Revisiting Rajiv Kapoor’s Prem Granth(It Deserved Better)

Prem Granth(1996), the  only  film   that Rajiv Kapoor directed, was  no ordinary experience. It  was one of the most ambitious  films of  the  1990s, and it qualifies  easily as  an honourable failure. Everything about the  film, every frame, screams ‘epic’. And  though it is a  laudable  attempt to  delineate  a woman’s journey from  from carefree girlhood to wretchedly dark womanhood, Prem Granth ended  up  pleasing neither the  critics  nor the audience.

 Here’s why: the film  is  too much  in  awe  of Raj Kapoor’s cinema. More than Raj Saab’s other two sons Randhir and Rishi,  it was  Rajiv who  inherited his great  father’s mantle of  showmanship. Or at least that’s what Rajiv set out to achieve when he started making PremGranth. He  chose to  do a screen adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s  highly complex novel Tess  Of  The D’Urbervilles which had  already been made  into a  fine  film by Roman Polanski in 1979.

Rajiv  got  his father’s  favourite screenwriter  JainendraJain to adapt Tess  into an Indian caste –conflicted drama  with the desi Tess, played  effectively by Madhuri Dixit being  of a “lower” caste  and therefore  untouchable. However when  it came to raping her, a high-caste monster(Govind Namdeo) forgets his caste consciousness.

Lust, unlike love, has no barriers. I think Prem Granthevinced  the inherent hypocrisy of physically violating the “untouchables” . Where  it failed was in preserving a core of blithe-spiritedness  in the  proceedings. Prem Granth is  a 3-hour granth (scripture)  of grief trauma and  tragedy. While the original  novel and Polanski’s screen  adaptation yoked the heroine’s destiny to some amount  of  optimism, Madhuri Dixit’s  Kajri  exuded  an aura of doom  all through, as  though to prove  Thomas Hardy wrong. The author believed there can be a  redemptive course to  social oppression. Rajiv Kapoor and his writer Jainendra  Jain didn’t believe  there was any easy way out of societal discrimination. The fact that Anubhav Sinha made Article  15 on the  scourge of  casteism 23 years  after PremGranth proves  nothing has  changed.

Looking back at  Prem Granth I can see  Rajiv Kapoor as  the true inheritor  of his father’s mantle  specially  in the use  of music and songs.Rajiv invited the legendary cinematographer Jal Mistry who had lensed  Raj Kapoor’s  1949 hit Barsaat,to do the  cinematography of  PremGranth. The film is gorgeous to look at, specially the way the  song Main kamzor aurat is shot.

  Rajiv also  invited his father’s Bobby and Prem Rogcomposer Laxmikant-Pyarelal to  do the  music in  PremGranth.He also asked Raj Saab’s muse Lata Mangeshkarto sing just one more time for the illustrious R K Banner.  The  theme song Main kamzor aurat yeh meri kahaanimere aansooon se hai ganga  main pani remains  an epic  in itself.Magnificently  worded(Anand Bakshi) , composed  and rendered,  the  song is  a colossal achievement , and  evidence  of  how closely Rajiv was affiliated  to his  father’s vision.

If only Prem Granth  avoided morbidity  . Madhuri Dixit’s rape sequence is  so explicit  and sadistic  it  borders  on  the gratuitous.If  Raj Kapoor had made Prem Granth he would have not  shot his heroine’s physical desecration at all. There is  more body here than  soul, and that’s where  Rajiv and his father parted ways.

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