Simplicity seldom flowed so poetically on the celluloid. “Teesri Kasam” continues to behold for its sensitive portrayal of human relations. Based on Phanishwar Nath Renu’s short story “Mare Gaye Gulfam”, it is also one of the tragic ironies of Indian cinema that a film like “Teesri Kasam” sank without a trace at the box office indirectly leading to the demise of its producer, lyricist Shailendra because of the financial mess caused by the failure of the film.
One of the products of IPTA, Shankardas Kesrilal Shailendra was well aware of the problems of the common man in rural India. His songs were a rare combination of sense and simplicity. He had a song for every occasion. Perhaps that’s why Gulzar rates him as the best lyricist of his times. He understood that cinema is not the ground to show your literary genius.
Here you have to adapt to the demands of the scripts and then experiment with what you have got. “Sajan Re Jhooth Mat Bolo, Khuda Ke Paas Jaana Hai, Na Haathi Hai Na Ghoda Hai, Wahan Paidal Hi Jaana Hai” is an example of how understated a melody with message could be. And a few reels later he comes with a coquettish composition “Paan Khaye Saiyan Hamar, Saanwali Surat Pe Honth Lal Lal” that effortlessly explain the nautanki culture prevalent in the cow belt. The film is an extraordinary example of the much clichéd expression – songs taking the narrative forward.
Shailendra acquired the rights to the story and initially Mehmood and Meena Kumari were cast for the roles which were eventually played by Raj Kapoor and Waheeda Rehman.
It is said that Raj Kapoor charged only one rupee from his close friend and advised him to bring in some commercial element to the heart breaking story. However, Shailendra didn’t budge and went on to make the film the way he wanted – a far cry from the colourful melodramas that were prevalent in the ‘60s. He wanted to shoot the film in Terai area of Bihar but the stories of dacoits and robberies in the region forced him to shoot the film at Igatpuri near Nasik. He brought in Basu Bhattacharya to helm the project. Bhattacharya, who had assisted Bimal Roy (here Basu Chatterjee was an assistant director), filled the film with emotional realism, something he exploited with élan later in films like “Anubhav” and “Avishkar”. But none could match the freshness of “Teesri Kasam”.
The blooming of the bond between Hiraman (Raj Kapoor) and Hirabai (Waheeda Rehman) is interspersed with affection and melancholy and Bhattacharya has handled the emotions delicately. What draws the nautanki dancer to the rustic cart driver is his simple philosophy of life which he expresses through his moving songs… “Duniya Bananewale Kahe Ko Duniya Banayi”. The relationship is never exploited for any social agendas like pitting rural narrow mindedness against urban openness.
A lasting image of the film is after parting as Hiraman prepares to go back and is about to hit his bullocks he overhears Hira’s voice – Don’t hit them (earlier when he was transporting her to the fair and tried to hit the bullocks she had stopped him with the same words) and as he looks back through the fluttering curtains of the bullock cart is seen the train in which Hirabai has left – Poignant!
The poignancy of “Teesri Kasam” is rooted in Hira Bai’s difficult position summed up in the scene where the local zamindar (Ifthikar) tries to solicit her. “You think I’m a prostitute, he thinks I’m a goddess. You’re both wrong.”
In contrast to typical Bollywood heroine, it is heartening that Hirabai chooses her own destiny. Similarly poor Hiraman’s slow realisation of worldly truths is agonising to watch… “Chitthiya ho to har koi baate, baate na koi pyaar, Sajanwa bairi ho gaye hamar”.
A little old for the role, Raj Kapoor more than compensates with his performance. One cannot help but smile each time he blushes and goes ‘iss’. Waheeda Rehman responds with a captivating performance, one of her best where she gets to display both her histrionic and dancing ability.
Cinematographer Subrata Mitra brings out the lyrical feel of the film through some of the best black and white frames seen in Indian cinema. Shankar-Jaikishen’s folksy music flows with the mood and setting. In a score led by Mukesh at his melancholic best, Manna Dey’s “Chalat Musafir” stands out for its unalloyed rustic charm. No wonder, in the cow belt still no marriage procession could complete without this timeless gem.
A box office disaster, the film went on to win the President’s Gold Medal for the best film. But the irony is that Shailendra could not see the golden day. He passed away on December 14, incidentally, the birthday of his good friend Raj Kapoor.