The cult of Raj Kapoor, the legendary Indian actor, is winning new followers in Russia every day. Four years ago, the legend got a fresh shine when The Doctor Watson Ensemble, a rage in the perestroika days, came up with a new live project “The Best Songs of World Cinema.” “Awaara”, a song from one of Raj Kapoor’s films which has enjoyed huge popularity in Russia as well as India, figured on the programme. Victor Shchedrov, the group’s new lead singer, had never spoken Hindi before, but with the help of an Indian friend he was able to figure out the lyrics of the song and learned how to pronounce the words. “This song came around the middle of the programme”, remembers the singer. “When I started to sing, nearly everyone in the audience stood up. No one expected that I’d sing in Hindi; for the people watching this was a complete surprise”.
Talking about his decision to include this song in the project, Georgi Mamikonov, the ensemble leader, says: “Well of course along with French, Italian and American films we couldn’t ignore Indian cinema.”
In the 1950s Raj Kapoor, one of the most popular romantic actors of his time, was an icon in the Soviet Union. Children would make up their own translation of his songs in Russian and sing them on the street.
The Doctor Watson ensemble, formed in 1985 under the leadership of Mamikonov, is known for creating a retro-style vocal quartet show which included elements of theatre. They are famous for their performance of classic songs from the 1930s to the 1980s that make up the so-called “golden fund” of Soviet music. With their novel combination of song and theatre, the ensemble made a huge impact on the music scene at the time, and their retro performances were a big draw with the public.
Lead singer Victor Shchedrov
The group’s renditions of songs from various classic films are especially memorable and heart-warming. In 1996 the group organised a themed concert with the title “The Best Songs of Soviet Cinema”. This event is seen as the starting point for the group’s project, the “KinoWatson” Russian National Music Awards, which had its first ceremony in 2003. Nominees for this prize include composers, poets and the performers of songs that have been featured in Russian films. The idea behind it was to evaluate the contribution cinema has made to the music culture. What is surprising is that such an initiative was launched by artistes themselves, and not by the government.
With the performance of Awaara, the ensemble has put the focus on cultural connections between India and Russia. The Indian film icon formed an enduring bridge between the Indian and Russian people, as nations can always connect through culture. This bonding inspired by cinema and culture was in limelight when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev dropped in at a film studio in Mumbai during his visit to India in December last year.
Members of the Dr Watson ensemble admit that they occasionally still watch Indian films which are shown on satellite TV in Russia. They have yet to go to India, but they have not given up dreaming that one day they will see the home of Raj Kapoor not just in films, but with their own eyes.
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