Raj Kapoor was renowned for his socially relevant cinema, like ‘Awaara’ and ‘Shree 420’, which highlighted the plight of Indian citizens post-independence. However, with time, this conscious approach to filmmaking seemed to fade. In his later years, Kapoor’s films attempted to convey ‘social messages’, but the narrative often distorted these messages. ‘Prem Rog’ is a strong case in point. Although the film seems to address widow remarriage and the fair treatment of widows, it devotes more time to their sufferings than to solutions.
‘Prem Rog’ follows Manorama (Padmini Kolhapure), a young girl from a wealthy family who becomes a widow soon after her marriage and is raped by her brother-in-law. Rishi Kapoor’s character Devdhar re-enters her life and rekindles his love for her, fighting societal norms to be with her. The film attempts to challenge societal taboos but ends up inadvertently supporting them. It presents Manorama’s remarriage as empowerment, yet portrays her as a mere object, passed from one male custodian to another.
The film also glosses over a disturbing sequence of Manorama’s physical assault by her brother-in-law. This traumatic event is brushed aside, with even other characters in the film barely reacting to it. When the film finally seeks retribution for Manorama, it’s more for male characters to vent their anger than for justice. Thus, ‘Prem Rog’ purports to empower women but instead underlines male heroism.
Even considering its time of release, ‘Prem Rog’ seemed to be regressive. Released in the same year as
Mahesh Bhatt‘s mature relationship drama ‘Arth’ and Richard Attenborough’s ‘Gandhi’,” the film appeared outmoded. Despite its box office success, ‘Prem Rog’ doesn’t reflect quality cinema. Today, almost 40 years later, the film doesn’t resonate, not because society has drastically improved for women, but because it was flawed even in its contemporary setting. While Raj Kapoor’s contributions to Indian cinema are cherished, ‘Prem Rog’ does not hold a deserving spot in this legacy.