The film concerns the consequences of a wealthy judge's decision (acted by Raj Kapoor's real-life father) to abandon his wife after she is kidnapped by a gang of criminals. His wife gives birth to his son; struggling in abject poverty, she brings up the young Raj who leaves school to become a petty thief. The only bright spot in the child Raj's impoverished life is his childhood sweet-heart, Rita. When Raj and Rita (now the Judge's ward) meet again as adults, the plot develops to a highly dramatic conclusion.
Not wanting to post spoilers to the plot's resolution I can tell you that in essence 'Awara' debates upon the inequalities of Indian society and how social status markedly affects the individual's success in Indian society. The sharp contrast between the privileged minority and the great impoverished majority of Indian society is depicted. The film's message in essence is that nuture, not nature shapes individual destiny.
Watching 'Awara' one becomes conscious of the deep imprint of British Rule upon India .Although India achieved independence from Britain in 1948, traffic scenes featuring double-Decker Routemaster buses, speech peppered with colloquial English phrases including the singing of 'For she's a jolly good fellow', to the whole-scale structure of police, the judicial court and legal system, provide evidence of the strong imprint of British Rule in transport, customs, language and Law in Indian culture.
Raj Kapoor quite deliberately models himself as a Chaplinesque tramp in the film. Like Chaplin Kapoor's agenda is one of criticism of society's values and prejudices. His song 'Awara Hoon' (I am a homeless tramp) was, like the film itself, a big hit in both the U.S.S.R. and China.
Among the many remarkable features of 'Awara' is the depiction of the beautiful actress Nargis Dutt in a swim-suit, a first in Hindi film and a lengthy dream sequence. Although Alfred Hitchcock had already attempted a cinematic dream sequence in Spellbound (1945), Kapoor's own attempt to portray the psyche's unconscious in film was made without the assistance of the surrealist painter Salvador Dali.
'Awara' sets the template for much of future Hindi or Bollywood film. Clocking in at twice the length of many Hollywood films (195 minutes) serving up a generous helping of high quality songs and dances, with a tendency towards melodrama and romantic fantasy, adhering to State censorship, yet able to debate social issues, 'Awara' is a film equal to, if not superior to ,anything produced in the same era by Hollywood.
100 Bollywood films by Rachel Dwyer pub. B.F.I. 2005