Jagte Raho– a biting social commentary on venality and dishonesty of the urban bourgeoisie

Rupen Ghosh

Rupen Ghosh is a Delhi-based senior GoI officer with a keen interest in arts and literature.

Jagte Raho (Sombhu Mitra & Amit Maitra, 1956) should rank amongst the best of not only Raj Kapoor’s performances, but also among the best of Hindi films of that era or that matter, of any era. The story set in Calcutta of those days was a biting satire and commentary on the bhadralok society of the time, of their innate prejudices against the rural migrants and mostly the unwashed masses, but one could easily transpose the theme to any other megapolis or large urban conglomerate, without ever losing the context or relevance. The film poignantly captures the fear, the pain, and the helplessness of the main protagonist, who comes to the city in search of employment and has the mortification of being taken as a thief, when all he was trying was to quench his thirst, and is hounded all over. In that one terrible night for him, when he had taken shelter in a block of flats to escape the mob, he is exposed to the vices of the city bred and of their sophisticated veneer, behind which lurks evil, of worse crimes than mere stealing which the main protagonist is accused of – deceiving, brutalising, bullying, all kinds of morally condemnable and even criminal behavior, that go on without no one knowing or caring. He finds redemption when at the strike of the dawn he takes courage and faces the crowd tormenting him. The irony comes alive when he walks past them, without ever being recognized, when the whole night they had chased and tormented him in an unending nightmare, and when he had desperately moved from one flat to the other in search of safety. Jagte_Raho_1956_film_poster

It was a standout performance and Raj Kapoor’s face and his eyes reveal his pain and his helplessness. Most of the time he is silent and brooding, speechless and powerless, unable to comprehend what had hit him. As the dawn breaks, his thirst for water, and literally for life, is quenched when he hears a beautiful song – Jago Mohan Pyaare, Jago – and finds a kind lady, Nargis, who serves him water, which is considered a lifeline. Water is a metaphor for life itself, it is like a new dawn which gives hopes to life, to another beginning after a nightmare, of hope amidst despair and gloom of the preceding dark night. The film had a great narrative and a great symbolic ending.

Raj kapoor, as Mohan in the film, is still the naïve, guileless fellow, a simpleton, unable to comprehend the intricacies of life, gets taken in by the outwardly genteel, suave and sophisticated demeanour and disposition of the city bred and their milieu, only to suffer terribly, unable to prove his innocence. On their part, the inmates of the building believe it to be their moral duty to nab the thief and hand out a summary punishment. They also cannot be faulted as they as part of the crowd are brainwashed into believing that he indeed was the thief and as more and more persons are convinced of his guilt, it becomes impossible to prove one’s innocence. But their double standards and hypocrisy gets exposed, when the poor villager is witness to their myriad vices and morally repugnant and questionably behavior; there is, of course, poignancy and irony in their indicting and implicating him.


Sombhu Mitra & Amit Maitra’s Jagte Raho was a call to our conscience and it holds a mirror to the society, that no innocent should suffer and that hypocrisy and double standards must not override what is innately truthful and pure and that behind the so-called respectable façade, lies the real faces of deception, guile, fraud, treachery, cruelty, brutality and violence. The film captures the heartlessness and apathy of the urban bourgeoisie and the sufferings which millions of rural migrants face when in search of employment they land in the big cities, only to find themselves in a disadvantaged predicament of being homeless and rootless, away from the harsh and brutal rural surroundings from which they so desperately try to escape, but have the mortification of finding life equally miserable and scarred in grim urban settings.

Advertisements