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Why was Awara popular in Turkey?

Raj Kapoor's classic was the beginning of a long journey for one of his most iconic creations — the tramp. The film and its music reached far beyond Indian borders. It remains one of the most popular Indian films in Turkey. Here's how that happened.

Shriram Iyengar

Watching his grandson Ranbir prance around in Corsica and France, the showman in Raj Kapoor might have smiled. He had already been there and done that. His visits to Russia would often spark mob frenzies. In 2013, when his other granddaughter, a famous actress in her own right, Kareena Kapoor visited Russia, she still found the audience chanting Raj Kapoor's name. Of the many characters and memorable movies by the showman, 'Awara' (1951) stands out as the film which launched the image of the underdog tramp. Posters of the film in Turkey continue to circulate on the internet leading to the curious question. How did Raj Kapoor manage to charm an audience without the magic of promotions and PR?  

Raj Kapoor's tramp was loved in a country that was once called the 'Gateway to Europe'. It is not difficult to love an underdog. In Turkey and Russia, the magic of Raj Kapoor was sought In a film that was as popular across the seas as in India, the song 'Awara hoon' was a song that connected the hungry peasant in Turkey with the street sweeper in Mumbai and an imprisoned novelist in Russia. The poster shows a young and optimistic Raj Kapoor (questionable likeness though) and a ravishing Nargis looking out to the horizon. A comparison with the Indian version of the poster shows up the differences. Raj Kapoor's Turkish version looks a little more macho than the innocent tramp in the Indian poster. Nargis' demure knee length pants are more curvaceous and sensuous than the Indian version could have allowed. We can presume that the poster artist got a little carried away. 

'Awara' was released in Turkey in 1955. It proved to be a blockbuster hit. The chemistry between Nargis and Raj Kapoor, the desire for social justice, and the haunting melodies of Shankar-Jaikishan worked their magic on Turkish audiences. Not only was the film a runaway hit, it was screened and re-released several times between 1955 and 1962. As important as the impact of the storyline was, it was the songs that bridged the lingual divide. The title track 'Awara hoon' became one of the most popular numbers from Indian cinema that infected Turkey. The rhythms and strings of the song were so close to the Turkish musical style that it was played on the national radio on Turkey's most important days, the Ataturk National Sports Day. Such was its popularity among the audience! So lasting was the impact of the song that even in the 90s, bands were experimenting with newer versions of Shankar-Jaikishan's eternal melody.


One of the reasons for the popularity of the song, and Indian films in general, is the quality of the literature present in them. Take 'Awara hun' for instance. The song was written by Shailendra(coincidentally called 'Pushkin', after the revolutionary Russian poet, for his socialist leanings) was filled with a melancholy that is simultaneously uplifting. The story goes that on hearing the passionate, and dark, narration of the story by KA Abbas, Shailendra explained his understanding of the story in his simple lines.

'Awara tha. Gardish me tha, aasmaan ka taara tha. Awara tha.'

It was a haiku worth the whole film. It was this sense of optimism hidden within the melancholic despair of the song that made it worthwhile. In lyrical terms, it was closest to Van Gogh's 'Starry Night', a creation of beauty born of despair. Many critics also point out to the similarity in the languages as a common connect. 'Awara', the Hindustani word and 'Avare' its Turkish translation mean vagabond. For a country that was slowly transforming from a stopping point for passing voyages into a modern state, the film and the song represented a yearning for a lost age.

Raj Kapoor is undoubtedly one of the greatest directors of Indian cinema. His contribution, although debated, is never questioned. Be it his style or his subject, the showman found a way to reach his audience, irrespective of their class, language or understanding. This Turkish poster for his iconic film is the perfect example of his inclusive style.