Movie Soundtracks

Audio master: ‘Kismet’ laid the foundation of the Hindi film song as we know it

In the 1943 blockbuster, the essential elements and conventions of the movie tune were codified, including the mukhda-antara form.

Kismet (1943) is considered one of the foundational films of Hindi cinema, and rightly so. It establishes many of the tropes that we have come to associate with classic Bollywood, notably the lost-and-found theme (replete with lockets and tattoos), and the climactic song where everyone congregates, bad disguises and all.

Gyan Mukherjee’s film features Ashok Kumar as a petty criminal named Shekhar who undergoes a transformation when he encounters Rani (Mumtaz Shanti), a stage performer with a heart of goldbut (hairi kismet!) a bad leg.

Kismet was a humungous blockbuster (the biggest till Sholay came along a full three decades later) and did wonders for the careers of all those who were associated with it. Including, of course, the composer Anil Biswas, whose melodious songs contributed in a major way to the film’s success.

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Door Hato Ae Duniyawalon.

The year is 1943. The effects of the Quit India Movement can still be felt. A brutal war rages on across various fronts. Indian soldiers are dying by the hundreds in alien lands, fighting for a cause not their own. Closer home, the Japanese have taken control of Burma and are intent on advancing further west.

It is against this backdrop that we have the opening track, the rabble-rousing Door Hato Ae Duniyawalon, Hindustan Hamara Hai, sung onstage by a theatre group led by Rani.

“Shuru hua hai jung tumhara
Jaag utho Hindustani
Tum na kisike aage jhukna
German ho ya Japani.”

The “German ho ya Japani”, ostensibly directed at the Axis Powers, managed to hoodwink the censors. (The presence of Rai Bahadur Chunilal, one of the film’s producers, on the Bombay Censor Board, is said to have helped make the passage of the film easier). But the public got the intended message. The song became a national rage. There are stories of people asking the projectionist to rewind the reel and play the song all over again. (In the film itself, the song is used twice.)

The song established the lyricist Pradeep, who had to go into hiding as rumours of his impending arrest began to do rounds, as the go-to man for patriotic songs – an image reinforced over the years with songs like De Di Humein Azadi (Jagriti, 1954) and, most famously, Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon.

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Dheere Dheere Aa Re Baadal (solo version).

The other song from the film that is said to have reeled in the crowds is about as different as it could get from the fiery Door Hato.

Dheere Dheere Aa Re Baadal is a lullaby, with all the sweetness of a clay pot of freshly made rasgullas that Anil Biswas might have craved for in his adopted city. Even Dev Anand, then a young man trying to break into the industry, confessed to having been “haunted” by the song. So much so that he watched the film four times at Bombay’s Roxy theatre.

Dheere Dheere occurs twice in Kismet. The first version is an Amirbai Karnataki solo; the second and longer version is a duet between Amirbai and Ashok Kumar in the film, with Arun Kumar replacing the star on the record.

Arun Kumar, incidentally, is acknowledged in the opening credits as an associate music director, while the saxophonist Ram Singh is listed as an assistant. The singers, however, are not even mentioned in the film credits. Which is a terrible shame, because Kismet marked a high point in the career of Amirbai Karnataki, who sang all but two songs in the film.

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Dheere Dheere Aa Re Baadal (duet version).

Next up is a troika of songs that can be considered as part of the same conversation. The catchy Ab Tere Siwa Kaun Mera is a plea addressed to the Almighty.

“Ab tere siwa kaun mera Krishna Kanhaiyya
Bhagwan kinare se lage de meri naiyya.”

The entreaty is answered, in an oblique manner, via what can be considered the film’s title song, Ek Din Hasaye Ek Din Rulaye.

“Duniya mein pehle pehle jab vo aayi
Kismet jo aayi
Toh phoolon ke sang-sang
Kaatein bhi laayi.”

But all this talk of acceptance is difficult to stomach, especially when the scriptwriters keep heaping misfortune upon you. So we have another song, this time with a subtle change in the messaging.

“Tere dukh ke din phirenge
Le dua meri liye ja
Tu zara himmat se jag mein
Zindagi bande jiye jaa.”

My favourite – and dare I say the best – song, however, does not feature leading lady Mumtaz Shanti, but Chandraprabha who plays her sister. That probably explains why it is sung not by Karnataki but Parul Ghosh, who is the composer’s sister.

Papiha Re is a song of birah, of separation and longing. The melody, characteristic of the entire soundtrack, is simple but indelible; you will be hard-pressed to get it out of your head. Pradeep seems to have been unable to get it out of his; years later, he managed to prevail over composer Avinash Vyas to rework the tune for the song Pinjre Ke Panchhi Re (Naag Mani, 1957).

In the early 1990s, HMV released an album titled Shraddhanjali, in which Lata Mangeshkar paid tribute to some of her favourite playback singers. Unsurprisingly, Amirbai Karnataki and Parul Ghosh were both on her list. The two representative songs Mangeshkar chose to commemorate the departed singers were both from Kismet: Dheere Dheere Aa Re Baadal and Papiha Re respectively.

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Papiha Re.

Karnataki is back for the final song on the soundtrack, which gives her an opportunity to display her range. Ghar Ghar Mein Diwali comes at the climax and is as such a situational song, but the lyricist has other ideas. Writing almost a decade-and-a-half before Sahir Ludhianvi got the male protagonist of Pyaasa to denounce the world, Pradeep gives Rani, her mobility now restored, some truly incendiary lines.

“Charon taraf laga hua meena bazaar hai
Dhan ki jahaan pe jeet, gareebon ki haar hai
Insaniyat ki bhes mein phirta hai lootera
Ji chahta hai sansar mein main aag laga doon
So ye huye insaan ki kismet ko jaga doon
Thokar se udaa doon main daya-o-dharm ka deraa.”

“Never has a woman in Hindi cinema so boldly called for an overhaul of the existing social order,” writes Ganesh Anantharaman in his National Award winning book Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song. This is a moment of high drama in the film, and gets an affecting treatment from both the composer and the director.

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Ghar Ghar Mein Diwali.

A contemporary listener might argue that Anil Biswas’s melodious compositions notwithstanding, the orchestral palette in Kismet is still limited. This is a fair argument. As musicologist Jayson Beaster-Jones notes, “Both the film and the music of ‘Kismet’ exemplify a point just before a critical moment of transition for Indian filmmaking.” Within a few years –following the collapse of the studio system, and the simultaneous influx of a bunch of talented singers, composers and musicians from various corners of the country - the Hindi film song will be transformed.

That said, it would be instructive to remind ourselves, as Beaster-Jones suggests, that Kismet is one of the earliest films in which we get the sense that the essential elements and conventions of the film song have already been codified, including its structural bedrock – the mukhda-antara form. With Kismet, the Hindi film song, as we know it, is slowly, but surely, coming into its own.

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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.