Kismet – 1943
Bombay Talkies’ “Kismet” (1943) which held the record as the longest running hit of Indian cinema before being dethroned by Sholay, owes its amazing, unexpected success to the time in which it was made.
The War period had produced a climate for quick riches and success in certain trades. For the go-getters, the people on the move, luck (kismet) was the password. The dream of rags-to-riches was frequently becoming a reality for those who could venture and dare.
And “kismet” was the handy word to explain away such quick success. No wonder that the film using this title as well as this spirit in its contents became such a resounding success.
“Kismet”, produced by S Mukherji with screenplay and direction by Gyan Mukherjee from the paperwork (scenario and dialogue) of Santoshi and Shahid Latif, captured this elusive temper of the times; a society in a state of flux, through its central character of a lovable rogue Shekhar, played admirably by Ashok Kumar, who gained a new image for himself through it. He is a thief who takes all in a slick, composed, undaunted way and makes it appear a painless operation too. He is a master of his art and it is through him that the deep problem of class differences is given a popular, fanciful solution in a way that would provide relief and hope to the have-nots.
Gyan Mukherji, the engineer from Allahabad introduced some innovative story concepts which became future clichés; The Robin Hood anti-hero dressed as a Peshawari Pathan replaced the villain, treading on grey with the alter ego of a ‘babu’ hero at home singing lullabies for his beloved (Dheere dheere aa re badal). There is a lost and found angle with an old photograph in a ubiquitous locket and a name tattooed on the forearm providing vital clues. All those covered by a double role, direct conversations with God in a temple seeking divine intervention, a pregnancy out-of-wedlock and a dramatic escape sequence.
With mischief in his eyes, a careless cigarette dangling between his lips and a measured casual tone to his walk, Kumar made the crucial transition in acting style prevalent on-screen – from the exaggerated theatricality to the realistic mannerisms.
During the shooting of ‘Kismet’ (1943), the Quit India movement was at its peak. Kavi Pradeep wrote the lyrics of this film with music composed by Anil Biswas. Pradeep had strong nationalistic feelings. He came up with lyrics “Aaj Himalaya ki choti se hum ne yeh lalkara hai/Door hato ae duniya walo Hindustan hamara hai…” The song was passed by the Censor Board and it was only when they noticed the tremendous enthusiasm of the audience did the Censor Board realize they had blundered.
Mumtaz Shanti as his girl was representative of other popular conceptions of the day, like social reform, equality and patriotism. She is lame and helpless through most part of the film yet her dependence and struggle symbolically acquire a wider meaning and the climax is reached in the drama charged stage number “Ghar ghar men diwali”, where she throws away her crutches and begins to dance with joy and abandon. This song as much a rage as the other numbers in the film also had some of the most exquisite variations of musical moods. From a tone of dejection it rises up to a crescendo as a clarion call to break all chains of bondage and rise to a higher life. Another such inspiring song was “Tere dukh ke din phirenge”.
On the popular plane both conscious and sub-conscious, Kismet thus made many inroads and set strong trends in motion. It’s the earliest sign of the popular Bombay film taking shape and a marked triumph over the Prabhat and New Theatres schools, scored by Bombay Talkies which was to crystallize in the post-independence period through the popular films of Filmistan and other Bombay companies down to the present times.
Kismet also initiated a merging of the best in the action genre of films within the framework of the social to satisfy the two types of audiences. It was this fusion that secured the Bombay-made Hindi film gain its sway over a vast countrywide audience for years to come.
Here is the link to the complete film. Happy viewing.