Bimal Roy

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, makes the mundane grand, celebrate emotions via songs, heighten the drama and leave 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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Sujata – The Voice of the Unheard

Film Analysis

Film Poster. [Source – Wikipedia]

“Woh humari beti nahi, humari beti jaisi hai”

(She is not our daughter, but we treat her like our own.)

Bimal Roy’s 1959 film, Sujata, sits silently and gracefully amongst his other iconic works, I say silently because of the story’s gravitas and the maker’s devoted yet subtle approach towards the social evil like casteism. Based on the celebrated author and journalist Subodh Ghosh’s short story, the screenplay is written by Nabendu Gosh and dialogues by Paul Mahendra. To the sauntering and soulful music of S.D Burman, lyrics, by Majrooh Sultanpuri, add emotions of innocence, love and pain, making the soundtrack unforgettable.

Revolving around the cursed concept of untouchability, the film presents the real, crude and prejudiced face of the society, iteratively hitting the theme, not only to highlight the flaw, but also to show how we can bring a change.


Story

Sujata, born in a lower caste family (the achoot or the untouchables), still an infant is taken in by a high caste Brahmin family when her parents die and there is no one of her caste in the village to look after her. Thus, starts the first chapter in Sujata’s life where as a curious child she finds it difficult to understand why her Ammi and Bapu treat her and her sister Rama –who calls them Ma and Pitaji – differently, why they never celebrate her birthday, why only Rama is allowed to study and not her.

Anxious and troubled about their decision of giving an untouchable girl shelter in their house, Ammi and Bapu first try to hand her over to someone from her caste, but finding that the man is a drunkard, they change their minds, later when she grows up a little they try to send her to an orphanage, but are not able to see her leave.

In a scene when Bapu falsely says that Sujata has high fever, Ammi goes running to her room and checks her fever only to find out that Bapu was teasing her, he laughs and says that she will have to take a bath now as she touched an untouchable (something which she had said to him in an earlier scene, when he had caressed little Sujata).

Throughout the half an hour long track of Sujata’s childhood, we see many such scenes where the kind couple feel torn between the responsibility they have taken up and the customs they are supposed to follow. Why is Sujata not their daughter even though they have brought her up? The couple avoid this question throughout the film, only to accept their mistake in the end and accept Sujata as their own.


Tittle and the Theme

The feminine Indian name Sujata comes from the Sanskrit word sujaat which means ‘of high birth’. An apt tittle, Sujata, in this story’s context raises the crucial question upfront without much delay – who is sujaat, who is not and who decides it? Throughout the story, the protagonist’s selfless and warm attitude only brings out the noble side of hers; she is a beautiful individual who can win over everything, but does not for she is told it is not her right.

Each and every frame in the film is used to magnify its theme as if trying to convince a stubborn mind that caste does not determine a person’s nature. This is shown ingeniously in one particular scene where an old man from upper caste comes to meet Bapu with his son’s marriage proposal for Sujata; he tells him that he is strictly against dowry, but will accept whatever they gift their daughter, he also makes sure that Bapu helps his son by investing money in his son’s business. All seems well, only until he gets to know that Sujata was born in a low caste family. The old man leaves angrily after rebuking Bapu for trying to trick respectable people like him.


Characters

Nutan as Sujata and Sunil Dutt as Adhir. [Source – Film Companion]

Sujata, played by the charming Nutan, is a vivacious, loving, uneducated, but smart girl who is the back bone of the Chowdhury family, working from morning till night, taking care of everyone’s need. In fact when the hero, Adhir (Sunil Dutt) fails to find Sujata in the house, to meet whom he has especially come, Rama tells him that it is not easy to find Sujata as she works like a clock, non-stop, handling all the household chores with perfection. Sujata’s likeness to the clock is again repeated when before Ammi and Bapu can ask for their evening tea, Sujata brings it for them; her Bapu says, ‘Sujata tu to is ghar ki ghadi hai’ (Sujata you’re like the clock). Clock that tells time, time that one must be aware of in order to work efficiently, thus, drawing a parallel between Sujata and the clock only highlights how essential her presence is in the house.    

The young Sujata, played by lovely Baby Farida, who questioned Ammi and Bapu’s biased behaviour towards her and felt jealous of her sister Rama, grows up to blindly accept her position in the family, position of not the daughter of the house, but of a cared member.

She is best friends with Rama and makes sure that she calls her Didi (elder sister). The relationship is presented very realistically; they fight, play and laugh together. Rama, who is studying in college, loves Sujata as her elder sister, never leaving one opportunity to praise her especially in front of Adhir. While Rama is infatuated by Adhir in the beginning, she, without making a big deal out of it, steps back when she sees Adhir has fallen for Sujata.

For our modern, progressive and educated hero, Adhir, it is love at first sight; he is absolutely smitten by Sujata’s beauty and elegance, he always talks to Rama just to enquire about Sujata and does not hesitate to accept in front of Sujata that he came there hoping to get just a glimpse of her.

Adhir’s love blooms in Sujata’s heart and she dares to dream; his comforting words astound her as no one had ever tried to understand her or even hear her out. Adhir tells Sujata about his dream where he saw her in a beautiful sari, with a Chandramallika (Chrysanthemum) flower in her bun and a red bindi (mark) on her forehead, overwhelmed Sujata says, with a pretty smile on her face, that the meaning of this dream is that Adhir is beautiful. What Sujata means is that one who can paint such a wonderful image of her, one who does not worry about the social labels is indeed a man with golden heart. Later, when the story takes a turn and they are forced to part, Sujata asks him to think that the Chandramallika of his dreams has wilted.

Upendranath and Charu Chowdhury, Sujata’s Ammi and Bapu, and Adhir’s grandmother, played by the terrific Lalita Pawar, who also happened to be a distant relative (aunt) of the Chowdhurys, are the ones who bring a rift between the two lovers. A staunch orthodox, Adhir’s grandmother frowns every single time she sees Sujata, in fact in the very first scene of hers when she picks up the baby mistaking baby Sujata as baby Rama, appalled and angry, she literally throws the baby away who is caught mid-air by the nanny, making a scene for touching an achoot.

It is she who repeatedly warns the Chowdhurys of a calamity that could fall on them for going against their religion and keeping an untouchable girl in their house. Talking about problems Sujata’s presence can cause in finding a perfect match for Rama, she even convinces them to marry Sujata to a widower from the low caste. Hopes of marrying Adhir with Rama overpower her and she gives an ultimatum to the Chowdhurys.

There is not one confrontational scene between Adhir’s grandmother and Sujata and yet it is Sujata who defeats her. When she is praying in the puja room, Adhir comes to tell her that he wants to marry Sujata and the fact that she belongs to a lower caste does not bothers him at all; in her rage his grandmother asks him to leave the house once and for all and decides to break all the ties with him, declaring that she will not give him one penny from her property. Adhir packs his bag and is at the door step when she comes running from the puja room and requests him not to leave, crying and accepting her defeat. She then goes to the Chowdhurys and tells them about Adhir’s decision. It is interesting that she does not have a change of heart; she merely acknowledges that she has failed, still refusing to understand that casteism is wrong. Unlike her, Ammi and Bapu, who have always been in a dilemma for they loved Sujata, but were also bound by social ties, in accepting their defeat also accept their mistake and welcome the change.

Apart from a scene or two where Adhir is explicitly talking about the evils of casteism, every other character portrays their beliefs rather than verbalising it; Ammi and Bapu always stay aware of not hurting Sujata’s sentiments, albeit they end up doing so and even Adhir’s grandmother always indirectly taunts Sujata, as if running away from her shadow. It is the brilliance of Roy and the writers that an ignorant Rama who is truly friendly with Sujata becomes the one who highlights the bias – her carefree and jaunty attitude hits a sharp contrast to Sujata’s ever present burden and shame of being a lower caste girl.   


Imagery and Music

A strong set of images are used to depict Sujata’s emotions in the film; every flower in the garden blossoms and sways when she is happy, the wind is gentle and soothing when she sings, the calm water and the small boat by the Gandhi Ghat (pier) appear like a painting when she is at peace, but when in a turmoil the wind blows madly, it rains heavily and darkness spreads, in fact Sujata herself chooses to be in the dark on two occasions, one when everyone is celebrating Rama’s birthday and the house is lit, roaming outside, she switches off the light and sits in the dark under the tree, second when she overhears Ammi and Bapu talk about Rama and Adhir’s wedding, she quietly agrees to forget Adhir, switches off the light of the hallway and walks away.

The background score and songs further underline Sujata’s state of mind. Jalte Hain Jiske Liye Teri Aankhon Ke Diye, Suno Mere Bandhu Re Suno Mere Mitwa, Tum Jiyo Hazaaron Saal, Saal Ke Din Ho Pachaas Hazaar and Nanhi Kali Sone Chali Hawa Dheere Aana are some of the hit songs of the film. The song Kaali Ghata Chhaye Mora Jiya Tarsaaye where she sings (after closing the door so that no one overhears) –

Hoon mai kitni akelee woh yeh janke/ Mere berang jivan ko pehechanke

Mere haatho ko thame hanse aur hasaaye/ Meraa dukh bhulaye kisee kaa kya jaye

(Translation – If only he knew how lonely I am, if he could hold my hand, laugh with me, it would make me forget all my sorrows, if it happens, how does it matter to you)

– here in saying ‘kisee kaa kya jaye’ (how does it matter to you) it is as if she is mocking all those who see her with disgust while she is just like them, a normal human being, capable of falling in love.


Gandhian and Buddhist Philosophy

The film criticises the act of untouchability time and again, sometimes indirectly and sometimes directly.

Mare kaise? Atmahatya karke? Kabhi nahi! Avyashakta ho to zinda rehne k liye mare.

(Committing suicide? Never! If need arises, die for the purpose of living.)

This is the quote written under Mahatma Gandhi’s statue at the Gandhi Ghat that makes Sujata think before taking any rash decision like committing suicide. Ammi’s words that she is an untouchable girl, born in a low caste family, nothing but a burden on them troubles Sujata so much that she leaves the house in the thundering rainy night and reaches the Gandhi Ghat. The rain drops are made to appear as Gandhi’s tears underlining that he is equally sad. She returns back and slowly the storm within her and the storm outside quiet down.

In another scene, Rama, in a play in her college, acts as Chandalika, the untouchable girl who was detested by all, but the Buddhist monk Ananda, by drinking water from her vessel, liberates her from this curse. Everyone except Sujata is present there and they all, especially Adhir’s grandmother, appreciate Rama’s performance marking vividly the hypocritical outlook of the society.

Also, when Adhir confronts his grandmother in the prayer room, he points towards the portraits of Buddha, Ramkrishan Paramahansa and Swami Vivekanand saying that they all did not discriminate between people and she should understand this simple truth.


Climax

Ammi works herself into a frenzy of rage as her biggest fear comes true, she blames Sujata for coming between Rama and Adhir and poisoning their lives like a snake. Ammi falls down from the stairs and hurts herself fatally. When no one else’s blood matches with Ammi, it is Sujata who asks the doctor to test her blood group. To everyone’s surprise her group matches with Ammi and thus, Sujata saves Ammi’s life.

Dramatically Ammi and Bapu also find out that Sujata is ready to sacrifice herself for them and has already asked Adhir to forget her and marry Rama. Understanding their mistake, discarding their doubts and wholeheartedly accepting their love for Sujata they call her ‘beti’ (daughter) and embrace her warmly, asking her to forgive them. The last scene is of Sujata’s vidaee (farewell), Ammi and Bapu marry her off to Adhir, an upper caste Brahmin, finally breaking the shackles of casteism.


Conclusion

Sujata was nominated for the Golden Palms at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, but it lost to Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. This 161 minutes long film that takes ample time to build its world, presents the theme strikingly, always keeping it in the forefront and uses metaphors to magnify its impact could make it, one might say, a tiresome watch. Also the melodramatic tone of the film could bother the minds accustomed to watching fast paced dramas. Nevertheless it is a must watch for not only is this a classic, but also because it is as relevant a film as it was back then in 1959; shockingly we have not changed much, intolerant towards a caste then, intolerant towards a religion now. Roy highlights this issue poignantly and drives the point home, effectively.

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


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