Films that are 50

Films that are 50: ‘Teesri Kasam’ is a rich monochrome about love and loss

Directed by Basu Bhattacharya and produced by lyricist Shailendra, the black-and-white gem is filled with strong performances and fabulous songs.

Among the many nuggets that author and documentary filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir gives us in her book, Conversations With Waheeda Rehman, a few are about the lovely monochrome film Teesri Kasam (1966). It is one of the tragedies of Hindi cinema that this black-and-white gem sank at the box office despite the all-round talent involved in its making. Most importantly, the film’s failure claimed the life of its producer, the lyricist Shailendra. The songwriter had several financial problems in making the film. Rehman commented in Nasreen’s book, “He had to really struggle hard. One day he came to see me and said he couldn’t pay me. I felt very bad for him. He had tears in his eyes. It is heartbreaking to see a man cry. I told him not to talk about money.”

Based on the writer Phanishwar Nath Renu’s story Maare Gaye Gulfaam, Teesri Kasam revolves around the three promises made by the cart driver, Hiraman (Raj Kapoor). Hiraman commits to the first two decisions in the initial few minutes of the film: one, of not carrying stolen goods in his cart; and the second, never to carry bamboo again. The large part of Teesri Kasam’s narrative involves Hiraman getting acquainted and his subsequent relationship with the acclaimed nautanki artiste Hirabai (Rehman).

Although Rehman indicated to Kabir that she could never imagine Raj Kapoor in the role of Hiraman (“I wondered how he would look in a dhoti”), Kapoor’s depiction of Hiraman, the innocent rustic enamoured by Hirabai’s feminine grace and gentleness, was a finely etched performance. “It turned out that Raj Kapoor was excellent as Hiraman,” remarked Rehman, who herself notched up yet another impressive, sensitive performance, following in the footsteps of Guide (1965). As Hirabai, Rehman portrayed the conflicting worlds her character has to grapple with; in one part, she is compassionate and attracted to Hiraman; and in the other, as the woman who has to deal with men who seek her company to keep themselves entertained and think of her as nothing other than a common prostitute.

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Teesri Kasam took many years in the making. Shailendra had approached Rehman for the role in the early 1960s. The story goes that Shailendra had initially cast Mehmood and Meena Kumari for the roles that were eventually played by Kapoor and Rehman. The film was directed by Basu Bhattacharya, who had earlier assisted Bimal Roy on films such as Madhumati and Sujata. The realistic feel that Bhattacharya managed to give Teesri Kasam was a direct offshoot of his working with Roy, who was heavily influenced by the Italian neo-realists. The writer Nabendu Ghosh, another regular Bimal Roy crew member, wrote Teesri Kasam’s screenplay. The dialogues were written by Renu himself. Rehman offered an interesting insight in this context.

“Rajji thought the ending of the film should be changed and Hiraman and Hirabai should go away together. But no one agreed to that. The whole point of the story was Hiraman’s ‘teesri kasam’ never to let a nautanki girl travel in his cart again. The writer Renu… would have been furious if the ending had been changed.”

But perhaps the most important aspect of Teesri Kasam’s brilliance was its songs. Written by Hasrat Jaipuri and Shailendra and composed to Shankar-Jaikishen’s tunes, the soundtrack adeptly carried the story forward. Numbers such as “Chalat musaafir”, “Paan khaaye saiyaan humaaro”, “Sajanwa bairi ho gaye humaar” and “Sajan re jhoot mat bolo”, rendered in the voices of Manna Dey, Asha Bhonsle and Mukesh, beautifully articulated the moment, the mood and the emotion in the screenplay.

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The jewel in the crown was the Mukesh solo, “Duniyaa banaanewaale.” Written by Jaipuri, the song detailed the fable of Mahua Ghatwaran’s tragic romantic liaison, but was an apt summary of the passing encounter between Hiraman and Hirabai: “Preet banaa ke tu ne jeena sikhaayaa, Hasna sikhaayaa, rona sikhaayaa, Jeevan ke pathh par meet milaayaa, Meet milaa ke tuney sapney jagaaye, Sapney jagaa ke tuney, kaahey ko de di judaayee?”

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Beautifully shot by ace cinematographer Subrata Mitra (of Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy fame), Teesri Kasam, despite its commercial failure, went on to win the National Film Award for Best Film in 1967. Apparently, Kapoor charged Shailendra only a rupee as his fees to help his lyricist friend tide over his difficulties to make the film.

While a few scenes of the film were shot near the Powai Lake, the rest of Teesri Kasam was shot in Bina, a small town near Bhopal. Rehman detailed an uncomfortable episode while on her return to Bombay from Bina. A large group of students wouldn’t let the train leave Bina station. Kapoor even tried to negotiate with the young men, who were eager to catch a glimpse of their matinee idols. While Kapoor had presented himself to the students, he refused to let Rehman come out. The students remained adamant in wanting to see Rehman. The situation grew tense as Kapoor persisted with his stand. The crowd resorted to stone pelting and hitting the train with big iron bars. Kapoor had to be pushed into Rehman’s compartment by his friends where the actress, her sister and her hairdresser “had to literally pin Rajji on to the seat. I sat on his chest while my sister held on to his legs”. Eventually the police arrived and the crowd was dispersed. But when the stars arrived at Mumbai Central the following day, people were shocked to see the state they were in. “We had fragments of glass lodged in our hair and sprayed on our clothes – we even found bits of glass in our bags,” Rehman told Kabir.

Akshay Manwani is the author of Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet (HarperCollins India). He is currently working on a book on the cinema of writer-director-producer Nasir Husain. He tweets at @AkshayManwani.

For previous entries in our series ‘Films that are 50’, see ‘Teesri Manzil’, ‘Mera Saaya’, ‘Amrapali’, ‘Love in Tokyo’, ‘Anbe Vaa’ and ‘Nayak’.

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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.