This is not about the Sunaks at all, not to harry them or make fun. This is about two different pictures, two different Indias. This is about the distance we in India have travelled. Raj Kapoor’s Shree 420 was released in 1955. It was not even a decade since Independence and India was a toddler. The nation had gone to polls for the first time four years ago and the Congress had swept to power. 1951 was also when the Bharatiya Jan Sangh was born. The first IIT had come up. The Imperial Bank of India became the State Bank of India in 1955, and that year the national income was Rs 1,11,748 million. That year, Yugoslav President Josif Tito became the first European leader to visit India since 1947. Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower was the President of the United States, he visited India some years later. In the United Kingdom, Anthony Eden had just succeeded Winston Churchill. G20 was not even imagined. Its member, the African Union (AU), was not a thing. In fact, it was only in 1957 that Ghana, which is among the sovereign nations of the AU, became the first African country to gain independence.
A new Raj
In Shree 420, Raj Kapoor plays an educated migrant from Allahabad, in search of a job in the big city. In the 1955 essay Unemployment in India, R. Parthasarathy writes: “Disguised rural unemployment apart, there is considerable underemployment of unskilled labourers in towns and cities… The most disturbing categories of unemployment… are those that are to be found amongst the educated and the semi-skilled sections of the community.” There is a scene of two bhashans in the film. A wealthy-man-turned-politician is giving Bhashan A. And a stone’s throw from his raised podium, Raj is delivering Bhashan B. The politician is dressed in swadeshi clothes from topi to toe. Raj is wearing his heart on his sleeve and that alone is Hindustani. The politician tells the assembled masses that man’s atma is the most important thing in the world and Raj tells them roti is, by whatever name you call it.
To get back to the Umbrella Scene. Nargis’s Vidya is a schoolteacher. She meets Raj outside his new workplace, the Jai Bharat Laundry. (Do make a note of the dirty linen trope.) The penniless laundryman and the woman who is perennially pawning this and that to make both ends meet, step out on their first date. Venue: the Footpath Palace Hotel, which is on the pavement skirting a public park. Two cups of tea cost two annas and even that Raj cannot afford; he tricks Vidya into paying for it, but is overcome with shame the very next minute. When he half proposes to her and Vidya fully accepts in a spirit of equality, the overwhelmed skies cannot hold back. It is Raj who takes the umbrella from Vidya’s hand, opens it and offers it to her. She watches him cheerily getting rain-drenched and gives it to him. After some to and fro, they come under the umbrella and a song is born --- Pyaar huya iqraar huya… Behind them is the temple of modern India, a nascent cityscape.