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SAGA CORNER

Madhumati : Bimal Roy’s Reincarnation Saga

[Directed & Produced: Bimal Roy/ Story & Screenplay: Ritwik Ghatak/Dialogue: Rajinder Singh Bedi/Cinematography: Dilip Gupta/ Editing:  Hrishikesh Mukherjee/ Lyrics: Shailendra/Music:Salil Choudhury/Playback: Lata Mangeshkar,Mukesh,Mohd Rafi and Manna Dey/ Starring: Dilip Kumar,Vyjayanthimala,Pran,Johnny Walker,Jayant andTarun Bose]

Three years after Devdas (1955) had lit the marquee, Bimal Roy took up two lightweight stories both starring Dilip Kumar- Madhumati and Yahudi (1958), huge twin hits at the box-office. Ritwik Ghatak drafted his story in to the script for Madhumati with Rajinder Singh Bedi contributing the dialogues. It was the only celluloid collaboration between Roy and Ghatak that led to Bimal Roy’s biggest commercial success.  After Do Bigha Zameen, Bimal Roy was criticized for the Kishore Kumar starrer Naukri and Madhumati. Madhumati proved to be Roy’s biggest hit ever. The film was the 5th biggest film of the 50s. 

Dilip Kumar in his autobiography recollects that when Bimal Roy gave him the first narration, along with Ritwik Ghatak, the actor could sense Roy’s passion. There were others who dampened the coals by telling Roy that it was a risky film with reincarnation in layers that might be difficult for the viewer to absorb. But there was others like his editor Hrishikesh Mukherjee, who egged him on to experiment with a genre that offered wonderful cinematic prospects.

Madhumati walked away with nine Filmfare Awards of a total 15 awards that were given away at the 6th Filmfare Awards including Best Film, Director, Music (Salil Choudhury), Best Supporting Actor (Johnny Walker), Best Female Playback (Lata Mangeshkar), Best Editing (Hrishikesh Mukherjee)  Best Dialogue (Rajinder Singh Bedi), Best Art Direction (Sudhendu Roy) and Best Cinematographer(   Dilip Gupta).The Filmfare it truly deserved, that for story, went to Pt. Mukhram Sharma for Sadhna (1958). 

In 1958, Vyjayanthimala was nominated twice for the Filmfare Awards for two hits released within a month of each other – Madhumati and Sadhna. She won the Filmfare for B.R. Chopra’s Sadhna but Madhumati took Vyjayanthimala to stardom. Dilip Kumar had two releases in 1958 – Madhumati and Yahudi. Both were directed by Bimal Roy, but he was pipped to the best actor’s post by his friend Dev Anand for Kala Pani.

Madhumati was the first Indian film to be launched abroad. A bashful Bimal Roy created a sensation by performing the muhurat ceremony of Madhumati in front of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Theatre in Czechoslovakia. Dilip Kumar faced the camera, while Soviet actress Tatyana Konjuchova, switched on the camera. Polish actress Barbara Polonska acted as clapper-boy.

Salil Chaudhary’s reputation as a composer had stood the test of fire in his debut film Do Bigha Zamin he had also authored the story of the film to boot but Bollywood’s populist industry labelled Salil Chowdhury a flop music director. Bimal Roy worked in tandem with Sachin Dev Burman and Salil Chowdhury. SD Burman was busy composing music for Sujata when Madhumati was on the drawing board and was for Salil Chowdhury to compose! But the rumour mills were doing overtime that Dilip Kumar, Madhumati’s hero, was vehemently opposed to Salil Chowdhury as a composer.Salil Chowdhury and Shailendra were stumped, the thespian’s resistance questioned their talent, but the two buoyed by Bimal Roy’s unlimited faith created history. After the release of Madhumati, the Salil Chowdhury signed no less than nineteen films.

Salil Choudhary used Assamese folk tunes in most songs, like Chad gayo paapi bichuaZulmi sang ankh ladi or Ghadi ghadi mora dil dhadke. The film was an all-out triumph for Salil Choudhury is a fact that Lata Mangeshkar counts Aaja Re Pardesi from Madhumati as among her ten best songs ever. She confesses to love all the songs of Madhumati and recounted in an interview that it was a special day when the theme song, Aaja Re Pardesi was recorded as Shailendra gave her flowers and the reticent Bimal Roy not given to any praise came forward to congratulate her. The perfectionist that Bimal Roy was had reshot Aaja re pardesi because he was not happy with the results. 

Mubarak Begum (1936-2016) the legendary playback unfortunately could never cash on the success of a blockbuster like Madhumati. Her number, Hum haal-e-dil sunaenge, in Bimal Roy’s Madhumati (1958) is still remembered even 60 years later. She continued to live in penury in a small house of the Behrampauda area in western suburb of Jogeshwari in Mumbai, with an ailing daughter and a son, who worked as a chauffeur. Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilas Rao Deshmukh had sanctioned her a flat in Jogeshwari from the Chief Minister’s discretionary quota, with lyricist Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi raising the money for her flat.

Dilip Gupta (1911-99) had Mickey, Goofy and the Three Little Pigs singing a farewell song for him in a cartoon short personally drawn by Walt Disney when he was returning to India in 1935 after working for Disney in Hollywood. Dilip Gupta attended the New York Institute of Photography, worked at the Paramount Studios with Clark Gable and Greta Garbo, and trained himself in animation at Disney’s studio.

He received the first Filmfare trophy for cinematography for Madhumati and mentored Radhu Karmakar, Taru Dutt, Aloke Dasgupta, Apurba Bhattacharya, V Prabhakar, A K Bir, Barun Mukherji and Balu Mahendra as his students at FTII. Dilip Gupta himself had a great guru at New Theatres, as Nitin Bose.

Bimal Roy had decided to shoot ‘Madhumati’ (1958) at Ranikhet, near Nainital. This was rare as noir films were shot indoors, to give an image of ominous. As there were no monitors in those days, when the developed prints arrived many rushes were found to be foggy. Since a reshoot at Ranikhet would puncture the budget, a set was created inside the Aarey Milk Colony, Igatpuri, a forested area near Mumbai. To keep the film within the budget, Roy gave up his director’s fees. Similarly Bimal Roy had shot the Kumbh Mela to be used as part of a feature film Amar Kumbh ki Khoj, which sadly never got made. Incidentally the ambiance of the crowd in the Kumbh film was utilized as the ambiance sound of the mela scene of Madhumati by Bimal Roy! 

Bimal Roy’s marshalling of talent whether in extracting convincing performances, evocative cinematography, edgy editing or the evergreen musical score by Salil Choudhury to recreate mood and ambiance makes the film more than a riveting tale of reincarnation and revenge. The standard clichés that are in a typical Hindi Film Potboiler – A sprawling haunted mansion, hero learning of his past life, the naive and innocent village belle and the lecherous zamindar lusting after the damsel do not run away from Bimal Roy’s steely grip and he uses these elements to his film’s utmost advantage. 

Madhumati is the grandmother of such famous reincarnation films as Milan, Mehbooba, Karz, Karan Arjun and Kudrat.

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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