rupa, in a white half-sari, a lock of hair falling over one side of her face, abasing herself before the phallic representation of Shiva.
Dimple Kapadia falls backwards on to a bed with her boyfriend in ‘Bobby’
This love thing? Men are always in pursuit. So there is something inexpressibly sexy about a woman taking the initiative. Although it is Raja (Rishi Kapoor) who suggests the possibility of being locked in a room together, it is Bobby (Dimple Kapadia) who begins the process of shutting out the rest of the world, creating a cocoon in which barely post-adolescent hormones can run amok in Bobby (1973). No wonder, Raj Kapoor kept bringing us back to that hotel room, and ended with the two walking out of it triumphantly, still feasting on each other, ignoring the slightly baffled room attendant.
Nargis surrenders in ‘Barsaat’
Nargis was not a beautiful woman. But she could suggest reserves of passion even when she was being subjected to Raj Kapoor’s ruthless male gaze, vicariously deployed through Radhu Karmarkar’s camera. Thus when she finally gives up and lets herself go limp over Raju’s arm in Barsaat (1949), every man in the audience heaves a sigh of relief. The status quo has been maintained. The woman has been tamed. The show can go on.
Simi Garewal takes a dip in ‘Mera Naam Joker’
Sex is also about being vulnerable. And there are few things as vulnerable as a fat boy in love with his young teacher. Rishi Kapoor plays the young clown Raju in Mera Naam Joker (1970), and as a young ’un, he stumbles upon his fancy bathing. Although Simi Garewal is almost entirely clad—all Internet promises of seeing her fully nude in this rare clip are fallacious—the wet white dress makes her look exactly like the kind of teacher you would fall in love with at that age. And the young Raju runs, in an agonized, stumbling way that tears at your heart. It’s a moment of great psychological acuity.
Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia in ‘Bobby’.
Nadira offers the seductions of Maya in ‘Shree 420’
Nargis played Vidya. Nadira played Maya. Vidya was a schoolteacher. Maya was a wheeler-dealer. Nargis wore a sari and a shawl. Nadira had to be stitched into her dress. The lovely vamp loved telling the story of that song, Mudh mudh ke na dekh, of how she had no idea what a bra was in those days. But there was no doubting the sexual challenge in those eyes as Maya draws Raju back from Vidya, who has retreated in tears in the 1955 film Shree 420. Money and lust are good companions.
Padmini yearns in ‘Jis Des Mein Ganga Behti Hai’
Padmini was the replacement for Nargis and the rough treatment she got showed how little Raj Kapoor cared for her. And yet one of the most beautiful songs of yearning went to her in Jis Des Main Ganga Behti Hai (1960), perhaps as a way of making up. O Basanti pawan paagal/na jaa re na jaa rings through the boulders of the Chambal, past the forlorn figure of the tramp, carrying his umbrella and marching away from the dead dream of “chochalism” (socialism).
Vyjayanthimala seduces her husband in ‘Sangam’
The little lady as a chorine in the bedroom? That’s about as patriarchal as it gets, but Raj Kapoor added an ironic note in Sangam (1964) by saying “Chhee chhee” at regular intervals, drawing a line between wives and dancers. Finally, his annoyed wife (Vyjayanthimala) breaks into “Main kaa karoo Ram/mujhe buddha mil gaya” and the punters were up on their seats, dreaming of a European honeymoon. If Paris could do that to Vijjuji, what might it not do for their love lives?
Helen frightens the little tramp in ‘Anari’
One of the great things about Raj Kapoor’s creation of the little tramp was that Raju was not a ladies’ man. He could get savage with women (the beach scene in Barsaat is a good example) but he was almost always slightly alarmed by the sensuality a woman could unleash. In this scene from Anari (1959), Raju has taken his landlady out for a splash-out dinner on New Year’s Eve. There’s a floor show, and Helen is dancing. She comes up to him and says “Hello”, making three syllables out of the word. “Hui maa,” replies Raju, his eyebrows wiggling in terror. She flashes away from him laughing. That was the last time she would ever appear in a Raj Kapoor film.
Zeenat Aman in ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’. Image: So Many Cinemas by BD Garga/ Eminence Designs
Mandakini gets wet in ‘Ram Teri Ganga Maili’
Dimple Kapadia was the last great RK discovery. After that came Mandakini. But she was great in the waterfall sequence of the title song of Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985)—wrapped, again, in the little white (very transparent) sari. Very little else was great.
(Writer’s note:While Raj Kapoor’s impact on Bollywood is huge, the number of films he directed is comparatively small. There are only 10, according to most databases. But this number is suspect. Prakash Arora is credited as the director of Boot Polish (1954). Radhu Karmarkar, long-standing cameraman, is the nominal director of Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai. Hrishikesh Mukherjee is said to have directed Anari. To which all I can say is, “Right, yeah, sure!” These were Raj Kapoor films. They starred him and had his touch, never mind who was supposed to be the director.)
Jerry Pinto is the author ofHelen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb.
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