Jagte Raho, starring Raj Kapoor and a bunch of other actors, was screened at the ongoing Habitat Film Festival as part of the curated package, KA Abbas: The City As A Metaphor.
A poor man comes to the city from the village and is looking for water to quench his thirst. It is night time. He is alone and terrified in a city where he knows no one. He roams the streets, searching for some source of water.Advertisement
He sees a dog lapping up water inside an apartment complex and enters the gates. But he is spotted by security guards and mistaken to be a thief. An alarm is raised and the panicked residents set out to hunt him down.
In his attempts to desperately escape his pursuers, he enters the homes of some of the inhabitants, and sees the depraved and morally corrupt lives that they are leading under the veneer of respectability.
A greedy Brahmin priest offering predictions for horse races, a drunkard who prefers the company of brothels and liquor instead of his ‘boring’ devoted wife, a husband attempting to steal his wife’s ornaments for gambling, a respectable philanthropist Rambabu printing fake notes in his secret hideout; the film offers vignettes on the reality of the lives led by its supposedly virtuous residents. But the hunt for the thief becomes increasingly absurd as it turns into a self-appointed mission, with residents organising themselves into a sort of an army, much like the overzealous vigilantes today.
Raj Kapoor as the Chaplinesque tramp or the Everyman figure has very few dialogues in the film and relies on his expressions and pantomime to communicate his helplessness. This is broken by his impassioned speech towards the end, when he cannot bear being hunted down like an animal any more.
The memorable music by Salil Choudhary underlines the social commentary in the film. The dreaminess of 'Zindagi Khwaab Hai' is disrupted by the actions that follow soon after, while the popular, upbeat bhangra 'Main Koi Jhoot Bholeya', underlines the social commentary of the film - Oye hath dooje ka maar maar ke/ ban de log ameer/ mein ainu kainda chori/ dunika kendi taqdeer (By pulling things from others’ hands/ people become rich/ I call it theft/ the world calls it destiny).
The bhajan 'Jaago Mohan Pyaare' ushers in a new day and a sense of hope, taking forward the symbolism of light and darkness in the film. Finally, the title of the film, the night cry of watchmen asking each other to be awake and vigil, questions what society really needs to protect itself from.
The film was based on the Bengali play Ek Din Ratrey (One Night) and directed by Shombhu Mitra and Amit Maitra, with dialogues by KA Abbas.
Released in 1956, Jagte Raho was prophetic in exploring the ways in which locked gates of apartment complexes, which are ubiquitous now, seal in the prejudices, fears and insecurities of city dwellers.
A shortened version of the film won the Grand Prix award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 1957. This was also the last RK Films banner film that featured Nargis.