Boot Polish (1954) Orphan Power!

Orphans Unite!

Slumdog Millionaire (2008), step aside because Boot Polish (1954) has trumped you by delivering more tragic orphans frame per frame than your film and possibly any movie ever…well in any movie I’ve seen.

Boot Polish is a 1954 Hindi film directed by Prakash Arora and produced by Raj Kapoor. It won Best Film at the Filmfare Awards and was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Belu (Baby Naaz) and Bhola (Ratan Kumar) are left to the care of their wicked aunt Kamla (Chand Burque) when their mother dies. She forces them to beg in the streets and grabs all the money they get. A bootlegger John Chacha (David) teaches them to lead a life of self-respect and work for a living instead of begging.
They scrimp and save to buy a shoe-polish kit and start shining shoes. Kamla finds out about what they have been doing behind her back, beats them and throws them out of the house. John Chacha gives them shelter, but then he is arrested and the kids are left to fend for themselves. When it rains and people don’t get their shoes polished any more, the children are in danger of starving. But Bhola believes that he will never beg anymore but on one rainy night, a man tosses him a coin and he rejects it, but Belu takes it as she is very hungry…(source)

Brother and sister, Bhola (Ratan Kumar) and Belu (Baby Naaz) are abandoned in the slums in Bombay.  The siblings get slapped around by their cranky and evil auntie  Kamla (Chand Burque) and though I love kids, I kept thinking what a fun part that must have been for Burque to play with its over the top wickedness.

She screams at them and hits them and send them out to beg and demands their earnings when they return to her hutment each night.  Yes, I used the word hutment, and I’ll use it again, since I’ll have the chance.  Chacha John played by David, is a  hutment bootlegger dweller with a  heart of gold who instills in the orphans the desire work rather than beg for a living.  Easy for him to say.  He spends a lot of time doing the sign of the cross and praying to a picture of Jesus sporting the flaming  sacred heart with the thorns around it. To beg or not to beg, that is the question.

Just when you think things can’t get worse for these orphans they get a break with a little song and dance. Let song writers Shankar Jaikishan, with playback singers Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhonsle lift your spirits here with Nanhe Munne Bachche Teri. I couldn’t find a video with the lyrics translated into English, but the message of the song is that we hold destiny in our fists.  I’ve screen capped much of the song below and you can find it translated into English over at Dances on the Footpath HERE.

Uncle John has a strong hold over this group of orphans, convincing them to not beg, and to also cheer up through their starvation, since a better day is coming. I can’t even imagine that starving children would dance happily, but they do here, so don’t feel too sad for them, see:

I get crabby if I miss a meal or a snack so I don’t know how these orphans do it. Things can’t stay too happy for too long and the siblings get separated one night at the train station during a raid.  Belu, delirious with a fever, ends up on the train where she’s discovered by a rich couple.

The rich folks adopt her and despite the comforts of her new posh lifestyle and new loving family, Belu is distraught, missing her brother.

Bhola is picked up in the raid and sent to an orphanage.

Now both kids are at least in better conditions materially, but they are not content since they are separated and don’t know the whereabouts of each other.  Then one day, Bhola hears Uncle John’s voice through the window, runs to find him, and invites him in to her new home.  She’s happy talking about all the material comforts, but then remembers how much she misses Bhola.

Uncle John sets out to search for Bhola while newly rich Belu and her family are  preparing to take an extended leave from the city.  It seems as if John will not meet the deadline to reunite the orphan siblings, but, BUT, BUT, as Belu is about to board her train with her new family, a young orphan boy begs for some money and she hands him a coin…

Only to look up to see her long lost brother, Bhola!
Bhola has a rush of shame seeing his sister and knowing he is a hypocrite, having demanded they never beg for money, no matter what. In his eyes he’s been caught and exposed, which caused him to spiral into a flashback of slapping his sister for begging.  I enjoyed seeing the tight slap to the face in a flashback form, with images superimposed on each other:

Bhola runs away in shame.  Belu chases him and looses him in the crowd. Uncle John  appears and hobbles along  on his crutches after Bhola, but in his attempt to catch up to  Bhola, he’s hit by a car!  Spoiler Alert! So  that sequence plays out like this: Happy! Happy! Shame! Run! Run! Sad! Hope! Run! Sad! Hit! SAD! Wait, not sad, HAPPY!

The rich people adopt Bhola too, and all cleaned up, fed, safe and happy, they go off to school.

Thus in the end, Raj Kapoor managed to make a light-hearted movie about tragic poverty, starvation, and orphans, and that’s Bollywood yaar.

Now head over to Bollywood Deewana to see his write up of Boot Polish.

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30 thoughts on “Boot Polish (1954) Orphan Power!

  1. Oh I loved this movie!! Typically, kids in Bollywood movies get on my nerves with their stupid precociousness (the girl from ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ is especially irritating) but this one had two really lovely kids. And David is so adorable :)

    • Right Pitu-ji, regarding the precociousness getting annoying in some movies (especially KKHH) but luckily that not so cute smugness is balanced by tragedy most times, so it’s easier to take. SLAP! ;)

  2. My favourite screen kid so far has been the little girl who played Minnie in Kabuliwalah – so actually childlike rather than precocious or ‘cute’. Bootpolish has been on my must-see list for a while (at least since I discovered that though it was made by Raj Kapoor, he doesn’t star in it!)… must see it sometime.

    • dustedoff-ji,
      I will have to get Kabuliwala. I think of Boot Polish as a quasi kids’ film, since its content would be rather harsh for a kid to sit through. You will see Raj Kapoor in this very briefly, mocking himself, but I’ll leave that as a surprise since I gave away most of the film in the post. Thanks for commenting. A good post would be to do your favorite child actors, since there are so many that come to mind. Do that dustedoff! Get busy! :)

  3. If you don’t know already, it should be no surprise that I loved this film too…

    Though I think everyone would agree that the happy ending is a bit contrived. I didn’t mind seeing a happy ending, but this one did go a bit overboard in wrapping everything up neatly (and far too quickly too).

    By the way, judging by your screen caps , my subtitles for “Nanhe Munne Bachche” (Yash Raj edition) were a bit different. I’m wondering how different… I typed out the subs exactly as I saw them below the song when I posted it on Dec. 26:

    I think where your copy says,

    “There will be no crowd of the hungry, and no problems,”

    mine says,

    “In the future, everbody will be king
    Neither will the masses go hungry…”

    I do llike my translation better – especially with that mention of “the masses,” it seems very socialist :)

  4. Sita-ji, um, I don’t know if I’d exactly call myself a Naxilite… (Maybe I confused you by saying “Lal Salaam” too many times.) But, no need to get into those details here…

    Happy New Year to you too, and thank you for adding the link to my post.

    That is a very nice song from Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, a great film with a beautiful soundtrack.

    By the way, it’s nice to hear that you’ll be posting more often again – I am looking forward to it! I guess I’ve been pretty good about blogging in recent months, but sometimes I just run to my blog in order to get away from less fun things that I should be doing.

    • Richard-ji,
      Sorry, was just playing, though in theory many of such ideas are grand, hai na? I was thinking that you were sort of like Bobby Deol in Chamku, an orphan, raised by a Naxal leader…Or maybe like Ashok Kumar in Bandini, that patriotic freedom fighter, since you like the older black and white films….Or maybe a Bengali star like Uttam Kumar…WAIT! movie life/real life/movie life/ real life…oh I’ve snapped out of it. I wish I had a job where I could have fun posting on the blog, instead of my real job. It’s always a fun timepass. I feel like I need to see a lot of these more substantial movies again because I wasn’t ready to fully absorb them at the time of first viewing. I know Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Pyassa, Chaudhvin Ka Chand, Andaaz, and many more would be on my need to see more than once list. Now go get yo blog on! :)

  5. Lol i knew you’d get around to reviewing this! I really liked this movie it reminded me quite a bit of a Dickens novel but a tad bit sunnier and with a good social message at the end! As you know, i loved the Jhanak song in the jail with all the baldies but i also have the “Theher Zara O Jaanewale” stuck in my head especially the Hum Polish wale line! And the kids in this film are soo wonderful especially Naaz who got some recognition at the Cannes Film Festival! But Rattan Kumar was so filmi in his gestures and so cuute!

    • Rum-ji, (aur Roti Kapada)
      Behen, right it does get sunny after the viewer is exposed to the dismal state of their conditions; we get just enough sun in small doses to get through and not give up. Just like the song at the end says, a new day dawns, so despite all the :(, it does get tied up in a pretty package with a nice Bollywood bow. I don’t know if I’d bring a kid to this, even though it’s sort of a kids’ film, it sure could bring a kid down. I want those kids in a happy balloon world of birthday parties and elephants and cake and toys, etc.. because as we all know reality hits way too soon. Viva la childhood innocence! And Naaz blew my mind! She was fantastic! I thought of changing my naam to baby Naaz after seeing this. Thanks for your visit!

  6. Sita-ji, in theory, many such ideas are indeed grand, and though I kid around with dramatic filmi references too, I am also serious about my attachment to the idea of socialism. (I also am very intrigued by how freely it is promoted in these old Indian films that were really such a popular kind of entertainment, with so much song and dance – very different from our experience in the U.S., at least since the days of blacklists and purges in Hollywood.) But, of course, there are lots of diferent ideas about how to get to socialism (different enough for lots of people to kill each other over them)…

    These roles that you’ve envisioned for me are very flattering, by the way… The closest I ever got to fighting for revolution in the battlefield was facing some tear gas with a bunch of college kids at a couple of summit protests at the beginning of the last decade.

    But I usually don’t identify much with the fighting characters… Unfortunately, due to some misfortunes that I’ve faced more recently, I’ve been identifying most with the overeducated, down-and-out and usually unemployed characters like Raj Kapoor in Shree 420 (before his luck changes), Dev Anand in a couple of films (minus the talent for gambling), Surendra at the end of Anmol Ghadi, Guru Dutt in Pyaasa and Kaagaz Ke Phool (it’s so much fun to picture oneself as a misunderstood artistic genius!), or (from a slightly different place and time, but very much along these lines), Kamal Haasan in Varumaiyin Niram Sivappu.

    Admittedly, I might also be glorifying and romanticizing my misfortunes – but you can become an expert doing that sort of thing after watching a lot of old Indian films! :)

    • Richard-ji,
      Hope I didn’t offend, not my intention, though that may well happen when I get irreverent. :) I indeed respect your political beliefs. Yes, it is interesting how references are made in the films so freely, though I assumed that was done with deliberate acceptance and support of the political forces that be, so such filmi messages would not be controversial, but instead a vehicle to move along a political system, hai na?. In fact I thought later on during the Emergency that media was censored and non-indian films were not allowed, and that’s one thing that helped the industry during that time:POW! bring on the super bollytastic 70’s masala and the angry young man, Amit-ji. I remember reading that or something like it in Bollywood: A History by Mihir Bose, though of course we’re talking about a different time frame here. You know that reminds me I’ve got to get a hold of that southie film from my local library about a socialist struggle. Now a movie I wonder about causing some political questioning is A Peck On the Cheek, (Kannathil Muthamittal) a movie I’ve referred to here before and found outstanding. I wonder what Tamil Tigers thought of that. Have you seen that one? I believe you’d find it interesting.

      As a misunderstood artistic genius as well, I relate to the struggles you face. You know if nothing else, shouldn’t we get to reap some benefits from our misfortunes? So glorify on my brother. Thanks for your comments and best of luck to you Richard. xoxoxo

  7. Oh my goodness, Orphan Power indeed. I love the completely unlikely awesome filmi ending. Go Raj K.! BTW, how long have you had the Karan Arjun screencap as your banner? That’s awesome! (I hate that movie so much that I kind of love it.)

    • ajnabi-ji,
      Yeah, Karan Arjun was not the best film, but that photo/screen cap is so full of struggle, strength coupled with hopelessness and a touch of homo-eroticism that it was worth watching the entire film. I think I put it up a couple weeks back and then with this post about Boot Polish, SRK and Karan are siblings facing some tough challenges, so I just kept it there for thematic consistency. Additionally, I’ve been a bit lazy on the blog front, so it’s there for a spell. ;)

  8. Thanks for the link, i love this film a lot but i was nearly pinching out the hairs on my head towards the end, it was nail biting, suspenseful and i think i’d have totally flipped out if one of them had died

    • bollywoodeewana-ji,
      I loved your post and found it after doing this and of course wanted to add it. I’m always glad to find a post on a movie I’m posting on, but to not read it until I’m done with mine as to not impact my own post. More often than not, people are struck by the same screen caps, and same songs, etc.. That ending was tense, I was having much tension, it was chewing my brains. ;) I though the boy was going to get killed, but phew, just already crippled David got hit by the car so as we say in the USA in text, NBD (no big deal). Thanks for stopping in yaar.

  9. I have been recommended this movie many times, but somehow this earlier generation’s kid bootpolishwallah never held any interest for me. My generation’s kid BP will always remain the young Vijay (BigB) from Deewaar. Am I saying this movie is a little too tame for me ? Possibly, I do like David and I like his song in this movie; but having grown up on a steady diet of Ajit, Prem Chopra, Kader Khan et al smugglers; a gold-hearted smuggler is really hard to believe. (Gold & Hearts together for 70’s smugglers meant something else.)
    Anyway, maybe one day I will become a better person and watch this movie.

    • Samir-ji,
      Please bhaisaab, mention not that you haven’t seen this. No worries. I simply got it since I am on a filmfare winners/old classics kick. I love Kader Khan, and give me Prem Chopra with his hairy chest decorated with a gold medallion acting like a true scoundrel any day over a social message film! Jai masala! I do think you’d enjoy the kids getting slapped around by their evil auntie, I know I did even though I love the kids, it was still deliciously evil. What is your favorite movie with Ajit? I need to catch up on him, seen him in a few, but need to see more. I command you NOT to be a better person. Now go! Get out! Aur have a chota peg (or would that be choti?) of whiskey for me and give someone a tight slap to the face and by all means smuggle some sona! ;)

      • Sita-ji :)
        Your wish is my command :)

        Regarding Ajit, a lot has been said and you must be aware of the “Ajit Jokes”. Apparently, Ajit himself was very fond of them. Anyways my favorite Ajit films are :-
        1) Yaadon Ki Baarat
        2) Jugnu
        3) Warrant
        4) Prince
        5) Zanjeer
        6) Khote Sikkay (This one is doubly special, has our favorite Bollywood Clint Eastwood hero as well, and the climax is an almost exact copy of Good,Bad,Ugly.)
        7) Pratiggya
        8) Kalicharan (In here Ajit pronounces Lion as “Loin”)
        9) Des Pardes
        10) Shareef Badmash

        Prem Chopra with a gold medallion on his hairy chest, Now How can I work after an image like that (ROFL)

    • Samir-ji!
      Thanks for the list! I appreciate these suggestions and have only seen Yaadon Ki Baarat and Zanjeer and am remembering the evil deeds done to those kids at the beginning of Yaadon Ki Baarat. Your list shall keep me busy and out of trouble by watching the dacoitery of Ajit!

  10. Sitaji, loved the posts about the orphans. I’m like Samir — I’m not sure I’ve seen a movie with a more compelling orphan than young Vijay in Deewaar, but Boot Polish seems like it just might do the trick. What a great title for a movie about orphans, by the way. Maybe those boots belong to a society that scuffed them from kicking those poor orphans into the gutter.

    • brahmanandam-ji,
      I am most partial to Mayur Verma’s orphan performance in one of my most favorite movies of all time: Muqaddar Ka Sikandar (1978). You can see a bit of him here while the link still lasts, dekh:

      There is a bountiful buffet of orphans in Indian cinema, so it’s very difficult to chose an absolute favorite. I even dedicated a little post about Mayur (Raj) Verma here a while back the you can see HERE. That would make a nice post and blog poll: Favorite Orphan. Indeed those scuffed boots do belong to a orphan kicking society, good call. In fact their a scene where a man, perhaps even a gora or an Anglo-Indian fancy man has his white suede shoes polished by the orphans, lekin they use the black polish! Interpret THAT! Thanks for your visit yaar. :) P.S. I liked the Deewaar orphan too.

      • sitaji,
        THis might come as a big surprise for you. I am raj who you know as Master Mayur of 1970’s!
        while working on a project and net browsing I came across your comments on the portrayal of orphans in films..and read about myself..It is a great feeling to be still remembered..As grateful I am to Late Mr. Prakash Mehraji for giving me my break..Equally thankful I am to all my well wishers who then and even now remember for my honest work in films of those Era.
        thank you.

      • Yo, Sitaji — Love the blog post. A few comments: One, I think that…oh, forget it, I can’t focus on anything but…..

        MAYUR VERMA!!!! — Wow, this isn’t even my blog and I’m blown away that he has posted on it!

        In the off-chance that he will return, I just want to say: Sir, your work is outstanding! You’ve done a great job in all your films, but since we’re on the topic of orphans I must agree with Sitaji that you touched my soul in Muqaddar Ka Sikandar. To use her metaphor of Bollywood presenting us with a bountiful buffet of orphans, your portrayal is the crowning, “wow!”-inducing roast, rich and ample enough to be shared by all.

        Forget about any Amitabh stories you might have — I’d want to hear about YOUR insights, philosophy and approach to acting.

        Like Sitaji, I live in Minnesota. Please look us up should you ever have reason to visit “The Land of 10,000 Lakes.” (I can’t imagine why you’d come here — maybe you’re a birdwatcher, eager to glimpse some of our indigenous water fowl; maybe Minnesota-based 3M Corporation will contract with you to endorse Post-It Notes or Scotch brand adhesive tape, and as part of the deal you’ll speak at its annual shareholders’ meeting; or maybe you’re a Prince fan who wants to visit some of Purple Rain’s locations). In any case, it would be an honor welcome you!

    • Sri Verma-ji,
      I’m so delighted to see your comment here! I am rushing to you to touch your feet. :) I love your work and have been meaning to do a more substantial post on it. That’s on my to do list. :) I am so honored that you would take the time to come in for a visit. And thanks to you for making such wonderful, soul stirring movies!
      All the best sir!

    • memsaab-ji,
      It’s essentially Baby Naaz’ filum. Now I need to see Kumari Naaz in some things and get down to the court house to legally change my name to Baby Naaz.

  11. No matter how filmi and no matter how deliciously evil – any slapping or ill-treatment of kids (or animals, for that matter) still has the power to turn me into a sobbing mess! I have VERY bad memories of Master Ratan too – he starred in another children’s tear-jerker (Jagriti) where he was not only a physically handicapped kid, he also has the bad taste to go and die. I saw the film when I was 8-9 and it made me sob for months! So, every time I screw up my courage to watch this film, I pick up some colorful 70s masala instead.

    • bollyviewer-ji,
      Right! Agreed, I should clarify, I don’t like the victimization, but I adore how cartoon-like bad the villains can be in Bollywood. Of course the slapping was one of the fist things I noticed, I was like “Wait! You can’t slap people like that, and the women and children included? Being slapped by grown men!!” Not that this does not happen in other film industries around the world, but it does seem more prevalent to just slap people around. I of course hold the British and their colonizing ways responsible for spreading the tight slap to the face. Yeah the animal thing is hard to see too. I was very concerned about the Elephants in Haathi Mere Saathi. And don’t get me started on the horses that must get hurt in many of the older filums. I also wonder in very dramatic scenes using very young children and babies how they (in all film/television industries worldwide) justify putting the kiddies through that trauma when they are too young to understand. I will add Jagriti to my list in order to share your pain. Thanks for your visit dost…get going, I’m winding up for a tight slap…;)
      p.s. Speaking of suffering animal in films, head over to Richard’s blog, where he posted this great video of Sandhya dancing like a fish out of water, along side a real machli out of pani. I was too upset/distracted by said fish to enjoy her dancing, until there was an appropriate (happy) ending for the fish. Had to re-watch to truly enjoy, but still, I know at least one fish could have died in the making. :(

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