Bollywood’s Great Showman: Raj Kapoor and the Golden Age of Indian Cinema

MARCH 9-11, 14-18, 22-26, 28, 31

My shoes are Japanese,
These pants are English,
The red hat on my heat is Russian,
But still, my heart is Indian.

[music by Shankar-Jaikishan, lyrics by Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri]

Actor, director, and mogul Raj Kapoor (1924—1988) was one of the giants of Indian cinema, and is synonymous with the rise of the monolith known as “Bollywood.” Largely unknown in North America — except, of course, to millions and millions of fans of South Asian descent! — Kapoor is revered not only in India but throughout much of the rest of world for the films he made during the Golden Age of Indian cinema.

"Kapoor's singular and gargantuan talent subsumes a variety of influences and affinities — Chaplin, Frank Capra, Orson Welles — with even a touch of Russ Meyer apparent in the later work."

Beginning his career as an actor with his father Prithviraj’s famed theatre company and then in small film roles beginning in 1935, Kapoor founded RK Films in 1948, the most important studio of India’s post-Independence era. He made his debut as a producer, director, and lead star with the hit film Aag (Fire), in which he starred for the first time with his onscreen muse, the celebrated actress Nargis. Deriving his screen persona from the smirk and swagger of Clark Gable, the heightened emotions and showmanship of Gene Kelly, and, most importantly, Charlie Chaplin’s underdog heroism and sense of pathos, Kapoor rapidly became the biggest superstar of Indian cinema. Meanwhile, his stylistic innovations as a director — from the expressionism and gritty neorealism of his early films, to his introduction of epic-length musical numbers, to the eye-popping, Technicolor delirium of his more commercially-minded late period — helped set the template of the Bollywood film as it is today. Along with their modern-day, hyper-romantic style, Kapoor’s films had another hallmark: a deeply felt concern with social issues that paralleled the reformist and nation-building efforts of Gandhi and Nehru.

"In a mostly formulaic and conservative industry, he made inventive, personal films that were entertaining and accessible but also something more ... They resonated in — and maybe even helped to define — a newly independent India busy inventing itself." 

Kapoor himself saw his impact in more modest terms. He viewed his contribution as taking the latent romanticism of pre-war Indian commercial cinema and making it frank, intense, and personal, creating a new idiom for the expression of emotion that had little place in traditional Indian literature and drama.

This exhibition of thirteen legendary Kapoor films, many of them in newly struck 35mm prints, celebrates one of the most ravishing and influential periods of world cinema and the extraordinary talents of an artist known in India as The Great Showman.


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All Ages Welcome! Annual $3 membership requirement in effect for those 18+ Applicable B.C. film classification (rating) for each film is provided with film descriptions. All films in Hindi with English subtitles.

Acknowledgments: “Raj Kapoor and The Golden Age of Indian Cinema" was curated by Noah Cowan, Artistic Director, TIFF Bell Lightbox (Toronto) and was organized by TIFF, IIFA (International Indian Film Academy), and RK Films with the support of the Government of Ontario. Series introduction and program notes adapted from descriptions written by Noah Cowan for TIFF.


Click for film notes + showtimes

Recent Showings

NEW 35mm PRINT! This moody, music-filled romance was Raj Kapoor’s first megahit and first film with composers Shankar-Jaikishan.
NEW 35mm PRINT! Raj Kapoor’s first film as director and star, this the brooding, noir-ish film is an ideal entrance point for audiences unfamiliar with Hindi cinema.
A Chaplinesque tramp gets more than he bargained for when he wanders into a luxury apartment building looking for a glass of water in this socially-conscious comedy-drama.
One of most famous and successful Indian films ever made, even Chairman Mao was said to be a fan of this mix of romanticism, social comment, music, dance, and fantasy.
Breaking box-office records wherever it played (including multi-year runs in both Israel and Egypt), Raj Kapoor’s first colour film is pure spectacle.
Three generations of Indian cinema’s legendary Kapoor clan take to the screen in this tale of generational conflict set in Bombay.
NEW 35mm PRINT! Legendary musical number “Mera Joota Hai Japani” (“My Shoes are Japanese”) became a worldwide hit (with a year at the top of the charts in Fiji).
NEW 35mm PRINT! Often compared to Vittorio De Sica’s Shoeshine — and with interesting parallels to Slumdog Millionaire, which takes place on the same mean streets.
A meditation on love and beauty, a raunchy, Russ Meyer-esque T&A melodrama, an exposé of the dangers of rural electrification — and a throwback psychedelic musical.
NEW 35mm PRINT! This 1960 film marked Kapoor’s final direct incarnation of his tramp character and the first time he was not paired with romantic co-star Nargis.
Kapoor’s final and most financially successful film returns to the crusading social-message dramas of his early years, depicting corruption at the heart of Indian society.
NEW 35mm PRINT! This compulsively watchable, astonishing train wreck of a film has been gradually revived by Western critics.
NEW 35mm PRINT! Kapoor bounced back from the commercial and critical disaster of Mera Naam Joker with this charming pop paean to youth, starring his son Rishi.