Forgive me for being obsessed, but I can’t help but ponder the stunning social relevance that this film which was made in India in 1954 has to some of the problems faced by the current-day U.S.A. Consider, for instance:
1. The main character Raj has a Bachelor’s degree, yet he has the hardest time finding an honest job in Bombay. He is repeatedly told that the only way to make money in Bombay is to work in the service of trickery and thievery, be a “420” (the number in the Indian penal code for a swindler or thief). He is also told that the higher-level 420s are never accused of “420” and called thieves; they are honored and admired, because they have risen to a higher social status thanks to their “business” success.
2. More than once, Raj sings a song about how all of his clothes are made in other countries. He must reassure himself that he is still a true Indian becuase his heart is Indian.
I guess I should add here that I’m a little uncomfortable with any kind of nationalism. (This is notwithstanding my awareness that things become a little more complicated in a country where nationalism also means breaking away from a recent history of colonial rule.) But I am also all too aware of the problems it causes for the citizens of a country when they must get all their clothes and other goods from other countries, because of the connections this has to the economy in which they must survive. (And no, we have not completely moved beyond the connections between nation and economy – far from it…) The U.S. in 2008 is a country that hardly produces anything anymore. Everyone who is not affluent in the U.S. must own a wardrobe of clothes made in other countries. And since nothing is produced in the U.S. anymore, guess what…there are no jobs! (Ironically, many of our jobs have gone to India.)
3. The only way that Raj can work his way out of poverty is to work at a position where he sells shares that are not really backed up by anything. He ultimately sells things that do not really exist; he is engaged in schemes of fictitious capital. However, it is always clear that one day this house of cards is going to come tumbling down. (Does this sound familiar?)
4. That trickery is even evident in the names of the characters. As Filmi Geek reminded me, the woman who initially seduces Raj into this life of trickery is named Maya, which can mean not only “illusion,” but “trick” or “deceit” (and all Maya wants to do is take your money).
5. There is a hinted threat of social upheaval when the people come to the mansion expecting Raj and the corrupt businessman to give them homes. You see, they have paid all their savings into a plan through which they are supposed to get incredibly cheap/affordable homes. But now they are going to find out that this plan doesn’t really work, and they are not going to have homes after all.
Of course, these elements and messages do not have relevance only to the U.S. and India; they pinpoint the problems of the entire world (and system) in which we all must live. This movie is said by some to be a nationalistic film, but many of its messages have international signficance.
Not to say that these are the only points of the movie (or the only reasons to watch it), but… They are definitely points that have stuck with me.
And on that note, I wish you all a happy May Day.