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.

Play
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.

Play
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.

Play
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.

Play
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.

Play
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.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

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