He has been called the Charlie Chaplin of India and a cinematic legend. And yet few in North America are aware of the star power of the late Raj Kapoor.
But with Bollywood fever raging at a historic high after the three-day Indian International Film Academy Awards in Toronto, all that is about to change. A new collaborative tribute to Mr. Kapoor, launched Sunday, was produced by the Toronto International Film Festival and IIFA. It will continue to shine a spotlight on Indian cinema.
Raj Kapoor and The Golden Age of Indian Cinema will showcase some of his classic films at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox. The series includes a number of new 35-mm film prints made especially for the occasion.
Although his films had a strong Indian patriotic flavour, Mr. Kapoor espoused the idea of cinema crossing global boundaries.
"The world has a Raj Kapoor Square in Tashkent, the world has a Raj Kapoor Square in Moscow, and now we have the Raj Kapoor Crescent in Ontario, Canada," said IIFA organizer Sabbas Joseph. "IIFA is the fulfilment of his vision nearly 50 years ago."
Four generations of the Kapoor acting dynasty have made their mark on Indian cinema. Actors Ranbir Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor, the grandchildren of Raj Kapoor, were both nominated for awards at IIFA this year.
The gala tribute was attended by Krishna Kapoor, Raj's widow, and his three sons, Randhir, Rajiv and Rishi Kapoor, and Rishi's wife, actress Neetu Singh. Mr. Kapoor died in 1988.
"He was a one-man circus all by himself," Randhir Kapoor said. "He lived and breathed films. Nothing else gave him joy. So I am very touched by this gesture and would like to thank IIFA and TIFF for honouring the legacy of our father, who lived for his work and who lives on through his work."
One of the giants of Indian cinema, Raj Kapoor is synonymous with the rise of Bollywood's masala formula, featuring romance, action, comedy, tragedy and musical numbers all rolled into one. His films often celebrated the story of the poor underdog who struggles to survive and make sense of the rapid social changes in India after independence from the British Raj.
The influential filmmaker became a household name in India with a career that spanned nearly five decades. He was only 24 when he opened his own studio in 1948 and became one of the youngest directors at the time in India.
Mr. Kapoor's films were also wildly popular in the former Soviet Union and China, which were amenable to screening films from socialist India and banned Hollywood movies. Two of his films - Awaara (1951) and Boot Polish (1954) were nominated for the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Raj Kapoor shot at Niagara Falls for the 1967 Bollywood film Around the World.
"Raj Kapoor is near and dear to my heart," said Noah Cowan, project curator and artistic director at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, home to the Toronto International Film Festival. "If you want to understand Indian cinema … all you need to see is Raj Kapoor films - and the rest will unfold."
The retrospective tribute, running from July 1 through Aug. 7, will feature Raj Kapoor classics including Barsaat, Awaara, and Mera Naam Joker. Several pieces of memorabilia from Raj Kapoor films including costumes, program books and props used during the films will be displayed in the TIFF Bell Lightbox atrium.