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.