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Raj Kapoor did Teesri Kasam for one rupee, Waheeda Rehman did it for free but the film still ruined lyricist-producer Shailendra

Much like its lead characters, Teesri Kasam was a victim of its fate. Because watching it today, it is hard to decipher why a film with such emotional depth, popular music and stellar actors did not get accepted 56 years ago.

Written by Sampada Sharma | New Delhi |
July 2, 2022 8:07:02 am
teesri kasamWaheeda Rehman and Raj Kapoor in Basu Bhattacharya's Teesri Kasam.

When we are introduced to Waheeda Rehman’s Hirabai in Basu Bhattacharya’s Teesri Kasam, Raj Kapoor’s Hiraman calls her a ‘pari’. Her poise, grace and pristine beauty leaves him mesmerised and he is instantly taken by her. Hiraman is a bullock cart driver who has made two promises to himself – the first one being that he will never transport illegal goods, and the second being that he will never transport bamboo sticks on his cart. The film feeds us this information in the first few minutes and we are to wait for the titular ‘teesri kasam’. In the present-day scenario, Teesri Kasam could best be explained as a road trip film where two strangers – a male driver and a female passenger, forge a connection over a 30-hour ride. He has never been in the company of any woman who wasn’t related to him, and she has never spent any time with a man who did not have an ulterior motive.

Their long journey has them discussing their commonalities. She calls him her ‘Meeta’, a name given to those who have a similar sounding name as themselves. Their cores are similar but their place in the social structure is vastly different. He is a bullock cart driver who has been told to never watch nautanki by his ‘sanskari parivaar-walas‘ and she is a girl who dances in the traveling company with men assuming she is easily available.

Hiraman has a very black-and-white view of society. At one point in the film, he sings ‘bhala kijiye bhala hoga, bura kijiye bura hoga‘; Hirabai, however, understands the finer nuances of life. She oscillates between various shades of grey at her work so when she finally meets a simpleton who thinks of her as a ‘devi‘, she is amused. But as the amusement wears off, Hirabai wants to believe that she is the woman Hiraman imagines. An ugly encounter with a zamindar brings her back to reality, and Hirabai wakes up to the horror of it.

When Hirabai performs ‘Paan khaaye saiyaan hamaaro‘, Hiraman is left awestruck as he watches his ‘devi‘ move with grace and when an audience member starts making lewd comments, he loses his temper. It is in this moment that Hirabai comes into her senses and sees the difference between her and Hiraman’s understanding of life. Teesri Kasam released one year after Waheeda played one of her career’s finest roles in Guide. Both these women – Rosie and Hirabai – were seen as women with questionable choices at the time, but Waheeda’s portrayal of these women was so mature that despite the social stigma, these women felt way more relatable than the ‘adarsh naari‘ who was commonly seen in the movies.

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Both Rosie and Hirabai are independent working individuals who have made conscious choices. Like in Teesri Kasam, Hirabai dances for a nautanki company. At one point in the film, she admits that more than anything, she loves to dance. And although she is well aware that society looks down upon her profession, she is proud to earn an honest living, where she does not have to depend on anyone.

Despite having a superhit music album, which was a necessary ingredient for a hit in the 1960s, Teesri Kasam flopped at the box office. The music of Shankar-Jaikishan with lyrics by Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri, gave the film a musical-like quality as the songs here aided the storytelling, and were a part of the character’s storylines. The film was produced by lyric writer Shailendra who made the film based on a story called ‘Maare Gaye Gulfam’ by Phanishwar Nath Renu. Shailendra went into heavy losses after the film and passed away before it won a National Film Award.

Raj Kapoor had a special relationship with Shailendra and volunteered to be in the film for just one rupee. Shailendra was a new producer so he accepted the offer happily. In her book with Nasreen Munni Kabir, Waheeda Rehman had shared that Shailendra did not have the budget to pay her and when he told her the same with tears in his eyes, she promised him that they would never speak about money. Waheeda also discussed that the film’s tragic ending did not work for Raj Kapoor and he desperately wanted Shailendra to change it, but the producer stuck to his guns. In an interview in the 1970s, Kapoor had verbally dismissed the film saying that he did not like it.

Teesri Kasam was Basu Bhattacharya’s first film and was co-written by Nabendu Ghosh, who had previously worked on many Bimal Roy films like Sujata, Bandini and Devdas. Bhattacharya’s style, who had also been a part of these films, was clearly inspired by those works of Roy and while his later films had a distinct stamp of his voice, Teesri Kasam felt like an extension of Bimal Roy’s cinema.

Much like its lead characters, Teesri Kasam was a victim of its fate. Because watching it today, it is hard to decipher why a film with such emotional depth, popular music and stellar actors did not get accepted 56 years ago.

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First published on: 02-07-2022 at 08:07:02 am

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