Our much-anticipated Raj Kapoor series, The Eternal Poet: Raj Kapoor & the Golden Age of Indian Cinema, starts this evening with one of his greatest-looking films, Barsaat, and what better way to celebrate than by spotlighting one of the more under-appreciated elements of Kapoor’s films: their visual beauty.
Newcomers to Indian cinema may be surprised by the sheer splendor of Kapoor’s cinematography, which echoes in equal parts the deep-focus crispness of Citizen Kane and the iconic portraitures of silent-era Murnau. Indeed, many German cinematographers were active in Indian cinema in the ’30s and ’40s, and had a deep influence on the generation of talented Indian D.P’s to come (in the films of Kapoor, the lead heroine Nargis is often filmed like an Indian Dietrich, bathed in a soft-focus, backlit sheen). By the late-’40s, though, the harder-edged lighting aesthetic of Hollywood noir films began to influence Indian shooters. Cinematographers like Jal Mistry (who photographed Barsaat) and Radhu Karmakar (Awaara) were masters of the deep-focus, high-contrast shot, and created images on a par with any by John Alton, Nicholas Musuraca, and other noir artists. (Karmakar’s autobiography, in fact, was titled The Painter of Lights, not dissimilar to Alton’s book, Painting with Light. For more on Jal Mistry, google a fascinating interview from The History of Practice and Cinematography in India, available online as a PDF).
Depth-of-focus photography in Barsaat dance number
Iconic portraits: Raj Kapoor & Nargis, Barsaat
What follows is a tumblr-like sampler of some of the more striking images from the films of Raj Kapoor, here limited (for the purpose of brevity) to merely two aspects, portraiture and film noir. There are hundreds more ways to organize and define the beauty of his images, of course (and thousands more images that would display such beauty); if you have others to share, feel free to post below. All images are drawn from commercially available dvd’s, and are presented as is, with apologies for condition or appearance.
Raj Kapoor, Barsaat
Never one to shy away from melancholy, Kapoor was often fond of picturing himself in tears or on the verge of tears, overcome with the sorrows of the modern world. From his debut film, Aag
Doubles in close-up, Awaara
More doubles, Awaara
Woman and baby, Barsaat
More close-ups, looming as large as heroes, Barsaat
Raj & Nargis, Shree 420
Bridging our portraits and noir sections is this gorgeous image from Barsaat…
And a few noirish images…. Barsaat
“Raj Kapoor was very interested in good lighting, and at times even a dark type of lighting.”—Cinematographer Jal Mistry, The History of Practice and Cinematography in India
And that great staple of the noir film, the HOSPITAL MONTAGE. Barsaat.
Due to limited space, we could only share these 15-20 images, a tiny spectrum from an illustrious career, and all culled from Kapoor’s films from the ’40s and early ’50s. Please join us in the coming weeks to see these films on the big screen, and until then, thank you for reading.