I'm on a mission to watch all of Manmohan Desai's movies before the end of this academic semester, and unless one of the remainders* turns out to be an absolute dud, Kismat
is taking the prize for the worst of the 21 films he directed. It's not even the worst Hindi film of 1968 that I've seen**, but even with a ramshackle, mostly uninteresting script, it is full of missed opportunities. This is the last of only three films Desai wrote for himself, but it's a shock to see it right on the heels of Bluff Master
, which I'd call basically flawless. His next film, Sachaa Jhutha
, is his first with Prayag Raj, who is responsible for all but one of the rest of Desai's films (and all of my favorites)***—and those that I think of as embodying his primary values (interests?) of entertainment, inclusivity, community, family bonds, and gentle populism.
First on that list of miscalculations in this film is the casting of the lead actors: Biswajeet (Vicky), whom I find bland in almost everything, and Babita (Roma), who is consistently overshadowed by her fantastic wardrobe, just cannot hold a film. I watched Kimsat
, and she posed that the film would have been a lot better with Dharmendra in the lead. I agree, but I also wouldn't want to waste Dharmendra on it when he could have been filming something else, because this script is dull enough that even he may have had problems injecting any style or sparkle coherently. (Not that coherence matters too much in this film.) Ditto for Memsaab's suggestion of Sharmila Tagore or Asha Parekh in place of Babita; with a character who's supposed to be barely over 16 following around a strange man through peril after peril, there's nothing particularly worth exploring, even in better hands.
|I never realized I needed an apricot shantung cigarette pant suit in my wardrobe, but I do.|
In the comments on Memsaab's post on Kismat
, several people mention having liked this film as a kid, which helps cement my impression that it was maybe somehow aimed at children more than Desai's other works, despite jokes by the lead characters about statutory rape, premarital sex, and sharing a hotel room just a day or two after they met. The goofy, gadget-y car and its wacky inventor/owner, Jani (Kamal Mehra), who becomes Vicky's sidekick, are the major hints to this direction, but there's also a fairly consistent ignoring of the more sinister (and interesting) elements of the setup.
|This bobble-head dog on the front of the car holds a handkerchief to scent the missing owner and steer the car accordingly. That's pretty great.|
Roma has run away from home because her father (Babita's real-life father, Hari Shivdasani) has too many rules and she wants to see the world, but her travel bug is only mentioned one other time, and neither of those motivations explains why she decides to stick with Vicky, who has expressed no interest in traveling or in standing up to oppressive parents. The film opens quite spectacularly, with explosions, talk of enemy nations, and a villain lair with bleep-bloop equipment in its first minute, but the espionage angle too is only mentioned once again, and we don't spend as much time in the lair or with its chief resident, Scorpion, as I would like.
Biswajeet does some fighting against opponents like Shetty (both coated in mud) and a henchman with a hook hand; along with O. P. Nayyar's "One Two Three Baby"
and "Kajra Mohabbat Wala"
, these are probably my favorite parts of the film. But despite the constant chasing, there's little sense of real menace. This might be partly due to Biswajeet's acting, because baddies like Shetty and Hiralal play their parts fully—Vicky comes off as smug and blasé rather than skilled and cool. Neither Vicky nor Roma expresses much curiosity about why
bad guys keep popping up, making them seem dumb as posts. The script also lets down Vicky's credibility as some kind of major rock guitarist with actual knowledge of his instrument: he takes very shoddy care of his looks-like-cardboard-behaves-like-steel guitar, never trying to get a case for it and inconsistently remembering that it has a strap that would make it a lot easier to secure to his body when leaping from bridges. The one resource Desai uses well is Helen, who has a small but significant part as Vicky's first girlfriend, singer/dancer Nancy.
The underdevelopment and mismanagement are the most significant reason I'm so disappointed in Kismat
; Manmohan Desai can usually be relied on to over
develop things and to balance them exquisitely to delightful, fascinating effect. Kismat
is one of those films that seems like it might have had some scenes cut or lost along the way: more espionage, more backstory or reflection for Roma, even more backstory for Vicky. It's also largely devoid of the kind of moral lessons Desai typically loves. Nobody in learns anything, even about fate, and only Roma has any kind of speechifying (interesting that he assigned that to the very young heroine, actually, instead of the hero or a parental figure). It's vaguely patriotic—but very unimaginatively so. Like Memsaab says in her post: despite his involvement at more than the usual level, it's like Desai never showed up for Kismat
If you want to watch Kismat
(you probably don't), it's available on Youtube with subtitles at the Ultra Movie Parlor channel
* Janam Janam Ke Phere
, Bhai Ho To Aisa
, and Roti.
** Do Kaliyaan
, also starring Biswajeet.
*** I can't figure out who wrote Shararat.
Even the film itself does not list any names. Frustrating!