From Raj to Ranbir Kapoor: Charlie Chaplin’s Best Desi Avatars
Charlie Chaplin lives on in the Indian psyche as the ultimate comic.
Charlie Chaplin lives on in the Indian psyche as the ultimate comic.

From Raj to Ranbir Kapoor: Charlie Chaplin’s Best Desi Avatars

The genius of Charlie Chaplin as the loveable tramp, touched the lives of both the everyday filmgoer and the hard-nosed intellectual. A timeless poster boy for the working class, the actor and filmmaker influenced works of filmmakers like Bresson, Bunuel, Fellini, Tarkovsky and Welles and left an even bigger impression on Bollywood. On his birth anniversary take a look at Chaplin’s desi connection.

Raj Kapoor sings <i>Mera Joota Hai Japaani </i>dressed in Chaplin’s ‘Tramp’ look in <i>Shree 420</i> (1955).
Raj Kapoor sings Mera Joota Hai Japaani dressed in Chaplin’s ‘Tramp’ look in Shree 420 (1955).
Raj Kapoor sings <i>Mera Joota Hai Japaani </i>dressed in Chaplin’s ‘Tramp’ look in <i>Shree 420</i> (1955).
Raj Kapoor sings Mera Joota Hai Japaani dressed in Chaplin’s ‘Tramp’ look in Shree 420 (1955).

Raj Kapoor was known as the Charlie Chaplin of Indian Cinema. His performance in Shree 420 (1955) as a country boy at odds with the world, charmed Indian audiences of all ages. Chaplin aced the art of hiding pain behind a smiling face and Raj Kapoor embodied that character with a loveable desi-ness till the end in his ambitious Mera Naam Joker (1970).

Asrani plays the unforgettable Chaplin inspired jailor in a scene from <i>Sholay</i> (1975).
Asrani plays the unforgettable Chaplin inspired jailor in a scene from Sholay (1975).

Everything about Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay (1975) was epic including Asrani’s jailor character inspired by Chaplin’s comic version of Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator (1940). This was Chaplin’s first true talking picture and Asrani did full justice to both Hitler and Chaplin in the film with his unforgettable dialogue “Hum angrezon ke zamaane ke jailor hain! Ha haa...”

Sridevi as Chaplin in a scene from <i>Mr. India</i> (1987)
Sridevi as Chaplin in a scene from Mr. India (1987)

And then came the visual effects wonder that was Mr India (1987)! Only Shekhar Kapoor could have thought of giving a heavily accented southern beauty a Chaplin makeover. And what a job Sridevi did of it!

Ranbir Kapoor’s Chaplin look in a still from <i>Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani</i> (2009).
Ranbir Kapoor’s Chaplin look in a still from Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani (2009).
Ranbir Kapoor’s Chaplin look in a still from <i>Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani</i> (2009).
Ranbir Kapoor’s Chaplin look in a still from Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani (2009).

Ranbir Kapoor pulled of a Chaplin act in Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani (2009). The Chaplin-esque sequence showcased Ranbir Kapoor’s comic timing.

Chaplin has become a litmus test of sorts for Bollywood actors. His silent persona dressed in baggy pants, over-sized shoes and a bowler hat has worked extremely well in India because he had the most relatable story to tell - how to smile through life’s cruelest circumstances.

Chaplin’s Indian connect went well beyond films. Here are rare photographs from 1931 when he met Mahatma Gandhi in London.

Chaplin meets Gandhi in London, 1931 (Photo: <a href="https://www.pinterest.com/pin/449023025318294127/">Pinterest</a>).
Chaplin meets Gandhi in London, 1931 (Photo: Pinterest).
Chaplin meets Gandhi in London, 1931 (Photo: <a href="https://www.pinterest.com/pin/449023025318294127/">Pinterest</a>).
Chaplin meets Gandhi in London, 1931 (Photo: Pinterest).

Bapu reportedly didn’t know anything about Chaplin. In fact, it is said that he was discouraged from meeting Chaplin by his supporters who considered the actor to be a buffoon. But when a close aide enlightened him about Chaplin’s art being rooted in the life of the working class and the poor, he was ready to meet the legendary actor at once.

That mischievous Chaplin smile. (Photo: Twitter/<a href="https://twitter.com/ChaplinCinema">@ChaplinCinema</a>)
That mischievous Chaplin smile. (Photo: Twitter/@ChaplinCinema)
You’ll find life is still worthwhile, if you just smile.
Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin aka Charlie Chaplin

(This story was first published on 16 April, 2015 and is being republished on the occasion of the icon’s birth anniversary.)

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