Jagriti Rumi

Spirited Away and the Art of Forgetfulness

Film Analysis

Chihiro, Sen; Spirited Away official poster.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – IMDB]

Chihiro – My goodbye card’s still here. Chi-hi-ro… Chihiro, that is my name, isn’t it?

Haku – That is how Yubaba controls you, by stealing your name… so hold on to that card, keep it hidden and while you are here, you must call yourself Sen.

Chihiro – I can’t believe I forgot my name. She almost took it from me.

Haku – If you completely forget it, you will never find your way home… I have tried everything to remember mine.

Chihiro – You can’t remember your real name?

Haku – No, but for some reason, I remember yours.

*

Those forgotten names, memories, thoughts, bemused glances, talks, ear-to-ear cheers, that sweet-warm feeling of forgetfulness and the forgotten tales complete us in the truest sense. Our best friends, these forgotten episodes, always stay with us, kindling our being with love. Absurd if seen with open eyes, pleasant when seen with eyes closed, our forgotten selves are immortal. And surprisingly these bond us strongly as a community.

A warm feeling of forgetfulness slips away and enters this community hoping to meet us one day. Just remember… remember if you want to meet such a feeling, it will come and surprise you.

Forgetfulness, a boon or a curse, every individual experiences it differently. One of such mystical experiences captured is titled Spirited Away, in a Japanese anime style by the incredible writer, animator, director Hayao Miyazaki.

Chihiro and Sen’s Spiriting Away is the literal translation of the Japanese title of this film. But how can a 10-year-old girl experience the “spiriting away” twice? Maybe it can be done by forgetting and accepting.


Storytelling & the Art of Forgetfulness

The journey beings.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – screenrant.com]

Folklores and myths, since ‘eternity’, have used the art of forgetfulness to complicate the hero’s journey and to open a gate to a unique never-heard-of-yet-familiar world; an enchanted world with flying mountains, a lotus island with tempting, misleading heavens, a charlatan with a devious plan, a monster masquerading and a memory trick that evades reality.

What is the art of forgetfulness? Surely something very delicate, absurd and too hard to explain. That we forget both good and bad days and yet remember it all when the need arises, that everything is stored in our subconscious and we forget what we must, to evolve, we forget and make mistakes and grow and bring a change… this is such an ephemeral art, and nonetheless, we have mastered it.

In stories, forgetfulness raises the stakes for a hero that it becomes a matter of life and death, bringing a drastic transformation.

Chihiro almost forgets her real name when working for Yubaba at the Bathhouse, Chihiro becomes Sen, but this helps her to be in the moment and give her best when trapped in the spirits’ world. She is worried for her parents who have turned into pigs and her goal is to rescue them and return back, but as if cut-off from her past, she works in the Bathhouse as an employee, searching for answers, helping Haku and others, living like her true self, making decisions without her parents’ guidance.

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Chihiro’s bouquet and a goodbye card.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – IMDB]

A very thin thread connects her with the real world, she holds on to it without sorrow or regret and moves ahead anticipating nothing, accepting every new surprise.

What Chihiro doesn’t remember about herself, we do and this information gives us an upper hand, we stick to it galloping blindly, trusting her at every step, waiting carefully for a breakthrough. The storyteller uses the art of forgetfulness to build a strong bond between the audience and the character via a short fabulous episode.

And so if someone asks, “why doesn’t Chihiro simply runs back to where she comes from or why doesn’t she take Haku’s help to escape”, we leap forward to answer, “because she cannot leave her parents behind and because Haku is Yubaba’s slave.” We know Chihiro only too well because we know something of great importance that she now doesn’t remember.


Thousand Questions

A purpose to fulfil.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – IMDB]

The Japanese ‘Chi’, when translated in English, means thousand and ‘hiro’ means to question or search. When Yubaba hires Chihiro, she steals her name, her identity, trying to trap her in the spirit world forever.

Your name is something that defines you throughout your life and Chihiro, having lost her name in the spirit world starts to forget about the living world. So she will effectively forget everything about her life of the living, who she was, her parents and basically everything she ever knew.

– Hayao Miyazaki

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Chihiro survives, she tackles and finds the untapped power source within, like the leaves of grass she holds her ground and even without a clear picture of herself and her name, she lives by it; she questions and searches without knowing concretely what she is looking for. She simply doesn’t give up and continuously reminds herself that she has forgotten something.

Initially hoping the spirit world to be nothing but a dream, later Chihiro accepts it without any qualm. Why? Because she is Chihiro, the one with abundance, thousands of questions, she is someone who has plenty of tricks up her sleeve, moves on freely, whose imagination is still alive, just like any other little 10 year old.

Adults, routinely signing their names on several documents well aware of its meaning, forget to live by it. Often begrudgingly they accept the plain perspective, effacing a possibility, forgetting their search, abandoning it altogether.


Haku, the Dragon

The old friend.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – mentalfloss.com]

Haku, the spirit of river Kohaku, serves Yubaba as she stole his real name “Nigihayami Kohaku Nushi”. He remembers nothing but the fact that he had met Chihiro when she was very little. He recognises her and helps her from the beginning, expecting nothing in return. Chihiro saves Haku from Yubaba’s cursed spells and liberates him in the end as a sweet warm memory returns to her. As a little child she had almost drowned in a river, but survived mysteriously; the name of the river, she tells Haku, was Kohaku. Immediately Yubaba’s spell breaks and Haku’s memories return to him.

A forgotten childhood memory, an upsetting one that must have left everyone (related to Chihiro) troubled, beautifully turns into a magical key setting a soul, a dragon soul free.

And in flashes when we see those episodes, those hazy childhood memories – good, bad – we realise how it has shaped us, how far we have come and how its randomness is actually a puzzle piece.

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A happy promise.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – IMDB]

Chihiro and Haku’s friendship represents the fragrant spirit of the romantic era (late 18th century); an era (especially Europe) that through its artists shifted towards a more imaginative and free life, valuing the sublime thought and expression, living more passionately, revolting against classicism and Yubaba like overwhelming Industrial Revolution.

Valuing freedom, both Chihiro and Haku, take risks to win it back, to win it back for each other. In a short span, they bond strongly, like one does with an old memory, not burdening their steps with the idea of remembrance, but only sealing their love with a promise to meet again. That is how they part ways.


Yubaba and Zeniba

Yubaba, a professional.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – myanimelist.com]

Two twins, one evil the other caring, Yubaba and Zeniba, act like a see-saw on which the story plays (and plays so well). Yubaba is not a dark character nor is Zeniba a saint; Yubaba is greedy, cunning and at times silly, silly enough to be tricked.

She may thunder when on a hunt or when managing the Bathhouse employees, but she becomes a tip-toeing mother of a giant baby (Boh), ready to do anything for him. She has flaws and this makes her a doubly interesting antagonist.

Zeniba, a kind-hearted smart witch, recognises Chihiro’s bravery and admires her amiable nature. Her presence assures Chihiro that Yubaba too is vulnerable. She supports Chihiro but not by snapping her fingers and resolving everything, rather by trusting her spirit and asking her to trust it too.

Zeniba – I am sorry she turned your parents into pigs, but there is nothing that I can do. It is just the way things are… You will have to help your parents and Haku on your own. Use what you remember about them.

Chihiro – What, can’t you please give me more of a hint than that…? I feel I have met Haku before but it was a long time ago.

Zeniba – That is a good start. Once you have met someone, you never really forget them, it just takes a while for your memories to return.

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Granny Zeniba.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – myanimelist.com]

Zeniba asks Chihiro to call her granny when at her place and later, Chihiro before leaving the Bathhouse thanks Yubaba and calls her granny too (leaving her annoyed). Things turn out to be in Chihiro’s favour by the end, as her memories return, she keeps no hard feelings against anyone, not even the antagonist.

Chihiro forgives and forgets easily, like children usually do, freeing her own spirit, feeling its happy push towards the next destination.


The Bathhouse

“And heave… everyone… together, heave!”
[©StudioGhibli; Source – filmofile]

Purgation, the holy ritual of cleansing oneself of the sins committed, is one ceremony that is celebrated in many religions worldwide. The Great Bath of Mahenjo-daro, built in the 3rd millennium BCE, had a special religious function for the Indus Valley civilisation according to the scholars.

The unrecognisable “stink spirit” who is Chihiro’s first customer is the spirit of a polluted river. She and her partner Len, Yubaba and all the employees at the Bathhouse work together to cleanse it; the free and happy river spirit, in the end, floats away, giving Chihiro a gift (a herbal cake) that she uses later on to heal Haku’s fatal wound. The purged river spirit also, like a mirror, shows Chihiro her forgotten memory, just a sneak peek of the incident when she had fallen in Kahaku River as a little girl – of how she and Haku first met.

Forgetfulness is not an answer, it is a stage, a brief mental stasis, that gives you a momentary way out or presents you with a leeway so that you can start your journey again.

*

Time to work and win the challenge.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – SHL.com]

The Bathhouse here represents a place where you can not only clean your spirit but also free it by remembering all that you have forgotten, ignored, absorbed, quietly accepted, helplessly agreed with. The bright and active Bathhouse, run by Yubaba, is strictly professional, always focusing on the guests need.

Amongst Yubaba’s employees busy running the business, elevators moving up and down, workers keeping the baths clean and the floor shiny, the spirits find peace; in all this loud drama, the spirits manage to find a way out, they cross the maze and pay the company for allowing them to play.

A contradiction for Yubaba steals names, removing an individual’s memory and the baths tend to remind a guest of her unique forgotten identity, the Bathhouse tirelessly functions to unite the community. Together and yet alone we all move forward towards the unexpected future.


The Spirits and Yubaba’s Employees

“Welcome to the Bathhouse, dear rich guest!”
[©StudioGhibli; Source – myanimelist.com]

In my grandparents’ time, it was believed that kami (spirits) existed everywhere – in trees, rivers, insects, wells, anything. My generation does not believe this, but I like the idea that we should all treasure everything because spirits might exist there, and we should treasure everything because there is a kind of life to everything.

– Hayao Miyazaki

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The animal, plant, river and other spirits, and the little dark soot-ball spirits, bring in, ironically, the element of permanence in the story. These forgotten souls never pause, they steadily keep acting, dutifully participating in the after-life drama.

The radish spirit’s gaze, the old river spirit’s thank you gift, the soot-ball spirits’ liveliness all help in solidifying the backdrop; it appears then that Chihiro has entered an ancient mythical land, where everyone has a job to do. That it is not a vague dream but a wonderful possibility. And the same goes for the weird looking frog-like men and women.

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Chi-hi-ro! Bye-bye!
[©StudioGhibli; Source – IMDB]

Every spirit and employee gathers near the Bathhouse’s entrance where Yubaba quizzes Chihiro about her parents at the end, when Chihiro wins, the spirits jump up and sway joyously. We don’t meet them once Chihiro leaves, but one feels that they must have gone back to work immediately.


No Face

Journey within a journey.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – screenrant.com]

A spirit that has no memory, no goal, waits in stillness and clings on to the first hope it gets, a hope to create new memories, to set a new goal. This is No Face, a very interesting grey character; vulnerable for it is clueless, dangerous for it has limitless powers.

When Chihiro, out of generosity, keeps a sliding door open for him to enter as it is raining outside, No Face quietly enters the Bathhouse with the sole purpose to help Chihiro; very soon it becomes greedy to fulfil this purpose – first by offering Chihiro too many herbal soap tokens and then by showering gold. No Face, hungry and out of control, starts swallowing the workers and creates havoc in the Bathhouse. Chihiro then feeds him half of the herbal cake gifted by the revived old river spirit, bringing No Face back to normal; it regurgitates all that he had swallowed.

This quiet, puzzled spirit then accompanies Chihiro on her train journey to Zeniba and later, agrees to stay back and help Zeniba.

How superbly then No Face’s journey points at the significance of memories and a purpose in life! And what an apt name it has got… No Face… purposeless, faceless, one without an identity.


Kamaji & Lin

The catalysts.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – myanimelist.com]

The spider-like six-armed, goggled eyed boiler man, Kamaji, is a character who never forgets, even if he does, he hasn’t got the time to remember what and when, because he singlehandedly runs the water-supply system in the Bathhouse, he and his little soot-ball spirits. Kind-hearted, but always occupied, wise, but always busy, Kamaji’s six arms, which can stretch indefinitely, also find it difficult for such is his workload.

Another character who hasn’t got the time to forget things is Lin; a human-like servant who is not less than an informant as she knows everything about everything. Interestingly, according to the Japanese picture book, The Art of Spirited Away, Lin is described as the spirit of a white tiger, she surely is like a free-spirited soul, rushing, resourceful and undaunted.

It is with Kamaji and Lin’s help that Chihiro survives her time at the Bathhouse; they are the ones who make Chihiro see the spirit world’s reality, suggesting her to adjust immediately and act quickly. And this is what Chihiro needed the most, to keep her forgotten memories aside and build some new ones for her own good. Action always leads to progression; it is the answer to Chihiro’s thousand questions.


Chihiro’s Parents

“More, more, more!”
[©StudioGhibli; Source –myanimelist.com]

Before Yubaba could steal Chihiro’s name and her identity, we get to meet her parents who are two lost beings, unaware of their true identity. Living on the borderline, they act superficially smart on a routine basis but get greedily excited on seeing something that they love – food (or whatever is free).

As they are hardly in touch with their inner voice, with every passing year they have learned the ways of the consumerist society, they are the first ones to forget the reality, leaving their kid with the responsibility to liberate them.

We are not supposed to hate Chihiro’s parents, they may be lost, stubborn, calculative, but they too can find their way back, all they have to do is remember what they have forgotten about themselves.

The fact that their greediness leads to Chihiro going forward all by herself doesn’t appear to be a stereotypical writing tactic because they immediately raise the stakes for the protagonist by turning into pigs. What if they are butchered, what if they can never return back to their human selves? Will Chihiro be able to save them?

These tense queries leave us with no time to wonder about any cliché, we are hooked to witness the unfolding of the uncanny drama. We forget the rest.


The Setting

The vast stretch of grassland, the well-lit restaurant market, the flooded river with big bright carrier ships, the Bathhouse building and rooms, the staircases, the pigsty, Kamaji’s boiler room, Chihiro’s dormitory, the witches’ dwelling, the railway track under the ocean and the dainty cloudy blue sky… the film’s setting contributes richly in making us feel the Chihiro’s “spiriting away”.

It is unique and dreamy, it is intense and crowded, scenic and sublime, wonderful and ridiculous and more… the setting makes the story believable and palpable in a brilliant way. It is a place we have never been, yet is remarkably familiar… like a forgotten memory.

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The spirit realm.
[©StudioGhibli; Source – ghibli.fandom.com]

‘Spirited Away’ is one of the most loved and successful anime of all time; a bundle of magical moments and surprises, tussles and raptures, it connects with our inner child, one who believed in dreams and magic and talismans…

It reminds the forgetful ones that they too can find a way out of the crudeness that ties them down, that the answer to their thousand questions and their endless search lies within, hidden in a forgotten memory.


Spirited Away (2001)

Written and Directed by – Hayao Miyazaki

Production Company – Studio Ghibli

Music by – Joe Hisaishi

Winner of Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (making it the only hand-drawn, non-English-language animated film to win the award); it was also named the second “Best Film… of the 21st Century So Far” by The New York Times.

It held the record of becoming the most successful and highest-grossing film in Japanese history for 19 years (Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train broke its record in 2020.)


Read these reviews to know more about Spirited Away

A magical dot over in the corner – Spirited Away movie review and summary by Roger Ebert

Spirited Away‘ at 20 – Review


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O Apache!

One summer gleaming morning, back in the 90s, a musician woke up, looked at the world maze and its commuters when a rapturous beat filled his mind… it was a fusion, a fusion of ragga and bhangra beats… the musician knew it was the time to sweetly twist the great razzmatazz of the world maze drama.

And so Apache Indian, the British Indian singer and reggae DJ, mixing cultures, tunes and beliefs, London to India via Jamaica, created a new wave that danced its way into stiff-grumpy-busy society’s heart. His funky hybrid tracks spoke bluntly but always with the spirit to bring a change.

Staying true to its roots – the reggae music genre is known to attack social evils – Apache Indian tried to arrest some fanatic dogmas and set free our handicapped progress.

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“High caste low caste, we don’t want that,

Everyone equal, let us decide that.

High caste low caste, Sanu ni chahida (we don’t want that),

Saare jaane barabar (we are all equal), Maano rab da kehna (listen to the one God).”

Caste System – Apache Indian; Album – Nuff Vibes

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“Caste System”, “Arranged Marriage”, “Aids Warning”, “Election Crisis” are some tracks that talk about an era and some persistent crippling ideas, all composed in an upbeat style. The very vigorous sounds of bhangra beats give these songs a desi, identifiable and yet refreshing touch; the east and the west amalgamates beautifully.

Then the peppy catchy dance numbers like “Boom Shack-A-Lak”, “Chok There”, “Don Raja”, “Ragamuffin Girl”, “Jump Up”, and “Celebrate” call out to all the listeners to enjoy the moment.

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No.1 in a the Bombay chart
Indian me a tear them apart
When me come me bring a new stylee
So listen crowd of people and you have to follow me
Chok there – them a ball when they see the Indian
Chok there – raggamuffin under style and pattern
Chok there – when me come that a different fashion
First tune a say me do no it reach No.1
In a the reggae charts and the Indian
Chok there – see me face upon the television
Chok there – hear me voice pon the radio station
Promotor them a come them a rub off them hand
Keeping a session and them want it fe ram
Chok there – put me name pon the invitation
Chok there – pon the gate go raise a million
Me bring a brand new style upon the Island
Fe the black a fe white and a fe the Indian
So each and everyone come follow fashion

Chok there – dip your knee cork out you bottom
Chok there – everyone in a the Bhangra fashion
Nuff DJ them a have a fe them own stylee
Some a wa da dong deng same a come follar me
And some a them a say Oh Lord a mercy
Pnumina ick pnumina do and also in a three
But anytime me came me bring a brand stylee
So listen crowd of people and you have to follow me…


Chok There; Songwriters: Simon Duggal, Diamond Duggal, Steven Kapur aka Apache Indian; Album – No Reservations

Experimenting freely and successfully, Apache Indian collaborated with many artists worldwide, from Sean Paul, Maxi Priest, Shaggy, Boy George to A. R Rahman, Asha Bhosle, Bally Sagoo, SteroNation and Jazzy B.

True to his craft – music is all about innovation – Apache Indian continues to create fusion music, uniting converse genres, fostering harmony.

It was in the 90s, a summer dream that came true… not a super-sonic era, but moving towards one, grooving and listening to Apache Indian’s music… that was created with a hope, adding a little bit of this and that to ragamuffin magic, a hope to become better… a hope that is still alive.

O Apache, we are listening.


Some of Apache Indian’s popular tracks –







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Moony Clay

Moon’s cloudy carpet.
[Image by Jagriti Rumi]

Now a clear dot… now hazy… mixing with the clouds through and through, then beaming alone gloriously. Splattering moony clay, then rubbing it, greasing with it the deep dark sky.

Mirroring all the romantics and dream-talkers, the moony clay moulds itself to fit into the beholder’s eyes and patient hearts. It listens, nods and registers its reply with the artist.

Moony clay – an assiduous storyteller, slowly moving away – happily builds the wavy waves and like a sand clock shows the slipping time its way.

Singing joyously, dancing leisurely, the moony clay creates and fills the heart with hope, lost in splendour.

See how it re-shapes, re-writes its journey, certain of uncertainty in knowing… in knowing it all. 


Images by Jagriti Rumi


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Fine-Tuning The Fears

Poem

Facing the fears.
[Image by Alexandra Haynak from Pixabay]

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No, not the fear of the ultimate ending

Binds or resides within;

It is the opposing voices cascading,

Confusing, crippling, caricaturing

Us and the peace within.

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No, not the fear of a sickness

Troubles or tortures the heart;

It is our hopelessness,

A steady bleakness,

And the habitual surrendering of our craft.

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No, not the fear of failure

Numbs or stuns the mind;

It is the snagging daily battle

Against the monsters of routine life;

Those are treacherous, lazy and anything but kind.

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No, not the fear of the invisible

Tricks or fools us;

It is our way to define,

Design and create

The heroes, the villains and the fuss.

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No, not the fear of the word fear

Lurks or creeps today;

It is our forgetfulness that steers…

… And suddenly, in haste one remembers

Fine-tuning life’s fears to Play.

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Tick-Tock, Time For Treasure Hunt

Tick-tock-tick-tock…

Match clocks!
[Source – Booked for Life]

Is it the time for the fluttering bird to take a dip in the tiny cool puddle, and for the other one, that flame-throated bulbul, carrying a silky grass leaf to that topmost branch of that lush happy tree, to finish weaving its nest?

And is it the time for the Oo slithery snake, zigzagging like a threatening thought, to just be itself and rest in the sun, simply meditating, with its uncanny sense of smell taking in the jungle’s fragrance?

And… and is it the time for the slim sharp golden jackal, dancing a slow jazz twist otherwise, to sit under a tree with a full stomach, attentive ears and a cheerful beam?

And ohhh… is it the time then… for the lion-tailed macaques, frolicking as a rule, to alert-a-l-e-r-t-ALERT all in the jungle about the royal king’s visit?

Is it the time… I don’t know… there isn’t a clock in the jungle that tells time. Is there? Yes, there indeed is.

The animal and plant kingdom are joyful disciplined folks, every species, diurnal and nocturnal, breathe in the jungle’s air, finish all its chores on time, maintain a balanced diet, sip water leisurely and quietly rests zzz…

They keep following the clock that shines up in the sky – they follow the shadows and the white shimmery light at night and the rhythmical wind and the damp, dry, crumbly and chilly seasons.

Clock in the Jungle (written by Ketki Pandit and illustrated by Sneha Uplekar) narrates in verse this saga of the punctual wildlife, revealing a powerful secret that every species adhere to by choice, the simple sweet habit of keeping the clock always running.


Tick-tock-tick-tock…                   

Listen to this another story that utters no word, that is as silent as a voiceless thought, behold its magic, it will enchant you, surprise you and remind you of the climate’s call.

My Friends Are Missing (by paper artist Keerthana Ramesh) is a pop-up book that introduces us to thirty endangered species in the world, delicate, quiet and tolerant beings, that are battling the climate’s challenge, positioned at the forefront, they continue to face the impatient and greedy world’s madness.

Just like in the pop-up book, these species with a functioning clock and a devoted heart, step forward in the drastically changing world where their natural habitats are transformed into a smog-loving, power-hungry factory that clickety-clack runs in the anti-clock direction, challenging the earth’s circadian cycle.

“The damage is ours, the curse is ours, the solution won’t come from the aliens”, said a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle before taking a dip in the Gulf of Mexico.

And what the elusive bird, New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar, commented in 1998 isn’t clear because it vanished before the reporter could pen-it-down and hasn’t been spotted since then.


Tick-tock-tick tock…

Our lovely home!
[Source – Kobo.com]

Only our blue-green planet knows where this elusive bird resides, but she won’t tell for she loves mysteries. Our lonely planet is not so lonely as so many hidden mysteries and stories unfolding simultaneously accompany it; our dear earth provides a home for all.

In How The Earth Got Its Beauty (written by Sudha Murty and illustrated by Priyanka Pachpande) Mother Earth, decades after the creation of the planet, disguised as a little girl meets three sisters – Sunaina, Shyama and Seeta – to find out if humans are living peacefully and she finds out that the three sisters desire for something else in their lives. Will Mother Earth grant their wishes?

The story emphasises values like patience, compassion and empathy, highlighting also the selflessness and power of Mother Earth; the author writes, “Whenever humans become selfish and uncaring towards Mother Earth, she makes her presence felt and restores the balance in the world.”

We, the forgetful ones, so often forget about our home, not the walled-well-lit-well-decorated-space, but the beautiful breathing planet that never forgets us even when it rotates ceaselessly, matching its clock with the burning star’s every aeon.


Tick-tock-tick tock…

It is time for a treasure hunt, go to the jungle and look for a clock, then walk in the direction its three hands (seconds, minutes and hours) point at, one day at a time, and look for the endangered species. Be patient and kind, focus on the treasure, the great grand treasure, value it, it is your home, your only home.


Grab these wonderful books now –

Clock In The Jungle by Ketki Pandit, Illustrated by Sneha Uplekar (click here);

How the Earth Got its Beauty written by Sudha Murty and illustrated by Priyanka Pachpande (click here).

And also flip through Keerthana Ramesh’s My Friends Are Missing

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Beauty in Perfection and Vice-Versa: The Japanese Take

Book Review

Seeing through a lens that sees things as it is, in its truest form, looking at a broken feather as a feather, not denying its reality, not giving it a quality, experiencing the moment quietly the Mother wrote about Japan. She wrote about its perfection/ beauty-loving people, the value given to nurturing kids, the dedicated women, the Japanese restrained-balanced-subtle art and the transient life.

The people, she observed, not via reactions, but by silent selfless actions showed how much they cared for someone; happy to persevere they worked to fulfil the task at hand, devoted harmoniously and absolutely in the present moment, aware about nothing else.

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Taking long walks to a garden in spring or autumns and spending time there or climbing the steep stairs to reach the monastery at the top of the hilltop, the people (of every and any class), she noticed, believed in beauty and peace.

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“…very simple people, men of working class or even peasants go for rest or enjoyment to a place where they can see a beautiful landscape. This gives them a much greater joy than going to play cards or indulging in all sorts of distractions as they do in the countries of Europe. They are seen in groups at times, going on the roads or sometimes taking a train or a tram up to a certain point, then walking to a place from where one gets a beautiful view.”

“For instance, in autumn leaves become red; they have large numbers of maple-trees (the leaves of the maple turn into all the shades of the most vivid red in autumn, it is absolutely marvellous), so they arrange a place near temple, for instance, on the top of a hill, and the entire hill is covered with maples.”

“Well, an artist who goes there will experience an emotion of absolutely exceptional, marvellous beauty. But one sees very small children, families even, with a baby on the shoulder, going there in groups. In autumn they will go there. In springtime they will go elsewhere.”

The Mother (Questions and Answers, The Mother on Japan 12 April 1951) 

Image of the Buddha, painting by the Mother.
(The Mother, Paintings and Drawings, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1992) [Photo by – Jagriti Rumi]

While reading about the 1919 flu and how the Mother fought back the negative, dark energy, one thinks about the present pandemic and hopes to win like the Mother in the end.

The glorious cherry-blossom trees in bloom – pink, white, vivid joyous pink – and the narrow paths that take one to wonderful places, with old Japanese houses on both sides, presented the Mother with a paradise puzzle…

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“Then you go wandering around – always one wanders at random in that country – you go wandering and all of a sudden you turn the corner of a street and come to a kind of paradise: there are magnificent trees, a temple as beautiful as everything else, you see nothing of the city (Tokyo) any longer, no more traffic, no tramways; a corner, a corner of trees with magnificent colours, and it is beautiful, beautiful like everything else. You do not know how you have reached there, you seem to have come by luck. And then you turn, you seek your way, you wander off again and go elsewhere. And some days later you want to come back to this very place, but it is impossible, it is as though it had disappeared. And this is so frequent, this is so true that such stories are often told in Japan. Their literature is full of fairy-lore. They tell you a story in which the hero comes suddenly to an enchanted place: he sees fairies, he sees marvellous beings, he spends exquisite hours among flowers, music; all is splendid. The next day he is obliged to leave; it is the law of the place, he goes away. He tries to come back, but never does. He can no longer find the place: it was there, it has disappeared!… And everything in this city, in this country, from beginning to end, gives you the impression of impermanence, of the unexpected, the exceptional. You always come to things you did not expect; you want to find them again and they are lost – they have made something else which is equally charming. From the artistic point of view, the point of view of beauty, I don’t think there is a country as beautiful as that.”

 

The Mother (Questions and Answers, The Mother on Japan 12 April 1951) 

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Complement this short spiritual post with similar posts – The Journey and Sri Aurobindo.

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Together We Enjoy Enjaami

Prose Poem

Kindly listen to the track before you start reading.

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Unabashedly bold and free, vivacious and ebullient, adamant like the silent stone, transforming every micro-second, Nature rules… and the ones living close to it celebrate and sing, enjaaee enjaami

Flowers shining bright, the rich yellow, orange, mahogany, red and white, the bugs, caterpillars and flies, the upside-down dancing struggling beetles, the sun-soaked green leaves, together – even when captured in a glorious painting – sing enjaaee enjaami…

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Rich yellow… shining bright.
[Image by AdelinaZw from Pixabay]

Whose is this land, this divided piece, this circled boundary, that 12 acres, that mango orchid, that dry-wet soil, that cool-cool well, that fragrance casting spell… certainly it doesn’t belong to the ones who toil round-the-clock and sing, enjaaee enjaami…

Festivities when unearthed by bare hands, the swaying harvest and booming lives of the lords, shacky mud-roofed huts full of laughs and cries… all sing enjaaee enjaami…

Grandmas and old voices together have knitted the folktales, passing it with pickles and homemade sweets, carrying it closer than a life lesson, breathing it day and night, walking and singing enjaaee enjaami…

Like a tree, like a giant tree, full of flowers, then fruits and seeds, then sweat and blood, patiently bowing, accepting it all… walks an old bent figure, bare feet, singing enjaaee enjaami…

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Turn around, don’t flee…
[Image by Couleur from Pixabay]

Jackals, parrots, elephants, reptiles, dogs, cats, butterflies… give their share back, turn around, don’t flee… those sitting on margins know Noah and the King, then who will ultimately sink? I sing enjaaee enjaami…

The fiery soul that burns itself, weeding the flower bed and burning the dead, it runs the life, it spins the earth, decorating the darkness, breathing lightly it sings enjaaee enjaami…

So how can you forget, threaten, betray, walk astray…? Come, not in repentance but acceptance for then your blinded eyes will see the majestic drama, lament if you must, cry and shed it before you sing enjaaee enjaamee…

So listen, listen to the storyteller, the old voice-heart beats well, this beat matches your beat and look, your mind watches you sing enjaaee enjaami…


Enjoy/ Enjaaee (my dear mother/ dear lady) Enjaami (my feudal lord, master) Vango Vango Onnagi (come together to reap the bounty of nature).

This wonderfully powerful Tamil song is sung by Dhee and rapper Arivu (who has also written it); the song revolves around Tamil migrants (and labourers and all our ancestors) who toiled on lands but always remained landless and suffered due to poverty; the song emphasises on how the earth, the nature is for all living beings and not for the wealthy class/ caste.

This thought-provoking, globally popular number, asks us blatantly to check if we are hurrying in the right direction.


Decode Enjoy Enjaami, read these articles –

What Arivu’s Enjoy Enjaami Tells Us About the Cultural Resistance to Caste

Enjoy Enjaami a tribute to Tamil plantation labour

Enjoy Enjaami – A welcome start, say Sri Lanka’s Malaiyaha Tamils

Enjoy Enjaami: Deconstructing the Politics Behind Arivu and Dhee’s Latest


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Whiplash Victory Tuning

Film Analysis

Andrew VS Fletcher; a still from the film Whiplash.
[Source – denofgeek.com]

Drums can be heard in a long corridor, with several doors on both sides, that runs till the very end and opens into the last room where the drummer is playing… no, say practising, practising like Buddy Rich, practising until corrected, practising until mastered… this incredibly clever tune, ‘Whiplash’.

Damien Chazelle’s 2014 drama film Whiplash revolves around a passionate jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (played by Miles Teller) and his perfectionist jazz instructor (played by J. K Simmons); one dreams of becoming great, the other demands greatness; one is hopeful, the other is ruthless; when out-of-tune, they clash, when in sync, they dance.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement.

T.S Eliot (Four Quartets: Burnt Norton)

Here, T.S Eliot is talking about that state of mind where not so overwhelmed by it, we make peace with it; Whiplash the film is also about Andrew Neiman’s state of mind which when at peace, allows him to create magic, to dance, to play harmoniously perfect.


Whiplash highlights the protagonist’s internal journey beautifully, in fact, that is all we see – Andrew’s internal dilemmas, struggles, failures and the shining sudden victory. The writer-director very carefully places us within Andrew’s mind.

In the opening scene of the film, Andrew is playing the drums alone in a classroom when he notices that the best teacher in the music school – Terrance Fletcher – is watching him.

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Andrew – (stops playing) I’m sorry…

Fletcher – No, stay…What’s your name?

Andrew – Andrew Neiman sir.

Fletcher – What year are you?

Andrew – I’m a… first year.

Fletcher – You know who I am.

Andrew – Yes sir.

Fletcher – So you know I’m looking for players.

Andrew – Yes sir.

Fletcher – Then why did you stop playing?

Andrew Neiman starts playing… then stops.

Fletcher – Did I ask you to start playing again?

Andrew – I am sorry…

Fletcher – I asked you why you stopped playing and your version of an answer was to turn into a wind-up monkey…

Andrew – Sir I thought…

Fletcher – Show me your rudiments.

Andrew – Yes, sir… (Starts playing… stops.)

Fletcher – Double-time swing… (Andrew starts playing) no, double-time… double it… faster… faster…

Andrew Neiman plays… in a few seconds he hears the door shut loudly. Andrew is disappointed… Right then Fletcher comes back inside.

Fletcher – Oopsy Daisy! I forgot my jacket. (Takes his jacket and leaves.)

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Watch the opening scene here –


While the Andrew VS Fletcher drama unveils, Fletcher the perfectionist starts to appear more like Andrew’s inner critic especially in those scenes where he is practising; the setting, the lighting, the mood and the music makes it look like a void where either jazz or Fletcher’s authoritative voice plays dominantly.

“Don’t be harsh on yourself”, we often tell this to ourselves as sometimes our inner critic can harm us more than an outsider. The antagonist, Fletcher, is equally harsh and critical; a student when talking about Fletcher’s reputation mentions how he is known for making or ending one’ career.

So who wins here, Fletcher the antagonist or Fletcher, Andrew’s inner critic? The answer is both.

Like a pompous self that often praises itself, there are scenes when Fletcher praises Andrew; initially friendly, Fletcher encourages him to play well and tells him how Jo Jones threw a cymbal at Charlie Parker’s head, and how that incident made Parker work insanely hard; later on, like a strict-discipline-loving-freak-self, Fletcher, during a practice session, throws a chair at Andrew, warning him not to dare spoil his bands’ image.

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Killing it!
[Source – highonfilms.com]

Fletcher personifies Andrew’s obsession to be a great drummer – he works hard, accepts Fletcher’s treatment even when he starts to resent him.

The internal journey of the protagonist overpowers the antagonist, but not in a negative way; it only boosts the antagonist’s authority over the protagonist; it feels like another side of Andrew is working hand in gloves with Fletcher.

The secondary characters too reflect the protagonist’s internal journey.

Andrew does not like his father’s mediocre mentality (Fletcher is the one to fan the flames by mentioning it repeatedly that his father is not a true “writer” and that is probably why Andrew’s mom left him), nor does he understands his girlfriend Nicole’s attitude towards life – how is it that she does not know what she wants in life – he loathes mediocrity and it is evident from his behaviour.

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Nicole and Andrew.
[Source – moviemaker.com]

In a scene where Andrew, his dad and some guests are having dinner, an argument breaks out where his father, talking about the musician Charlie Parker says –

“Andrew’s Father (Jim) – Dying broke and drunk and full of heroin at the age of 34 is not exactly my idea of success.

Andrew Neiman – I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remember who I was.”

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Watch the dinner scene here –


Even though the secondary characters’ role is nominal, yet this does not weaken the story.

They do have a voice of their own though we do not hear it clearly and that is because the protagonist is not ready to accept their version of the life. Andrew’s obsession does not leave any choice for them but to only listen to him as the core of the film is about this very obsession; the subdued self of these secondary characters, thus, appears to be their actual state.

Andrew is obsessed with the thought of becoming the next great drummer so much so that he refuses to value the external life which consequently starts to fall apart – he has arguments with his father, he also breaks up with Nicole – and this then affects his internal life; he practices day in and out, but one single mistake and Fletcher replaces him with another drummer.

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Giving it all!
[Source – thetake.com]

Unable to thread the needle, Andrew first gets irritated with himself for not working hard enough and later on with Fletcher whom he literally attacks.

The result is that he is dismissed from the music school (the best in the country); devastated, he agrees with his dad and secretly files a complaint against Fletcher.  

When awakened in the external world, Andrew internally goes into a hiatus. The setting shifts from the dark rooms to brighter ones and to open places.

The story approaches the climax and the internal journey, after the short hiatus, takes over once again. Climax scenes are about Andrew meeting Fletcher, who has been expelled from the music school and is now forming a freelance jazz band; he offers Andrew a position.

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Approaching the climax.
[Source – basementrejects.com]

Now the internal journey resumes from the same point of tension where Andrew had left it – Fletcher hates Andrew and tells him that he knows it was he who framed him, but reveals it on the stage, just a few seconds before the performance, leaving Andrew utterly shocked.

Andrew is defeated by the antagonist, he plays the drums foolishly and finally gets up and goes backstage where his dad waits for him feeling sorry; but because Fletcher is not just an antagonist but also Andrew’s inner self, his obsession – it pulls Andrew back on the stage. He starts playing the drums not worrying about Fletcher’s threats.

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Final performance part 1 and 2, watch here –

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This transformation in Andrew may appear to be sudden but is not so; this is an internal transformation that forges gradually.

Andrew transforms in this last scene – he overpowers his fears – he plays flawlessly – so much so that Fletcher recognises his genius at this moment and joins him and together they play a fantastic jazz number (Caravan). As Fletcher reflects Andrew’s inner self, he does not object to this transformation in him and accepts Andrew’s victory quite happily.

Drumming passionately, just like he did in the first scene of the film, Andrew’s story comes to a close; this time he just doesn’t play the tune, he lives it.

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She, the Infinite

A Poem

She, in red!
[Image by Gil Dekel from Pixabay.]

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For building a house, thought God,

What could be the strongest element to mix

In the foundation so that the house wins over Time?

What could be infinite in nature, powerful and rejuvenating

So that the house nurtures love, peace and joy,

So that the flames of birth and death doesn’t sicken or weaken

This house called the Universe?

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“There is nothing as alive as the feminine part of me,

It is infinite, supreme and divine;

My lovely equilibrium, my alighted spirit,

Fulfil this task, rise-o-infinite!”

-Said God.

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And so the house called the Universe was built with feminine power at its core.

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Madhumati – A Mesmerising ‘Tale Within A Tale’

Film Analysis

The Archetypal World of Madhumati

‘Madhumati is one of the most successful films of the legendary filmmaker Bimal Roy. A revenge-drama, thriller, romantic, mystery film, it presented to the audience, who had already seen Mahal in 1949, the idea of reincarnation in a more believable manner.

The highest-grossing Hindi film of 1958, Madhumati’s story was written by one of the most influential Bengali filmmakers and screenwriter Ritwik Ghatak, while the prolific Urdu novelist Rajinder Singh Bedi wrote the dialogues. The melodious soundtrack was composed by Salil Chowdhury and the lyrics were penned by Shailendra. The film won nine Filmfare Awards and the National Film Award for the Best Film in Hindi.

The duo, Roy and Ghatak, created a piece that has inspired every Hindi film dealing with the theme of reincarnation. Let us try to understand the novelty of the screenplay of Madhumati.


The Hook

The storytellers often use a literary device – hook or narrative hook – at the very beginning of a story to immediately grab the viewer’s attention; the starting sequence of Madhumati is a brilliant example of this.

On a dark, rainy night, the hero (Dilip Kumar), along with his friend, is on his way to a railway station. The thunderstorm, mountainous road and hero’s restlessness creates tension; he tells his friend that he does not want his wife and child to wait at the platform on such a night. Thus, the story hooks the viewer instantly, so much so that one involuntarily starts expecting something dramatic that will stop the hero from reaching on time. This hunch proves right; a landslide compels the hero and his friend to take shelter in an old mansion until the driver can fetch a few men from a nearby village.

The Haveli’s door creaks open itself, an old man comes walking towards them with a lantern in his hand, his ghostly expressions and the overall setting subtly triggers the mysteriousness that will be present throughout the story; subtly because logic is still entertained here – the old man explains that he opened the ‘automatic’ door which has a switch in the hall.

Until now the audience is with the anxious hero, worried for him that something external, probably a spirit, might cause him harm, but as the hero starts recognizing the place as if he had been there before, the audience detaches itself to observe the hero more objectively. This is the writer’s masterstroke that in a few minutes the audience connects with the hero and in another second sits back to listen to the hero’s saga.

The saga links the hero with the Haveli, with a particular portrait and with a girl’s voice that only he can hear. The wild storm sets the mood for a revelation; the girl’s sob leads the hero to a portrait that he claims he had painted; it is the painting of the late owner of the Haveli, Raja Ugranarain (Pran) and thus, the hero starts to narrate as he remembers his past life’s story.


The Flashback

The entire love story, the twists and turns, the climax; happen in the flashback. The melodious songs, the scenic surroundings build the atmosphere of otherworldliness and the enchanting love story hypnotises and makes one forget that it is a tale within a tale. Anand (Dilip Kumar) meets Madhumati (Vyjayanthimala). He is struck by her beauty and simplicity, she is charmed by his bravery and honesty; the city-bred Babu, boasting the egalitarian progressive ideas, is not threatened by his colleagues who worship the corrupt and biased elite class.


The Archetypal Characters

An archetypal character has come to be considered a universal model. Archetypes are found in mythology, literature, and the arts, and are largely unconscious image patterns that cross-cultural boundaries. All the main characters in Madhumati are archetypes.

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The Hero – Anand (Dilip Kumar) & The Villain – Raja Ugranarain (Pran).
[Source – cinestaan.com]

Raja Ugranarain is an archetypal villain whose sole purpose is to oppose the hero; in every scene, his inherent wickedness is highlighted. For example, in his entry scene, riding on a horse he almost crushes a little child when Anand comes and saves the child on time. He is arrogant and behaves rudely with his servants, treating them as his slaves. When he sees the alluring Madhumati for the first time, he attempts to grab her but fails.

Considering himself to be invincible because of his wealth, all he knows is to seize. He goes to every extent to get Madhumati and once he traps her in the Haveli, he tries to rape her. After she jumps from the terrace, he, showing no remorse, makes sure that her dead body is buried in the jungle. In the end, when he is cornered by Anand and Madhumati’s spirit he admits to his crime and is, subsequently, arrested by the police.

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The Fool – Charan (Johnny Walker) & The Rebel – Madhumati (Vyjayanthimala).
[Source – cinestaan.com]

Charan (Johnny Walker) is Anand’s valet who is given the archetypal role of the Fool (for comic-relief) in the story. He often warns Anand not to trust anyone or mingle with the wrong sorts, but mainly cares only for a drink. Through a satirical song, he questions the questioning society and reminds the viewers that evil thoughts and actions are more harmful than alcohol. He does support Anand when he is devastated, but never leaves his character trait. The scene in which he urges a psychic to help Anand puts him back in command as the comedian and after doing his bit by the climax this character exits the story.

Similarly, Anand is a true Hero with the archetypal qualities of being kind as well as brave. He will do anything to help others and kill or die for his love. Throughout the story, Anand, directly and indirectly, keeps challenging the villain. He takes a stand for the downtrodden and is not afraid of the king.

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Anand (Dilip Kumar).
[Source – cinestaan.com]

When Madhumati dies, in his anger he attacks Raja Ugranarain in the Haveli who is enjoying a dance performance. Anand beats up Ugranarain, but soon his goons take over him. The hero is defeated and a period of lull passes; just as an insane man, he runs around looking for his love, until one day he finds a girl – Madhavi – who looks exactly like Madhumati.

Anand then regains his strength and plans wisely; he acts like a repenting man and requests Ugranarain to let him make a painting of his so that he can earn something.

Anand and Madhumati trick Ugranarian to speak the truth and thus, after hearing his confession the police arrests him. Alone with Madhumati, Anand realises that it is Madhumati’s spirit that helped him and not her look alike Madhavi. Anand follows her and jumps off the roof to meet his love, his Madhumati.

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Madhumati (Vyjayanthimala).
[Source – cinestaan.com]

Madhumati is the archetypal rebel – the one who cannot be tamed; she is innocent and full of warmth, but also strong and independent unlike the usual heroines of the 50s. She is portrayed as the queen of the jungle (she is after all the tribal chief’s daughter) running around in the forest, leaving behind the hero who is not used to the tribal ways. In a scene, when the hero asks her if she is not afraid to return to her house through the forest at night, she laughs loudly at the question and then leaves. Confidently, she takes the hero to her father who, upon finding out that Anand works for Raja Ugranarian, warns her never to meet him again, but this does not stop her and later Madhumati herself asks Anand if he would marry her.

Overshadowing a tragic episode, Madhumati tells Anand that she was never afraid of death, but she is now as she wants to live for Anand’s sake. Immediately after this, she is ambushed and trapped in the Haveli; there too instead of giving in, she chooses to end her life and thus, jumps off the terrace.

Madhavi, not just by looks but by character traits, is also like Madhumati. She represents the modern woman, who after knowing the truth, decides to help Anand.


Songs

The complete album of Madhumati, composed by Salil Chaudhary, was a super-hit becoming one of the many reasons for the film’s massive success. Songs like Aaja Re Pardesi, Suhana Safar Aur Ye Mausam Haseen, Dil Tadap-Tadap Ke Keh Raha Hai, Chadh Gayo Paapi Bichua, Jungle Mein Mor Nacha in the voices of the legends like Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi and others added to the strength of the story. Shailendra’s brilliant lyrics worked superbly with the tribal folk music, giving the film an authentic appeal.

Suhana safar aur ye mausam hansi, humey dar hai hum kho na jaye kahin (a wonderful journey and this beautiful weather, I am afraid that I might get lost)… this melodious number sung by the hero is like an introductory song, he is welcoming himself and the viewer to the picturesque landscape which is so fascinating that one can get lost in its vastness. The stanzas talk about how the hero is hopeful that all his dreams might come true in this magical place, and so it does, as he meets the love of his life, Madhumati, here.

The mystical song – Aaaja re pardesi, main to kabse khadi is paar ki akhiyan thak gayi panth nihaar (Come O parted-lover, I have been standing here for so long, my eyes are tired of staring down the path) – has become a symbol of unfulfilled love yearning to reunite in life or death.

List to this mystical track now –

Dreamy melody, dreamy lyrics, dreamy picturisation!

Conclusion

Madhumati is a landmark film, every aspect of it complements the other; the scenery and the sequences shot in the studio are compelling and the images are very powerful. The only scene that appears as a misfit is the last scene when Divender (Dilip Kumar) meets Radha (Vijayanthimala) at the railway station, Radha does not say a word, but is happy to see Divender who, as if to underline the theme, tells her how they are meant to be partners in every lifetime. The film ends as we see the little child smiling happily at his parents. According to an online article Ritwik Ghatak never wrote this last sequence, which probably means that the film ends in the mansion where Divender says that he has finally got his Madhumati in the present birth as his wife Radha.

Madhumati is a fantastic study of Hindi cinema as it shows how our storylines incorporate mysticism in romances, make the mundane grand, celebrate emotions via songs, heighten the drama, leaving the audience enthralled. The greatly detailed script of Madhumati gives it superb clarity and makes it a compulsory study for a screenwriter.


[Originally written for the Screenwriters Association (SWA), you can check the same here.]


Complement with another post on archetypal characters in a South Korean show Arthdal Chronicles.


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