During the past several months, I’ve had a block about watching films all the way through – or that’s how it seemed anyway. I suppose life and my mood got in the way of my making the extra effort that was needed to sit down with a whole film, and for this time, at least, it always seemed easier and more pleasurable to watch a bunch of music sequence clips instead. (In that way, I had actually gone full circle, because that is what I was doing for the most part shortly after I started this blog, five to six years ago). But last night, the trend finally changed with a movie that compelled me to sit with it to the end and almost made me want to watch it again. I had seen this one a couple of years before without subtitles and enjoyed it even back then, but since I didn’t know what most of the words meant, my attention wasn’t as well focused as it could have been. But now that I have finally watched Kismet with subtitles, I can see why so many people think it’s delightful.
Now, while I may have finally broken through my block about seeing full films, writing full reviews is another matter. At present, I don’t think I could write a full review, or at least not a properly organized one with a plot summary. Fortunately, though, there is no shortage of substantial reviews of this film in our little corner of the Blogosphere, and if you want to see a few, I recommend going to Dustedoff, Memsaabstory, and Filmi Geek.
What I can do, in pure imitation of aforementioned Dustedoff, is mention the things that I liked and (only slightly) disliked.
And the best thing about this film is Ashok Kumar. He was given a good role to play, too, but Ashok invests this character, the thief who calls himself Shekhar, with a huge amount of charm and humanity. In slightly later years, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor would play characters with similar fates and proclivities and they would do a fine job with it. But here, Ashok Kumar plays the most likable career thief I have ever seen in the cinema. I don’t know if I’ve ever said this about an adult male actor before, but in this film, he is adorable… As is the romance between his character and Rani, who is played Mumtaz Shanti. I think “adorable” is a pretty good word for it, because it’s not portrayed in a heavy, universe-consuming way like many other romances in Hindi cinema. Some of those are very absorbing, too, but since I’d seen so many of those other (mostly later) ones first, the romance depicted here struck me as being refreshingly sweet and joyful (at least before it ran into serious obstacles).
And I like Mumtaz Shanti. I’ve seen a couple of bloggers go on about how she was too theatrical, but that didn’t bother me so much during most of the movie, and it was actually a perfect quality for her to have during the film’s climactic theater piece (albeit with someone else’s voice, but her visual performance was marvelous). Plus, she’s also adorable.
As with many old Hindi films, I loved the way Kismet blended pure, delightful entertainment with commentary on social issues, particularly with regard to poverty and the class system. Or, to get Marxist about it, the class struggle. Because that is something that is very clear, discussed in an overt way amidst the romance and the songs and dances. The socialist edge gets awfully smoothed over at the end, but it’s definitely visible throughout the film.
At the same time, the social messages never get in the way of the film’s narrative (which is very well paced), and the socially conscious lyrics by Pravi Kadeep are blended very well with music that is positively inspiring, thanks to the music director, Anil Biswas, and the playback singer Amirbai Karnataki.
Another thing that is very noteworthy about this film is the dance performance by Baby Kamala. It is terrific – probably her first great performance (and speaking of adorable!)… The only problem is that it did not go on for long enough.
Kismet was also possibly the first film to feature a few plot themes that would become Hindi film cliches. The most prominent among these is the long-lost-and-found child theme (as opposed to the long-lost-and-found sweetheart theme). Another theme is the one about trying to get one’s loved one an expensive operation that is badly needed to fix a disability. Another is the theme of the two troubled romances that get resolved in a connected way so that they result in a double wedding. Related to that, we have the badly wanted weddings prevented by at least one mean father, class prejudice, and lack of a dowry. And, of course, there is the theme of the thief who is really just a nice guy with a bad childhood, whose niceness comes out in a big way when he falls in love with a woman who inspires him to stop being a thief. (OK, maybe I’ve just combined two or three themes – but it is hard to separate them.)
I found Kismet‘s use of all these themes to be both good and bad. It seemed bad in a way because, since I had already seen so many films that came out later, I found so much of the plot to be predictable far in advance. (That’s why I didn’t hesitate to write a few descriptions related to the plot that might normally be considered spoilers – because if you’ve seen a few Hindi films before, then you’d have to be lacking half a brain not to guess what’s going to happen here.) But it all starts to look very good when you realize that so many films probably imitated Kismet in some way and not the other way around. And Kismet covered all of this territory very nicely, too.
Unfortunately, all of these twists of plot get wrapped up a little too neatly and comfortably at the end. It’s kind of fun to watch the film end the way it does; it certainly is not an unpleasant or dreary experience. And once again, you can’t blame Kismet (1943!) if you think that the ending looks a bit formulaic. But it does still seem like a speeded-up wrap-up, which is something else I’ve seen in a few films that came later. Nonetheless, this is a finely made film with some very good acting, great music, good social messages, and adorable characters. And that is why it broke through my movie-watching block so easily.