The Asian Center for Entertainment Education, the brainchild of Vinta Nanda, introduced what the film industry should have – the Raj Kapoor Award for Excellence in Entertainment, to be given to filmmakers who take up social causes in their films.
That trend is returning to mainstream Hindi cinema now, but filmmaking greats of the post-independence era, like Raj Kapoor, V. Shantaram, and Bimal Roy, made films that were not just entertaining but also carried a message. A very apt Walt Disney quote was used at the event to launch the awards in the presence of Raj Kapoor’s sons Randhir, Rishi and Rajeev, “I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.”
This could well apply to the films of Raj Kapoor, whose work stands out above that of his contemporaries because he was a popular star and his memories have been kept alive by his children and grandchildren (Karisma, Kareena, Ranbir). He worked a lot with the avowedly socialist writer Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, partnering with V.P. Sathe to create some of Indian cinema’s unforgettable gems.
And while audiences were watching the films and humming the songs, they probably did not even realise that they had been ‘educated.’ Almost every film pointed to some social issue – the nurture-nature debate in 'Awara', 'Shri 420' firmly on the side of the poor, the anti-dacoit 'Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai', religious tolerance in 'Bobby' and widow remarriage in 'Prem Rog'. He may have been criticised for the skin show in 'Satyam Shivam Sundaram' and 'Ram Teri Ganga Maili', but even those film had strong pro-woman stories.
In her opening speech Vinta Nanda, mentioned that while watching 'Mera Naam Joker' at the age of five, she was struck by the strong women in it, and how the film left an indelible mark on her mind.
Raj Kapoor believed in the power of cinema as much as be believed in entertaining the audiences. He undoubtedly got his values from his father Prithviraj Kapoor, who lived a simple life and insisted that his sons make their own way in the film industry. Rishi Kapoor revealed during the discussion at the event, that his father did not own his own house till the success of 'Bobby' (following the shattering failure of 'Mera Naam Joker') enabled him to buy a home for his family.
The first trophies were presented to his sons, Ramesh Sippy, R. Balki and Umesh Shukla (in advance for his film '102 Not Out' focusing on elders). The initiative is a wonderful way to preserve and propagate the filmmaking ideals of the great showman.