Revisiting ‘Ram Teri Ganga Maili’: How Raj Kapoor Made An Entire Film On Just One Song

Ramteri Ganga Meli ho Gyi

Raj Kapoor was one of the boldest actors and filmmakers of his time. Working within the limited resources and scope that a nascent film industry could offer, and an incipient society would allow, he pushed the boundaries of mainstream Hindi films that few of his time dared. By the time he directed Ram Teri Ganga Maili, in 1985, he was already one of the most celebrated, honoured, and revered film personalities of his time.

 Ram Teri Ganga Maili was everything that Kapoor’s films stood for – an epic narrative, a blend of mythology and subtle socio-political commentary, and of course unabashedly sensual, which quite expectedly, didn’t sit too well with strait-laced officials at censor boards. Not that Raj Kapoor cared too much about it. He had his way of eluding the censor board’s intrusion.

Raj Kapoor was ahead of his time. Layered narratives gave way to more striking commentary on social hierarchy in his earlier films such as Awaara (1954) and Prem Rog (1982).  Ram Teri Ganga Maili, too, was no different. The allusion to the river Ganges or rather the goddess Ganga in the title is not gimmicky, neither was it intended to beguile the audience.

Rather, the film is rich with symbolism and metaphors alluding to Indian mythology and referring to environmental movements. River Ganga is a mythological Indian goddess. The plot- a naïve pahadi girl, Ganga (played by Mandakini), and an urbane shehri guy from a posh family, Narendra (Rajiv Kapoor) falling for each other, and parting eventually, has been told and retold in diverse forms in different eras. The story, essentially, parallels  Shakuntala’s doomed relationship with Dusyanta, first appearing in Mahabharata, then in a different context in Kalidasa’s Abhijñānaśākuntalam.

The year was 1985, a decade after Chipko and Silent Valley movements have headed home the importance of ecology and environmentalism. 1985 was also the year that witnessed Narmada Bachao Andolon, which started as a protest against callous negligence on the part of the government in the Sardar Sarovar Dam project but morphed into a large-scale environmental movement to protect the pristine ecosystem of Narmada Valley. The film itself opens with a protest rally against water pollution in the Ganges in Calcutta (where our protagonist will eventually arrive). We see a crooked politician colluding with his industrialist friend to open another factory, sidestepping environmental laws. The literal and metaphorical descent of Ganga, the protagonist in the film, and the river Ganges from the pristine hills of Uttarakhand to the plains, is not too hard to see.

Naturally, a film imbued with allusions, and symbols and steeped so much in Indian mythology, piqued my curiosity to read up on its background story. I was curious to find out Raj Kapoor’s inspiration behind the film. While looking up on the internet, with sparse information scattered on different platforms, I stumbled upon an old video of Randhir  Kapoor (his son) talking about the production of the film.

It so happened that Raj Kapoor, along with his son, went to a wedding where Ravindra Jain, the music director was singing one of his unreleased songs. Raj Kapoor was so enamoured with it that he asked him to sing it once again (according to Randhir Kapoor, again quite a number of times after that). Upon hearing that it hasn’t been used in any film, Raj Kapoor decided to buy the rights for the song.

The following day, he invited Ravindra Jain and his accompanying musicians for a musical event at Randhir’s house. On that day only, he officially bought the rights for the song intending to use it in his next film. Randhir was a bit taken aback since Raj Kapoor didn’t actually have any plan to make a new film: no scripts, no sessions with producers, no meeting with actors, absolutely nothing. The last film he directed was three years ago. But, little did he know, Raj Kapoor’s idea was to make a film from that one song only.

After a few days, he took Ravindra Jain and other musicians to his Pune farmhouse, and composed all the nine songs within an astonishing four days. There only, he decided the title of the film. But what is truly staggering is everything happened without a script, without any concrete plot. What he had was an idea of a film, an idea that was solely based on one song- Ek Radha Ek Meera, which enthralled him so much that he took the audacious decision of making a film from one song.

Not ironically then,  Ek Radha Ek Meera appears at the momentous climax of the film, when by a cruel irony of fate, Ganga is brought (and bought) to Calcutta to perform at Narendra’s wedding. Ek Radha Ek Meera, immortalised by Lata Mangeskar’s evocative singing, juxtaposes the two lovers of Krishna- Radha, his saheli and Meera, his devotee. Both of them desired Krishna as their husbands- but their ways were different-

Mira ke Prabhu Giridhar naagar, raadhaa ke manmohan”

The mythological tale of Radha and Krishna has been interpreted in numerous ways. It has a different meaning for devotees, an unending quest of a bhakt to find and feel God, Meera being the prime example of a devotee. Whereas poets, authors, and mystics have tried to retrieve the delicate and tender spirit of the text. For them, Radha is not just a mythic heroine of a tragic saga or a representation of God’s ideal devotee, Radha is the essence of yearning.

It takes on a different meaning if you consider that, in the film, Radha was the bride for Narendra. Drawing from the perennial love story between Radha and Krishna (the eighth avatar of Vishnu, Ram being the tenth) and imbuing Meera’s devotion in Ganga, Raj Kapoor wove an intricate story of love and its corruption at the hands of a more powerful society. So, is it surprising that he chose to build a story only from this song?

Also Read: Rajiv Kapoor's Final Film Toolsidas To Be Released On 23rd May

As is often the case, the story of creating art fascinates us more than the art itself, which eventually makes us appreciate the work more. At the end of the brief story, Randhir says there was only one Raj Kapoor- “one-man circus”, and there will never be another one like him. In all fairness, there can be arguments about that, but one thing is for sure, in the era of superficial charm and vainglorious aura, blessed is the filmmaker whose ideas don't get lost between words.

You can enjoy the song  Ek Radha Ek Meera here: 

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