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Prem Rog, the film that marked many firsts in Hindi cinema: Celebrating 35 years

Did you know that Raj Kapoor directed Shammi Kapoor for the first time in Prem Rog? Read on to know more about the RK Films feature that was released on 31 July 1982.

Anita Paikat

Raj Kapoor directed 10 films in his lifetime, including Barsaat (1949), Awara (1951), Sangam (1964), Mera Naam Joker (1970), and Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978). In almost all of them, he tried to address issues beyond the usual love stories. Themes of class disparity, unemployment, poverty, social injustice, gender inequality and violence were aptly wrapped around the plot of a couple in love.

For example, while Satyam Shivam Sundaram was a love story, it was essentially a critique of society's fondness for 'good-looking' women: how men loved women for their beauty but abandoned the same women when they realized she was not so beautiful after all.

Shree 420 (1955), which won the certificate of merit for the Second Best Feature Film in Hindi at the National film awards in 1956, was rooted in an unemployed man's plight in a big city. Deprived of even basic necessities, the protagonist falls for the riches promised by an abominable profession, gambling.

Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Shree 420

Prem Rog, Raj Kapoor's ninth directorial project, was no different. This film, too, was about two lovers, but the social cause — widow remarriage — was the actual protagonist.

Manorama (Padmini Kolhapure), a bubbly young girl from an affluent and orthodox family of zamindars (landlords), is married at an early age. Her husband dies soon after the wedding and Manorama is doomed to live as an untouchable for the rest of her life. In course of time, she is raped by her brother-in-law and sent back to her maternal house, where her plight is no better. She is made to live in a separate room (that is not attached to the main house) with the bare minimum needs, and is asked to eat bland food and wear only white. Devdhar (Rishi Kapoor), her childhood friend, who loved her even before she was betrothed, wants to marry her and in the process challenges the social tradition of treating widows as 'dead humans'.

To celebrate the 35th anniversary of the film's release (31 July 1982), we look at the 'firsts' that the film established in Hindi cinema.

Youngest actress to win a Filmfare Best Actress award outright

Padmini Kolhapure in Prem Rog

The 1982 drama was well appreciated for its message and won four Filmfare awards. Raj Kapoor won two awards for Best Director and Best Editor, Santosh Anand won the Best Lyricist award, and Padmini Kolhapure won the Best Actress award.

The more interesting fact, however, is that Kolhapure was only 17 at the time. She remains the youngest actress to win the award outright. Dimple Kapadia was 16 when she won the award for Bobby in 1973, but she had to share the trophy with Jaya Bhaduri for Abhimaan (1973).

The journey leading up to the success of Prem Rog was not an easy one for Kolhapure. She had already worked in several films as a child artiste and her first film in a lead role, Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai (1981), had not fared well.

Before she auditioned for the role in Prem Rog, the makers were worried if the girl (then just 16) would look convincing as a widow. However, her audition went well and she bagged the role.

In an interview with the daily The Times of India in 2013, Kolhapure shared the difficulties she faced while shooting for the film. "The film itself was not easy to do. First up, the song 'Bhanvre Ne Khilaya Phool' that was shot in Amsterdam took nine whole days to complete. And each of those days, we shot for very long hours, considering it gets dark very late in the day there. Next, doing the scene where I had to slap Rishi Kapoor when he declares his love for me in front of everybody was weird. Here I was more or less a newcomer, and there was Rishi, a star. How could I slap him?"

Prem Rog established Kolhapure as a heroine, and brought filmmakers to her doorstep.

First time Raj Kapoor directed Shammi Kapoor

Shammi Kapoor and Padmini Kolhapure in Prem Rog

Though Raj Kapoor had been making films for over three decades by then, this was the first and last time he directed younger brother Shammi. They had earlier acted together in Char Dil Char Rahen (1959), and appeared as themselves in a cameo in the 'John Jani Janardan' song from Naseeb (1981).

In Prem Rog, Shammi Kapoor played Manorama's uncle and head of the Thakur family, Bade Raja Thakur. He is a man caught in the transition between tradition and modernity. He forbids Manorama's tonsuring after her husband's death but refuses to accept the widow's relationship with Devdhar.

Rishi Kapoor and Sushma Seth worked together for the first time

Sushma Seth in Prem Rog

Like the famous on-screen mother-son relationship established by Nirupa Roy and Amitabh Bachchan, Sushma Seth and Rishi Kapoor were seen donning the same roles in many of Rishi's later films like Deewana (1992), Bol Radha Bol (1992), Inteha Pyar Ki (1992) and Daraar (1996). However, they acted together for the first time in Prem Rog, albeit not as mother and son.

Sushma Seth is known for playing the roles of mother, grandmother or aunt throughout her career. In fact, she played Shashi Kapoor's aunt in her debut film Junoon (1979).

In Prem Rog, she is the quasi-villian, Badi Ma, an orthodox widow who ensures Manorama is deprived of all pleasures in life after her husband's death. Her intention, however, is to avenge the atrocities she herself faced as a widow, by forcing them on Manorama.