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Aag, in which Raj Kapoor spontaneously combusts

What do you love about me?
Your golden hair and your blue eyes!
And on hearing these words from lovestruck Nargis, Raj Kapoor undergoes spontaneously combustion. His body starts shaking, his face is napalm of pain. No, No this can't be. He tells her:'Body is nothing, heart and soul is everything.' His best friend is in love with that nargis while Raj Kapoor is obsessed with an imagined character, his Nimmi, a women whose shades he believes are present in Nargis.  Sacrifice. This calls for sacrifice.

Had he spontaneously combusted, that would have been easier on the senses of viewer but no, a song later, he picks a lit torch and sticks it into his face.

This is Raj Kapoor's Aag. Everything you need to understand about Raj Kapoor's cinema is right here (not necessarily in this post).

Burn Nightmare of Zeenat Aman in Raj Kapoor's Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978)

Only minutes before Raj Kapoor's combustion, a couple of scenes earlier, in an iconic scene that doesn't add up with that combustion scene and makes one sympathise with the character of Nargis , one witnesses Raj Kapoor grab Nargis by the hair, pulling her near him. For a second the screen is filled with an energy that is seldom seen in  Indian scene. The scene should be right up there at the top in any list of 'Most sensuous scenes in Indian Cinema'. And this was in year 1948, only a year after India's independence. Film critic Iqbal Masud in his book 'Dream Merchants, Politicians & Partition: Memoirs of an Indian Muslim' recalls how the cinema of those years was immune to the events of year 1947. He mention Aag as one of the few films that subtly alluded to the happenings of Independence year. Character of Nargis in the film is that of a women rendered homeless by the partition.

Kamini Kaushal, the Nimmi who finally accepts Raj Kapoor with his burns, inner beauty and all.

The plot here is sort of inverse of the plot in Satyam Shivam Sundaram. In Aag, Raj Kapoor's character wants people to look beyond his beauty and in Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Zeenat Aman's character would prefer that people look beyond her disfigurement. Of course the way she was shot in the film, the viewer doesn't care about it, and for the film's sake the hero only cares about the sound, so much so that on their Milan Raatri, he doesn't even dare to look at the face of the women he loves.  Welcome to Raj Kapoor's cinema. One man's kitsch take at 'Indian' emotions and concerns.


A film like Aag must be a treat for someone like Ashis Nandy. In his book 'The Secret Politics of our Desires: Innocence, Culpability and Indian Popular Cinema' he writes:

"Contemporaries like Masud, bureaucrat, intellectual and later a film critic, related personally to Raj's self-expression and translated it into their analytical idiom:'Aag reflected the two streams of Hindi and Urdu literature.
One was the strong romantic stream of suppressed sensuality and the other stream was progressive, wanting change. Aag was a response to the bleak middle-class culture.' In Raj's own words, Aag was:

...the story of youth consumed by the desire for a brighter and more intense life. And all those who has flitted like shadows through my own life, giving something and taking something were in that film..."


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