Mr. 420 | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Mr. 420 

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Raj Kapoor's 1955 film is part musical, part comedy, part melodrama, and part leftist critique of a city in which "clothes, honor, everything's for hire." A young man arrives in Bombay with his college degree and a medal he received for "honesty," only to discover there's no work for him. His pocket is picked, he hocks his medal, he has trouble finding a place to sleep, even on the street; before long he's seduced by the rich offerings of crooked card games and phony investment companies. (His activities fall under section 420 of the penal code.) His honest fiancee tells him it's a "sham world," but soon he's at the point of swindling the homeless. Kapoor plays the lead in a conscious evocation of Chaplin's Tramp, and his blend of entertainment and social commentary echoes Brecht. The song-and-dance numbers generally comment on the story, and in the dramatic scenes the camera moves in on or around the characters, isolating them as objects on display rather than presenting them as participants in a conventional filmic space. This strikingly Indian mix gives Mr. 420 the aura of a theatrical spectacle--almost a big circus--so that the viewer ultimately accepts its conventions as another form of realism, even as its techniques acknowledge cinema's artificiality. 169 min. Film Center, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Chicago, Sunday, August 20, 1:00, 312-443-3737. --Fred Camper

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