Boot Polish Movie Review: It’s Every Child’s Right To Live With Dignity
It's only in recent times with consumerism on a high that the child as an audience has been recognized as a powerful lobby by mainstream Hindi cinema. The result has not always been fare for children but it mainstream filmmakers have ensured that they have managed to draw in the children's lobby, if one may call it that. But films made for children, with children as protagonists is a genre that has yet to become prolific. But it may well change. Boot Polish, a film made under the Raj Kapoor banner way back in 1954, has the distinction of being one of those rare films which has children as protagonists, and tells their story, albeit a very simple story, but with strong social overtones. Raj Kapoor may have carried the tag of being the ultimate showman with ?lan, but he was a filmmaker with a strong social conscience, a fact that is amply borne out by this film as well as others made under his banner like Jagte Raho and mainstream classics like Shree 420 and Awara. Boot Polish tells the story of two destitute children, Bhola (Master Rattan) and Belu (Baby Naaz). Left literally on the doorstep of an aunt they have never seen before, Kamla, by a social worker, the children, toddlers when the film begins, are as good as orphans ? their father is in jail and their mother has just died of cholera. The aunt turns out to be a proverbial wicked aunt, straight out of a fairy tale. A cruel woman who is a prostitute by night, she forces the children to take to begging. The only kind words and fatherly figure that Bhola and Belu grow up seeing in their slums is that of John Chacha, played superbly by David. Director Prakash Arora, who had been assistant to Raj Kapoor in Aag, Barsaat and Awara, does not experiment much with the story. The story details the trials and tribulations that the two children go through in their struggle to exist in a world which cares not a bit about them. The aunt insists that they pay for their keep and hand over their earnings to her every evening. But John chacha, a bootlegger himself, aspires to see a better world for all children and specially Bhola and Belu, who are his favourites. He teaches them about the dignity of labour, about hope and a better way of living. He abhors begging and instills a sense of dignity in the two kids. Since they adore John chacha, his word is like the Bible for Bhola and Belu, who promise to stop begging and start earning their living in a more dignified manner. Bhola aspires to be a shoe shine boy. He is sure that he will earn a lot of money by doing so and buy his beloved sister a new frock and maybe a new shirt for himself too. The children have been saving money on the sly and manage to buy a shoe shine brush and two tins of polish, one black and one red to start their new venture. However, it does not prove to be so easy as they are utter novices in the art of polishing shoes and make quite a mess of it with their first few clients, polishing their socks and trousers as well! Disheartened, the children again turn to John chacha, who coaches them on the art of winning the customer and polishing shoes. The film explores the lovely relationship that the two siblings share with each other Having no one else in the world besides each other and John chacha who cares for them, they are utterly devoted to each other. They take turns in mothering and fathering each other as they squabble over money, they can never get the counting right, or argue over who needs a new pair of clothes. The first disaster that strikes the children is when John chacha is arrested by the cops for selling hooch. The children are devastated as he was like the proverbial fairy godfather in their squalid world. Destitute once more, they continue with their enterprise, till they are devastated by the coming of the monsoons in Mumbai. Their business dips dismally and they find it difficult to get even a single customer. Begging is not an option for them anymore. The third disaster strikes when the two children get separated. Belu manages to escape the cops in a melee by jumping onto a running train but Bhola is not so lucky. Belu is discovered by a kindly childless couple, who decide to adopt her. But she cannot get over her John chacha and Bhola. Meanwhile John chacha comes out of jail and discovers the whereabouts of Belu and promises to come back with Bhola. In the meanwhile, the poor young boy is heartbroken by the loss of his sister and serves some time in an orphanage but when he discovers that he has to beg even there for his food and clothing he runs away. He is back with his aunt and her pimp and is reduced to polishing the shoes of her customers every night. Hungry and at his wit's end, he begs again and comes face-to-face with his sister. The children are united and all's well again. Master Ratan and Baby Naaz are superb actors and do a great job in their roles as Bhola and Belu. They are natural actors, specially Master Ratan, who has a very expressive face. Their innocence is touching and the bond between them is brought out very beautifully. Full marks to the director for not allowing the film to become maudlin and overtly sentimental. The show is however stolen by the veteran David. He is perhaps one of most loveable character actors that has graced the Hindi film screen ever. There is something about his eyes, and his kindly expression which would never allow him to play a negative role. He gets ample scope to reveal his prowess as an actor in this film. The most memorable scenes are the ones when he is prison and finds him in a cell, which other bald men, all similarly obsessed with getting their hair back again. The semi-classical number, Lapak Jhapak Tu Aa Re Badarva is a clever take on the legend of Tansen, who made it rain with his rendition of the Raag Megh. In the film, the song is picturised on David and the other bald inmates of the cell, who sing to get the rains to come, in the vain hope that their hair too might start sprouting like grass. The film is not all somber and serious. There are many light moments which are provided by the children and their innocence and their interactions with David. Like most RK Films, the music of this film too is given by Shankar Jaikishen and has some really lovely numbers, many of which are not heard so easily. A case in point was the 'Lapak Jhapak' number sung by none other than Manna Dey. There is also the very popular Mohammed Rafi number, 'Nanhe Munne Bacche Teri Muthi Main Kya Hai.' Besides these two there is a lovely Talat Mahmood number, Chali Kaun Se Des, Gujaria Tu Saj-Dhaj Ke.' There are a couple of other songs as well, all of which have meaningful lyrics (the lyrics of the songs in Boot Polish were shared by RK favourites Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra). The story of Boot Polish and the story of Bhola and Belu has a happy ending but there are many such Bholas and Belus left to the mercy of the Kamlas, who never see the light of day, literally. Boot Polish is a filmmaker's bold attempt to address the issues of his age, engage with them as a true artiste and portray them with honesty on the silver screen. It is a film of its times, at times it seems ahead of its times. Ironically, the issues that Boot Polish raises, about allowing children to live a life of dignity and dreams, is as relevant today as it was in 1954. Nothing much has changed since then. The methods of cruelty may have changed, but the enemy is still out there at large. Seen as social comment on the inhumane societies that we live in, the film comes out tops. Seen as a work of art, grappling with issues with honesty, it comes out a winner. Seen as a moving depiction of a childhood striving to live with dignity, it is a winner, yet again. Little wonder then, that the Fifties were called the Golden Age of Hindi cinema.
Release Date : 01 January 1901
Banner : R. K. Films
Producer : R. K. Films
Director : Prakash Arora
Genre : Drama , Musical , Social