Looking at K Shankar and Manmohan Desai's - "Raj Kumar" [AKA - Raaj Kumar] (1964).

Taking a second look at the K. Shankar, Manmohan Desai written, parody of Bollywood mythologicals.

Links to additional "Raaj Kumar" star photo capture galleries at bottom of page.

Film: "Raj Kumar" (1964)

Starring: Shammi Kapoor , Sadhana, Prithviraj Kapoor, Pran

Director: K Shankar

Story Writer: Manmohan Desai

Music Director: Shankar - Jaikishen

Playback Singers: Mohd Rafi, Asha Bhonsle, Lata Mangeshkar

Costume Designer: M R Acharekar

Art Director: M R Acharekar & A. Balu

1

Being a Westerner, when I first came to Bollywood movies a few years ago I had a preconceived image of what I thought they would 'look' like. I had no idea what they might be all about and I am still avidly attempting to figure all that out. My ideas though of how they looked were a mishmash of images on the line of Vijay Anand elaborate dance numbers of the 60s, costume kitsch, bright colors, and 100 dancers doing pseudo classical Indian dance steps to S D Burman funk beats. I was naive and have come to see that Bollywood is much more than this. I am evolving to a deepening appreciation of Hindi popular film as a complex national cinema with it's own unique character and set of semiotics.

However in the back of my head I still longed for that 'ultimate kitsch' Bollywood film of my first fantasy notions. Then after watching close to 200 Bollywood films in the past couple of years I came across "Raj Kumar" (1964) the Shammi Kapoor, Sadhana, fantasy entertainer. I realized I had finally found the quintessential Bollywood film of my naive preconceptions. "Raj Kumar" is 'fluff' entertainment on a grand scale, everything a silly 60s Bollywood fantasy costume drama should be. Then deep down the film is also something much more.

 

2

"Raj Kumar" is an unusual film. It is a comedy/parody of one of Bollywood's time worn and true genres, the "mythological". The film is also unusual because it is self conscious and self referential. I say unusual because rarely does Hindi popular film make fun of itself in parody. One of the most refreshing and intriguing aspects of Bollywood film is it's seemingly total lack of self-irony and post modern self consciousness. Bollywood films are for the most part seriously sincere in their presentation of comedy, drama, and melodrama. Rarely, if ever, does a Bollywood film even hint at parody and poke fun at itself or display ironic sarcasm. Quite often though Hindi popular film will be light hearted and melodramatic but always with genuine emotional intensity and intention.

Today the presentation of comedy and musicals in the West are centered around parody, self-reference, and irony. The genres of musical and melodrama are viewed as outmoded and nostalgic forms of presentation. The West's apparent preoccupation with 'the age of irony', won't allow the viewer to enter any narrative without self-conscious notions to this conceit. On the other hand Hindi popular cinema is for the most part free of irony, parody, and self-consciousness and the audience will have nothing to do with it. Any hint of irony or parody in a Bollywood film is as a rule almost unanimously rejected by the Indian viewing public.

3

So it is very interesting to see a film like "Raj Kumar" which was made 40 years ago, calls itself a parody and was a 'super hit'. The K. Shankar film with it's Manmohan Desai script is a send up of Hindi costume drama classics like "Mughal-e-Azam" and historical/religious dramas that are often called in Bollywood, 'Mythologicals'. Prithviraj Kapoor reprises his role as the king from "Mughal-e-Azam" in "Raj Kumar". He even repeats some of his famous monologues from 'Mugal' in "Raj Kumar" to comic effect.

K. Shankar who was actually a veteran of the mythological film genre having directed over a half dozen of them and Manmohan Desai (who would later go on to direct classic films like Amar Akbar Anthony, Coolie, and Roti.) place the Hindi hipster Shammi Kapoor as the prince, and then pop teen glamor sensation Sadhana as a tribal princess into a mythological land of wonder and palace intrigue. The film brims with fun and is a self-consciously absurdist rock and roll tongue in cheek mythological. The films soundtrack by Shankar/Jaikishen is Bollywood funk without a trace of the pseudo classic orchestration and tunes that are so familiar to serious Hindi dramas. The film is a send up from beginning to end.

Shammi Kapoor is at his 'yahoo' playful best and Sadhana is fun lovingly seductive. Sadhana is especially sensational and "Raj Kumar" captures the 'icon of style' at the peak of her legendary beauty. The pair perform over a half dozen gaudy, colorful, and kitsch, dance numbers in the film. The film is silly and full of popular appeal.

 

4

As already noted, the idea of parody is something that is not generally allowed in Bollywood films. It is a critical conceit that contains overtones of ridicule in its caricatures that is not palatable to the viewers of Hindi Popular Films. So it is interesting that "Raj Kumar'" was a huge success in its time. 1963 -1964 when "Raj Kumar" was made was an era of change in Bollywood. The 'classic era' mythological films and dramas were on the wan. A whole new urban and rural modernized youth culture were just beginning to come of age. The new heroes were hip and stylish and slightly Westernized. Apparently the atmosphere was ripe for a film that would take a jab (abet lovingly) at the old worn institution of the serious mythological. "Raj Kumar" is progressive and possibly the first example of a successful 'self-conscious' Bollywood film. I would dare say that "Raj Kumar" might be the first postmodern Bollywood film ever made.

 

 

 

5

Today Hindi alternate or 'art' cinema abounds with films that are taking a critical self conscious look at the Bollywood film. For example, there is Nisha Pahuja documentary," Bollywood Bound" , Nagesh Kukunoor's "Bollywood Calling" and Deepa Menta's "Bollywood Hollywood". Also the idea of the post modern has appeared in critical discussion of Karan Johar's "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" and the recent film, Sooraj Barjatya's "Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon". But the true appearance of parody in Bollywood mainstream films is few and far between, and the actuality of a 'hit' parody virtually nonexistent. Except for the case of "Raj Kumar" which is good reason enough to check this film out.

 

 

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first uploaded: 04.30.03

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