Disclaimer: I watched Raj Kapoor's Barsaat with fellow blogger and owner of our single brain, Post-Punk Cinema Club. As a result, I was a bit distracted by the fun chatting and I spent a lot of time laughing at how funny PPCC is and then wondeirng "Oh wait, was that something Very Important and Artistic that I should be thinking Serious Thoughts about?" Fortunately, despite the shared brain, PPCC and I do not always agree about everything, most notably the attractiveness of Byronic heroes and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (PPCC is pro both, whereas I say "blech"), so I was not waylaid further by the additional distraction of swooning. Good thing, too, as it turns out I would need all the supply of swoon I could find for watching Pyar Kiya Jaa a few days later.
Barsaat is my first Nargis movie, as well as my first with Raj Kapoor as an actor (and only third as director, the others being Bobby and Satyam Shivam Sundaram). A week mulling it over has not really given me any particular insight, except that I think it's really interesting that the title means "monsoon" or "rainfall" but there isn't any rain in the movie. It seems to me that the story's meaning is laid bare by the characters' dialogues and behaviors - love is powerful and not always sunny, and that to stave off its darkness, you need to treat the people you love carefully and with respect and affection.
Oh! Maybe that's the title reference? That loves brings storms and tears as well as sunshine and joy?
Early in the movie, while galavanting through the countryside en route to a summer getaway, Gopal (Prem Nath) and Pran (Raj) debate: "Is there a universal scale to measure good and bad" wonders Gopal. "Yes," says Pran. "The greatest scale is you wouldn't hurt anyone's feelings. That is the difference between the good and bad." Gopal teases Pran for being such a poet and wallowing in melancholy, and Pran criticizes Gopal's id-based behavior: "That's the difference between us. You only see the sparkle. You don't see that to light the sparkler you require fire."
That sums it up, really; Barsaat is a cause/effect lesson in playboy contrasted with poet. The story gives exemplars of both approaches: a lesser version of love, based on baser instincts and refusal to accept responsibility for other people's feelings, and a fuller, wiser concept of love that is more real and true because includes a wider range of experiences (not just instant gratification) and is responsive to how both people feel. Raj and Nargis (Reshma) are the solidly cohering couple who show compassion for each other and weather the storms, inseparable even by class difference, disapproving fathers and friends, aggressive suitors, and major physical traumas.
Prem Nath's character learns the importance of valuing people too late. (And yet another female character who has sex outside of marriage is punished severely. Great.)
This is certainly an approach to love that I can support; it's much more realistic and firmly rooted - and ultimately sweeter - the consequence-free method lived and suffered by Gopal and his tragic love Neela (the sweet-faced Nimmi in her first movie).
And while the film's lesson in responsibility and joy is straightforward and simple, the movie is very rich in effect, thanks to lovely visuals and strong performances. So enamored am I of bright color palettes that I forget how beautiful black and white can be, and Barsaat was a great reminder. There are many visually striking scenes, but I never felt jarred (something I cannot say for Raj's used of striped filters in Satyam Shivam Sundaram). Subtext-wise, too, things are mostly kept under control; while the characters may talk about love, they're also clearly thinking about sex, but the effect is generally one of passion rather than lecherousness (also something I cannot say for SSS). There is too much brooding for my liking, but it struck me as mostly working in service of the admirable aim of knowing yourself and those you love. Certainly according to the dichotomy set up by the movie, 'tis better to brood than not, so I made it through with minimal eye-rolling. The self-sacrifices of Reshma, Pran, and Neela do not sit as well with me, but that's one of those areas that Hindi films and I rarely agree on, so I'll just move on. PPCC describes Raj's performance here as 60% amazing/40% over-the-top performance, and that's not at all my preferred balance for almost any actor. I've read other opinions that feel Raj became OTT and self-indulgent far too often in his films, but I didn't really see much of that here. What I did see I can mostly chalk up to his character being painted as poet, and, much to my satisfaciton, Gopal voices some of the same critiques of Pran's moping that I was tempted to yell at the screen.
Forgive me for not saying more about Nargis.
She is fantastic in this and I can't wait to see more of her films. Her portrayal of Reshma is adorable and lively and fun, and Nargis's huge, generous grin suits her perfectly. She makes Reshma believably gorgeous, despite the occasional trauma-drama behavior of the character. I loved her constant sniffing - such a cute little quirk.
Some miscellaneous thoughts:
- I wonder what Lo Spinario is doing in the living room of the fellows' rental house?
- There's a great scene of Pran and Gopal at a swanky club, rich in 40s elegance
contrasted with the chaotic streets outside, where Reshma has been taken by her loutish fiance to buy bangles.
Also note the wavy lines and arcs in the club and then the coil of wire and Reshma's big earrings! Visual symmetry! Or something! Cool!
- Another nifty visual.
- I really liked the depiction of friendship, both between Pran and Gopal and later between Reshma and Gopal, who develop a sibling-like bond as they wait for Pran's recovery.
- Throughout the movie, I wondered why there were so many shots of sources of light. And then I remembered Pran's line about needing fire to light a sparkler.
Maybe that's it. Maybe Raj is trying to remind us that a source of power - heat, light, both necessary and potentially painful - is required to fuel love? I don't know. Whatever the reason, the constant imagery of light sources is a very neat effect, visually, even if I don't understand it.