Like so many movies set in Bombay, G.P. Sippy’s 1992 release Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman has at its center a young man leaving his family home (in this case, in Darjeeling) to make a bade admi out of himself in the big city. The very likebale local hero starts out on the right foot, praying at the local temple for success on his engineering exams. After the good grades are in, Raju (Shahrukh Khan) hops a train straight to VT and in search of a distant relative to stay with. Turns out the relative is long gone, and Raju takes refuge in the only place he can think of: a temple.
Enter Nana Patekar, who serves as a cross between a Greek chorus in the film and the Emcee in Cabaret (without the makeup and the leering). In the role of Jai, a street-wise street performer in a floppy cricket hat and a trenchcoat, he appears while Raju is praying, startling him. “Did I scare you? If so, you should go. There’s no place for cowards in Bombay,” Jai declares. Recovering, resolute, Raju says “I’m not leaving.” Respecting his pluck, Jai settles down to eat and shares his food with Raju, asking him: “Do you know how to live in Bombay? Eat, itch, switch off the light.” He takes Raju under his wing and helps him get his footing in the neighborhood, and in the meantime, by way of his street performances, Jai tells us about the city. In his first such scene, in front the Gateway of India, Jai tells his audience: “This is Bombay, you won’t get anything for free. Only the one who looks up can make it here, no place for those who look back. Push and make your way.”
The city looks bright and shiny, with shots often filmed against a backdrop of tall apartment buildings, as well as the obligatory shots of couples by the waterfront and sneaking kisses down on the rocks.
Raju meets Renu (the sweet Juhi Chawla) who lives in the hero’s new neighborhood, and helps him get a job, which is cause for celebration among Raju’s friends, cue the title song. As Nana plays about five different instruments, the neighbors dance and, in an uncanny foreshadowing of DDLJ, as SRK parades around with the trappings of the big man he wants to become (suspenders and walking stick), he also dons a fedora that looks a lot like the one he will wear three years later in the role of Raj in the Yash Chopra mega-hit.
Just as love starts to flourish between the two, Raju’s bold critique of one of his firm’s projects catches the eye of a colleague, Sapna (the former Mrs. Saif Ali Kahn, Amrita Singh), who is also the daughter of the firm’s owner, Mr. Chhabria. She sees to it that Raju’s profile continues to rise, and introduces him to a lifestyle he’s never known before. After he gets a promotion, while Renu waits outside for him to go celebrate, Sapna whisks Raju off to Delhi for a meeting. That night, when work is done for the day, he waits for her in the hotel lobby to go to dinner, and she appears in a strapless gown. Shocked at the scandalous sight of Sapna’s bare shoulders, Raju asks “Don’t you have a sari?” and gives her his jacket, so she can cover her shameless self. Then he takes her to a dhaba and laughs when she asks for a napkin, showing her this really cool trick that people who aren’t filthy rich have: licking your fingers!
Sapna’s father disapproves of his daughter’s romantic interest in Raju, telling her “You are two shores of a river that can never meet.” He schemes to discredit Raju, putting him in charge of a bridge-building project, and getting one of his office flunkies to ensure that the sand in the concrete is sub-standard, leading to tragic results later on.
Raju romances Renu in his company’s waterfront bungalow where Sapna has installed him, separating him physically from his roots and his people. In the romantic number between SRK and Juhi, after he coaxes her into wearing a strapless, almost flesh-colored dress (“I feel shy” the virginal heroine protests), the English translation of the lyrics are too funny:
Raju: Let us be lost in a new world, unite and become one.
Renu: Your insistence is incorrect, but I have some compulsions. (???)
Innocent people die after the project Raju’s in charge of is completed, and a there is a courtroom case at the climax before the story is resolved.
It’s interesting to note that this movie was released in 1992, just a liberalization was taking hold in India. The portrayal of the evil Vestern habits so heartily embraced by the rich is simplistic (the drinking, smoking, Raju explaining Sapna’s behaviour with “She was brought up with Western culture, she’s a little advanced”), and it’s contrasted with the pureness of heart of Raju, Renu and the others in their neighborhood struggling to get by. Clearly, this is to reassure the average moviegoer that Bharat Mata’s traditional values are best and will endure, in spite of whatever dastardly temptations her people may be subject to.
Raju’s experience serves as a morality tale of what can happen when you lose sight of your basic values in the rush to the top. When he reminds Renu “I didn’t come here to sleep on the street”, Juhi’s character declares that she only dreams of “.. a small home, and love and respect”, telling Raju that the path he’s on is not right, and she leaves him. At his lowest moment, when he’s lost Renu and the death of some of his neighbors seems to lay on his shoulders alone, Raju returns to the temple in tears saying to God “Trying to touch the sky, I have sunk to the ground. Help me out of this darkness.”
See it or skip it?
See it. It’s a light time-pass and one of the movies always mentioned as one of SRK’s stepping stones to the superstar he is now. Nana is entirely charming in this all-knowing sutradar role he finds himself in every so often (Ã la Hu Tu Tu).
Plus the fashions are good for a chuckle. Shoulder pads and huge disc earrings on Amrita, SRK in a feathery mullet that would make Billy Ray Cyrus nod in approval. But why is Nana wearing a trenchcoat in a city whose temps are typically over 30 degrees?