Raj Kapoor overturns Bollywood triangle to convey profound social messages
Review of a Bollywood blockbuster like Sangam suffers from both the ends. At one end are the highbrow intellectuals, who have breakfast with Fellini, lunch with Kurosawa, dinner with Vittorio de Sica and tea, off and on, with Satyajit Ray. At best they would grudgingly acknowledge Bimal Roy and Do Bigha Zameen. They would trash Sangam as the usual worthless, escapist fare with songs and dances and a lot of melodrama. At the other end are the rest, people like you and me, who go to see what it offers, and come back ga-ga over its grand star cast, high drama, tense love triangle, wonderful foreign locales and great music. Both the set of reviewers miss some very profound social messages strewn in the film, which would be obvious if you watch it with a little more than casual interest.
What is my authority to write a ‘serious’ review? Long years ago I made a tryst with the songs and films of yore. At the stroke of the Holi hour, when the world goes out to throw coloured water at each other, I reflect on some serious issues. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when the soul of a long-misunderstood Bollywood film stirs, and when we need to look at it in a different way and redeem it, if not wholly or in full measure, at least very substantially (with apologies to Nehru’s PA, MO Mathai, who wrote the stirring ‘A tryst with destiny’ for him, as claimed by him in his reminiscences. See Page 11 – Nehru had written ‘A ‘date’ with destiny’).
I have been writing serious articles on the previous Holis; but, surprisingly, the readers found them funny, some going to the extent of complimenting me on my sense of humour. If you are drenched from head to toe in colour, it is likely your vision would be coloured. Therefore, to remove any doubt, I am announcing up-front that this is a serious review.
The first obvious thing about Sangam is that it is a great love-triangle in the tradition of Andaaz (1949). (In fact Raj Kapoor wanted to offer Rajendra Kumar’s role to Dilip Kumar, but the latter thought better of it as he knew what Raj Kapoor would have done to his role.) Therefore, we may start with some introduction to the basics about triangles.
Triangles: Euclidean Geometry and Bollywood Geometry
We learnt in the school that you needed three sides to solve a triangle; with only two sides the triangle becomes indeterminate. Bollywood marks a major advance in the evolution of non-Euclidean geometry. In Bollywood geometry, three sides make a triangle unsustainable; so the whole objective of a film is to solve the triangle by dispensing with the superfluous side.
Bollywood triangles can be divided into two broad categories:
1. B-Type triangle: Two boys (B1, B2) and a girl (G1)
2. G-Type triangle: Two girls (G1, G2) and a boy (B1)
(For simplification, we may treat G-type as the mirror image of B-type, though there are nuanced differences on account of gender asymmetry. A detailed explanation is beyond the scope of this paper.)
Bollywood solves the triangle, i.e. dispenses with the superfluous B2 (or G2, as the case may be) so that B1-G1 live happily for ever, in one of the following three ways:
1. Elimination: Physical liquidation of B2 (or G2). This can happen in three ways:
Voluntary (Chaudahvi Ka Chand, 1960)
Involuntary (Andaaz, 1949)
Accidental (Sagar, 1985; Hariyali Aur Rasta, 1962)
2. Factorisation (or Voluntary withdrawal): B2 remains a factor, living with the sad memory of his love, which he has sacrificed for friendship. He acts as the Best Man in the end (Arzoo, 1965). In later refinements, he assumes the role of the elder brother (Anil Kapoor in Taal, Jackie Shroff in Rangeela), giving G1 away to B1 in a gesture reminiscent of ritualistic kanyadaan. In the mirror image G-type triangle, G2 makes a similar offering of G1 to B1 (Jawab, 1942; Dard, 1947; Anokhi Ada, 1948).
3. Quadrilateralisation (or Quad-isation in short): There is a fourth side in the movie. In the end the triangle is converted into a quadrilateral (B1-G1, B2-G2). There are two types of quad-isation:
Perfect Quad-isation (Naya Daur, 1957; Aah, 1953)
Imperfect Quad-isation (Anmol Ghadi, 1946; Deedar, 1951)
(The above classification would be self-evident to the readers familiar with these movies. Please see the notes at the end.)
Which type is Sangam triangle?
Now we can explore where does Sangam fit in the above triangle space. Here I make my most fundamental observation that Sangam does not belong to any standard type of triangle! Let me explain why. Rajendra Kumar loves Vyjayanthimala, she loves him. They are well brought up and have compatible family background and value systems. There is also Raj Kapoor, a waster and good-for-nothing fellow. He sings and dances, and is a great friend of Rajendra Kumar. He imposes himself upon Vyjayanthimala with bawdy songs like Bol Radha bol sangam hoga ki nahi, who makes no bones that she resents his ways. Thus, it is important to note that here Rajendra Kumar is B1, and Raj Kapoor is the other guy B2. Yet, how is the triangle resolved? B2 gets G1 (!!!) and B1 meets a macabre end. How could a great director like Raj Kapoor make such a fundamental mathematical error? This leads us to the first profound social message of the film.
Social message 1: Importance of mathematics in school education
We have seen many countries including India, Pakistan and the US going through periods of agonising debate about the ideal school curriculum (higher education does not become a matter of such wide-spread public concern). The disaster in Sangam occurred due to a simple error in mathematical calculation. Vyjayanthimala has been thwarted repeatedly in her attempts to tell the state of her heart to Rajendra Kumar: when she is on the point of telling him on the phone, her father potters down the staircase, forcing her to change the conversation; at the dancing party whenever she tries to have a word with him, she is pulled away by Raj Kapoor; when she goes for picnic at his invitation, she finds Raj Kapoor there who, mid-stream, pulls her away in his boat. Out of exasperation, she, with her saheli, goes up on the roof, with a love letter crumpled in her hand. She waits for Rajendra Kumar to pass by when she would throw the love letter to fall in his car. As it happens, the car whizzes past, the letter gets entangled in the branches of a tree, which the girls try to retrieve with a hook. Raj Kapoor, who was passing by on his cycle, just behind Rajendra Kumar’s car, sees the girls so fiddling and retrieves the letter.
If you have been taught school mathematics properly, you would know it is a simple question of height and distance – standing at a height of ‘h’, at what angle and velocity should you throw a projectile to hit an object moving at a constant speed of ‘u’ at a distance of ‘s’ from the base of the building? Raj Kapoor was a great visionary far ahead of his times. He uses the tragedy of Sangam to make a fundamental point that mathematics has to be given a key position in school curriculum.
Disaster does not strike alone. Raj Kapoor opens the letter and exclaims Haaye, ye to Hindi mein hai, implying that had it been in English he would have had no difficulty in understanding it. This brings us to the second great social message of Raj Kapoor.
Social message 2: Three language formula; importance of mother tongue vis-a-vis English as the medium of school education
Visionary that Raj Kapoor was, he could foresee that language would become one of the most passionate and emotive issues in the country. You express your deepest emotions in your mother tongue. Therefore, Vyjayanthimala writes the love-letter in Hindi. Raj Kapoor’s mother tongue is also obviously Hindi. He could not read Hindi, which meant he could read some other language, most likely English. Which means that he must have gone to one of the extremely snobbish ‘English medium’ schools, which forbade not only speaking Hindi on the campus, but also banished its teaching. Raj Kapoor’s family was nationalist to the core. How could any self-respecting free nation have such a slavish mentality to English, which was the language of the people who had colonised us? He uses his personal tragedy to convey a profound message that you may learn English, but never forsake your mother tongue.
Faced with the pain of not being able to read the letter in his mother tongue, Raj Kapoor rushes to his buddy Rajendra Kumar to read it out for him. It is a love letter, signed off as ‘Yours forever Radha’. But Vyjayanthimala forgot to put the name in the salutation, ‘Dearest…(who?) ’. This is the start of the disaster. Now we come to the third great social message of Sangam.
Social message 3: Quality of school-teaching; grading of teachers based on students’ performance; writing letters carefully
The first thing we learn in school when we are able to compose a paragraph is to write a letter. Any average teacher would tell you that a letter has three parts – salutation to the addressee, content and signing off with ‘Yours faithfully’ or ‘Yours sincerely’. How could Vyjayanthimala forget the very first part of letter writing? Was it the fault of her teacher? In our time, there was no concept of a teacher being graded based on her students’ performance. Raj Kapoor was ahead of his times by several decades. Across countries, econometricians are now being called upon to design grading methods for school teachers.
What if the teacher was not at fault, but Vyjayantimala was casual in her writing? This has a profound message for today’s young generation, which has forgotten ‘writing’. What if your sms ‘had gr8 fun with U last night’ is clicked by mistake to the other guy? For heaven’s sake, watch the tragedy of Sangam, and start writing proper language.
Now, come to the punishment for this mistake. Should a girl be forced to wed a guy, whom she considers boorish, just because she forgot to write ‘Dearest so and so’ in her letter? By this exaggeration Raj Kapoor is trying to give another profound message, which is described next.
Social message 4: Importance of life-skills education
The three protagonists always spend their time together. While Raj Kapoor forces himself irritatingly, ‘Bol Radha bol sangam hoga ki nahi’ or ‘O Mehbooba….. Sab dekhte rah jayenge le jayenge ek din‘, Rajendra Kumar, the real lover, keeps quiet. Even in the party scene, while Raj Kapoor brashly declares ‘Har dil jo pyar karega wo gana gayega’, Rajendra Kumar comes in meekly with ‘Apni apni sabne kah di, hum phir bhi chup chaap rahey’. Why don’t you speak up you dumbo! (Sorry for my outburst. The readers may please treat my unparliamentary remarks as expunged from the records. Now we can understand, our MPs may at times be working under extreme provocation, such as having watched a Rajendra Kumar movie before coming to the Parliament.)
Now we realise, merely earning a degree is not enough. Life skills education, which encompasses building self-confidence, communication skills and handling relationships, is equally important. Raj Kapoor highlighted through the clumsy Rajendra Kumar the importance of life-skills education, which would gain recognition several decades later.
Vyjayanthimala does go to great lengths (and also great heights – on the roof) to clarify matters. She makes a last ditch effort when she goes to the Air Force Station to tell Raj Kapoor the truth (who has, in the meanwhile, joined the Air Force to prove himself worthy of her hand). By then he is inside his fighter aircraft. Vyjayanthimala’s screams obviously get drowned in the roar of the engine, all the while Raj Kapoor misreading her protestations as her profession of love. The scene may look absurd – a lady going to the Air Force tarmac in the midst of a war to tell the fighter pilot, who has scrambled for a sortie to bomb the enemy, that she does not love him! But Raj Kapoor’s intent is to convey some very profound social messages.
Social message 5: Importance of basic science education
Vyjayanthimala must have been either extremely dumb or very poorly taught not to realise that human voice can’t pierce the roar of a jet engine. Even otherwise, once the aircraft door is closed it becomes sound-proof for a person shouting from outside. Thus, not only mathematics, but basic science also needs to be an integral part of the school curriculum.
Social message 6: SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) for a defence establishment
Even in peace time the Air Force tarmac has to be out of bounds for civilians. Rajendra Kumar and Vyjyanthimala just saunter down the tarmac – in war time – as if going on a picnic, which must have caused some distraction to Raj Kapoor in his mission. By this absurd scene Raj Kapoor emphasises the need for strict adherence to the SOP by defence establishments. We have seen in this film that he was ahead of his times by a few decades. Was this a foreboding of the large number of accidents of MIG-21 airfcraft which bedevils our Air Force? And the path breaking film Rang De Basanti?
Now, the most troubling question. Being deprived of his girl was tragic enough, why should Rajendra Kumar shoot himself in the end? (I hope I am not spoiling anything, as I presume everyone has seen Sangam.) He had done nothing to be ashamed of (unlike Rahman in Chaudahvi Ka Chand). As for Vyjayanthimala, remember he said Radha Ganga jaisi pavitra hai (actually he said pavittar in his Punjabi accent, but we can let that pass). This brings us to the last great message of Sangam.
Social message 7: Gun control, licensing and regulation
Raj Kapoor is livid with anger when he accidentally finds a love letter, ‘Ye mera prem patra padhkar ki tum naraz na hona’, in the jewellery box of Vyjayanthimala. A volcano seethes inside him, and he would not get peace until he had pumped all the bullets in his pistol in the chest of the rascal who wrote the letter. (How could he now read the letter in Hindi? His Air Force stint had taught him some smattering of Hindi, where his buddy was a sort of poet, who used to sing the heart-rending ‘Dost dost na raha pyar pyar na raha’, as he was betrayed by his best friend to whom he had entrusted his girlfriend for safekeeping.) A frightened Vyjayanthimala stealthily takes away the pistol to Rajendra Kumar and narrates to him the madness of Raj Kapoor. Raj Kapoor comes by looking for her. He gets the shock of his life when Rajendra Kumar reveals his love for her, and that he is the culprit Raj Kapoor is looking for. The two friends then play ‘passing the parcel’ (not with the gun, but the girl) – I give her to you, no I give her to you etc. Vyjayanthimala butts in with her protest, Main ek aurat hun (in case we forgot), which does not seem to have much impact on the men. Then she tries, Main is maang ke sindoor (or, galey ke mangalsutra) ka kya karun? Raj Kapoor then proceeds towards the door, in a gesture of walking away from the triangle, when a loud report is heard and Rajendra Kumar is seen crumpled on the floor, soaked in blood.
The fact that we have an Arms Act means that, unlike America, we do not regard owning a gun a fundamental right. The District Magistrate seeks a report from the police about the antecedents of an applicant and his need, i.e. whether he faced any threat. What threat did Raj Kapoor face? None. Then, did the authorities verify if he was of a stable temperament? Further, the Act enjoins upon the licensee to keep the gun safely. Raj Kapoor’s pistol lands in the hands of Rajendra Kumar through Vyajyanthimala in the manner of a toy – there can’t be a greater negligence and a more serious breach of law, which led to the tragedy. By this tragedy Raj Kapoor is highlighting the need for a more effective system of licensing and gun control. This message is all the more important for the US, which is torn by passionate debate about an individual’s right to own a gun versus the society’s need to contain the menace of manic shootings. Sangam should be made compulsory viewing for the US Congressmen.
I wish the readers Happy Holi with some serious reading.
1. My purpose of giving the above outline is to underscore the need for a paradigm shift for analysing Bollywood triangles. I believe, ‘A Mathematical Theory of Bollywood Triangles’ is a virgin area, which calls for collaborative research between mathematicians and film experts. If my ‘serious’ review triggers this paradigm shift, I would consider it my ‘Tryst with Destiny’. Readers may have realized this is also the 50th year of Nehru’s passing away.
2. Perceptive readers may have already seen its immense possibilities. Just to give a glimpse, a comparative study of ‘Anmol Ghadi’ and ‘Andaaz’ can be seen as Mehboob Khan moving from G-type triangle, solved by ‘imperfect quad-isation’, to B-type triangle, solved by ‘involuntary elimination’. In between, you have his B-type triangle, ‘Anokhi Ada’, solved by ‘voluntary withdrawal’.
3. The terms ‘perfect’/’imperfect’ (quadi-sation) do not imply a value judgment about the quality of a movie. It is simply a technical description of the ending – whether B1-G1 and B2-G2 unite in the end or not.
4. My thoughts on Bollywood triangle have evolved from a very tiny nucleus when I had a discussion about this movie at Samir’s site more than two years ago, where he had described ‘Sangam’ as an equilateral triangle, and I explained why it should be treated as an isosceles triangle. For those who were lucky to have schooling in Hindi medium, the terms are more evocative – Sangam is a समद्विबाहु त्रिभुज rather than a समबाहु त्रिभुज. I should think Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali and Oriya medium schools would also be using the same terms. And this brings us to Sangam’s central message of the importance of the mother tongue as the medium of instruction.
5. I mentioned that I have resorted to some simplification, and there are nuanced differences between B-type and G-type triangles because of gender asymmetry. For example, in G1 G2 B1 situation, when the girls are tossing the boy to each other (‘Ise tu le ja, nahi ise tu le ja’), what can he say equivalent to “Main is galey ke magalsutra/ Maang ke sindoor ka kya karun?”
6. Anu has posted some interesting trivia about Raj Kapoor and ‘Sangam’ here.
7. I should apologise to the readers who resent the end of a film being disclosed. My own preference is the opposite – that a film be discussed in its entirety.