BWW Reviews: San Diego Jewish Film Fest Rocks Bollywood

Saris were in abundance the other night when those who know and love Bollywood films enjoyed a special SDJFF ( event. The Festival not only screened Raj Kapoor's classic 1955 award winning film musical Shree 420 (Mister) but also held a celebratory India-Jewish Showcase, part of the SDJFF Indian-Jewish Festival, that included an adrenaline-charged performance by Rhythm Dance Studios. As a unique treat, the audience was thrilled to see a lively interview via Skype from Mumbai with Bollywood icon Randhir Kapoor.

The program began with welcoming remarks by SDJFF Executive Director Craig Prater (/bwwmovies/article/BWW-Interview-San-Diego-Jewish-Film-Festival-Promises-Something-for-Everyone-20150120), who cited the Kapoor family's overwhelming contributions to the world of Indian film over the generations. He also introduced a number of special guests who are active in enhancing the relationship between the San Diego India-America Society and associated organizations in India.

Since 1929, when Kapoor family founder Raj (Rajji) Kapoor began to make inroads in filmmaking, the larger-than-life Kapoor filmmaking dynasty, often called "the first family of Hindi cinema," have been making their marks as actors, directors and producers. Randhir Kapoor, along with several other family members, is continuing to bolster the family's legacy in the present century.

A surprising, predominantly hidden fact is that in the Indian film world Indian women were forbidden to become actresses; thus all female film actors were Jewish and many of them played significant roles in the Kapoors' groundbreaking work.

Eight-year-old Randhir Kapoor made his film debut in Shree 420, the tale of Indian orphan Ranbir (Raj Kapoor), winner of a gold medal for honesty, who dresses quirkily and pursues his fortune in Bombay. In a Rake's Progress meets Oliver Twist type journey, Ranbir falls in love, then confronts the lure of material gain and a morally lax life as a grifter, i.e. "420." Struggling to maintain his ethics, he resists succumbing to temptation and desperately tries to determine who is his true love. Tucked between the plot elements of the irresistible film are vibrant scenes that are enchantingly sung and danced by the characters. Most appealing of all was the performance by Raj Kapoor, whose portrayal of the charismatic protagonist made the character's winning wit, sincerity and indefatigable ingenuousness believable.

As a prelude to the film, the ensemble Rhythm Studios (aka Bollywood Live!) presented an upbeat, charming history of the Kapoor family, from the early years to the present. In a series of music-infused tableaux, dancers spanning several age groups depicted the progress of the family's film work from generation to generation. Starting with founder Raj Kapoor and the older, more traditional music and costumes, the depictions evolved over the years to the more contemporary music and garb, such as the "Indian Elvis" and a family member commemorated at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in London, and ending with some Indian breakdancing as breathtaking as any seen on the streets of New York City. At the beginning, charming golden bells jangled at the female dancers' ankles while their costumes of vibrant azure, fuchsia and yellow trimmed with gold and silver shimmered in the lights. From tableau to tableau the attire morphed from metal chain belts and bell-bottoms to spandex leggings representing the present generation.

From beginning to end, the youthful performers rocked the house with pulsating rhythms and energetic dance. The well-rehearsed ensemble clearly loved what they were doing, and their presentation scored points among delighted audience members.

Clearly the evening's spectacular event was one of the highlights of this year's 25th Anniversary festival season.


Photo Credit: Carol Sonstein

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