15 comments on “The Social Relevance of Shree 420 to the Present-Day U.S.A.

  1. Nice wrtie up Richard. I’ve had this on my to watch list for a while and you remind me to get to watching it.

  2. Thank you, Sitaji. Actually, when I went into the store, I was hoping to follow up on one of your recommendations and pick up a copy of Naya Daur. But the guy whom I asked didn’t seem to know what it was, even when I spelled it out. Then Shree 420 jumped out at me from the shelf…

  3. Cool Richard.
    I actually got Naya Daur from my public library in Minneapolis. I tried to tap in to the NYC library system, knowing you’re there, and I’m shocked that it has so little. What’s up with that!? Maybe I didn’t do an effective search. I know we have some of the highest taxes in the country in Minneapolis, and maybe this is a perk, a great library system.

    Here’s what I found in NYC:


  4. Sitaji, thank you for looking into that! Though I’m wondering if there isn’t another way to search the NYPL page for Hindi movies. (I’ll have to try another time. And by the way, for anyone who wants to use the link in the message above, you have to highlight and copy it – for some reason the link didn’t automatically appear in whole to be clicked – probably have to look into that too.)

    But I tried another search, with the Queens Public Library. (New York City is strange that way – not all the boroughs’ branches belong to the same library – or at least Queens is a separate entity, for some reason.) Here I went into the search engine, clicked movies and typed “Hindi English Subtitles” and I got 112 pages, with 1119 results. I typed “Hindi” alone in movies to see what would happen, and I got 169 pages with 1,689 results. Then I tried two more searches: “Tamil English subtitles,” which gave me ten pages with 91 results, and “Tamil” alone, which gave me 12 pages with 130 results.

    But looking at the specifics, a good number of these are actually “not available” and the ones that are available are spread out over a huge distance. So, I might only be able to get a fraction of these. Still, it’s not a bad selection to choose from…

    And thanks for giving me the idea… Earlier, I had just been checking specific titles (and, no, strangely, Naya Daur can’t be found, nor could a number of others – though I found out that Fiza could be gotten a few miles away from me). It didn’t occur to me to search this way. Well, anyway, lots of research to do now. :)

    As for NYPL, I’ll try to figure out that Web site another time. (They’ve got to have more than that!) But I find it’s quirkier, somehow, and the Queens site is much easier.

  5. Thank you, Bollyviewer. I have a strange resistance to making purchases online, but considering that I’ve had some trouble finding this already, it might be worth it.

    And by the way, I’ve already visited the Rajshri site for a free online viewing, in the Tamil section. The movie was Uthama Puthran, a 1958 film starring Sivaji Ganesan, Padmini, Ragini, Thangavelu and M.N.Nambiar, and also featuring Helen in a rare Tamil rockabilly number. (Maybe you’ve seen it?)

    I had watched this movie on one of the (other) Tamil film sites I know, but that had been without subtitles, and this copy actually has English subtitles! (OK, so they are a little surreal sometimes, but they still help quite a bit.) Which was a nice treat for me, because it is one of my favorites…especially for the actresses and the dancing (I’ve already raved about Padmini plenty elsewhere in this blog), but I also greatly enjoyed watching Sivaji Ganesan doing a fine job playing two completely opposite twin brothers separated at birth (one good and admirable, the other rather not so)…

    So, anyway, yes, the Rajshri site is a good one to know about.

  6. Good points all… Raj Kapoor’s movies were also revered in Russia as being critical to capitalism and all it’s trappings. Incidentally, ‘420’ is also the slang that pot smokers use to signify their allegiance to this (slightly) illegal drug – coincidence? I think not :)

  7. Thank you, Sanket. You know, the coincidence of the numbers occurred to me too. And one more thing… When I lived in the South Bronx last year, my building number was 420! Certain people found that rather amusing. :)

  8. Hi Richard,
    I was directed here by RK fan Vineet Kumar, I don’t know if he’s been on your blog before! Anyway, I was quite interested to read what you say about the significance of Shree 420 applied cinematographics to our contemporary world. For me this series of coincidences comes from the moral nature of the film’s denunciations. For example, the first connection, the one dealing with the double standard which protects the high-flying thieves who are honored and admired because of their power: this belongs to the (Machiavellian) world of power backed by the values of wealth and success. Shree 420 questions these values thanks to the moral system where it isn’t wealth or success that are essential but honesty and individual progress. So it shows the contrast between these two sets of values, something which we see today exemplified in the protesters’ movements who refuse an all-economic world where global profits and growth have taken the place of personal development and communal accomplishment.

  9. I saw this post only yesterday. Raj Kapoor and/or his writers seem very prescient. I understand that one of his song writers Shailendra was leftist and refused to write for Raj Kapoor in the early days since he felt that cinemas may corrupt him. I who grew up in villages did not see these changes. Certainly corruption, nepotism, casteism increased and the same people who fought for independence, some of them in charge now, started making money with both hands. They were soon followed by communists, with some exeptions, who fought in Telangana. Finally all these may e attributed to human nature but the cultural, economic, political factors in the two cases seem differenent. In both cases elites led the changes and the composition and nature of he elites kept changing. Some attribute the changes in USA to the incomplete nature of the New Deal, the increased centralization and the rise of new elites in the South and West replacing the patricians of east. Racism may be a part of the story in USA and caste in India. There seem to be reluctance among Indian elites for physical work which does not seem to be there in USA. There are differences as well as similarities and with new technologies those with already established bases took advantage and I guess some of the old rich lost a bit and the new ones ganed. Perhaps in the changing attitudes of the elites, some causes could be found. I am not sure

  10. It is good to see comments on this post close to four years after I wrote it. :) While I had already been a fan of the dances and music in old Indian films and somewhat of a Bollywood fan, I think that my viewing of Shree 420 took me to the point of no return in my involvement and obsession with entire films from the Golden Age.

    Yves, that is a nice point about our seeing the same (good) values reflected in today’s protest movements. (Though I would say, more than individual progress, maybe collective progress, where everyone is valued as a part of the society.) You may or may not know that I am someone who’s been involved in the “Occupy” movement here in New York City and on Staten Island (as are certain of my readers, too). I would love to recommend Shree 420 as a film for viewing by people involved in this movement and these protests generally. However, it is difficult to figure out where or how to bring it up, etc. :) (On the original Occupy Wall St. e-mail list, I actually did get into a discussion with someone about Faiz Ahmed Faiz. But Raj Kapoor might require another conceptual leap. or something…)

    Swarup, thanks for your thoughts on all of this. Can we apply the old cliche “the more things change, the more they stay the same”?

    I hear a lot about frustration with the failures of socialism in India from a friend (off-blog) who is a lifelong Marxist (now 50+ with close to 30 years in the U.S., but with constant contact with his connections in Delhi, etc. – perhaps he is reading this – if so, hello, and hope you don’t mind. :) …) A lot of changes came about through globalizing technologies, and not necessarily good ones for those of us who want to see those other values that Yves mentioned. But, then, some counter-movement(s) have also become more global as well, because of the same technologies…

  11. Richard,
    I do not know much about ideologies though I grew up with communists and have some leftist tendencies myself. My naive views are more based on personal experiences and some recent reading ( I am currently reading a little from Steve Fraser and John Harriss).
    First about films: when we were kids in the forties and fifties, we used to buy the cheapest tickets and sit with laborers on the floor. What I remember that they enjoyed the films particularly songs and dances and showed their appreciation by whistling and went back singing and whistling. A few years later I was canvassing for communist candidate in local elections without really knowing what communism was, I was thirteen then and still do not know clearly what communism is, and the laborers did not seem to be interested in the ideology but the immediate benefits. A second experience through my mother who used to bring servants from her village. My father was a school headmaster and she used to persuade teachers to tutor the servants. Of the six servants we had, two acquired some school education, married and found decent jobs. Now one of their children has a good position in the army and the other Is a IT professional in US. Children of several communist relatives are also in US, some worked for Halliburton. It seems to me at each stage, these people were trying to make a living and improving their lot than worrying about ideologies. Generally, this seems to me how things go. The majority of people take advantage of what is available to make a living and/or improve their status. Some of them are the so called elites, the composition of whom changes from time to time, but generally these come from the already entrenched classes or very driven individuals. But this is an unstable system and in the old days some norms of public service were developed by the privileged. I think that in India, kings were supposed to experts at several things including grammar. The composition of the elite changed considerably after the New Deal in US and probably less in India after independence. Most of the communists came from ‘upper castes’ and they mostly married with in their caste. To my knowledge they did not really try to develop leaders from ‘lower castes’. In any case the new elites seem to have hastened a self-cannibalizing form of capitalism, possibly because they did not grow up with ideas of public service. I do not think things were that great even when elites though in terms of public service since that assumed that they were the rulers and I do not think that this was possible without some contestation, violence and propaganda. Remember that most books are written by the elites. So unless most people take interest lot of the time and try to control their fate, we will have crises. My impression is that the New Deal itself was a compromise and the labour took it easy after considerable gains. And centralization increased after the war making it easy for the new elites to get the sort of legislative power they wanted.
    Also though I think that there are some universal values, in practice they seem relative values. Think of car mechanics or casinos. There are also lot of course cultural differences. The reason I like films is that they had to cater to the ordinary people and had to take their tastes and values in to consideration instead of just those of the elites.
    I am just thinking aloud in very naive manner. But it helps to collect my thoughts once in a while and responses may lead to modifying these and further reading.

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