Storytellers

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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Journeying Backwards and Forwards and Sideways

 “The time scheme of the epic is somewhat puzzling to us who are habituated to a mere horizontal sequence of events. Valmiki composed (Ramayana) as if he had a past tale to tell, and yet it was broadcast to the world by Kusa and Lava, the sons of Rama, who heard it directly from the author.

One has to set aside all one’s habitual notions of movement and get used to a narrative going backwards and forwards and sideways.

When we take into consideration the fact that a king ruled for sixty thousand or more years, enjoying an appropriate longevity, it seems quite feasible that the character whose past or middle period is being written about continues to live and turns up to have a word with the historian.”

An excerpt from R.K Narayan’s book ‘Gods, Demons and Others’, Chapter 3, Valmiki

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The myths, the legends, the folktales, the epic victories and defeats, the deaths and rebirths simplify the reality of the extraordinary spirit – confounded and weakened often by tribulations or lulled by indolence – that resides within us all.

These stories take myriad routes, journeying from the world of Gods to the world of Demons, concluding on a high and happy note, introducing one to the game of life, entrusting then the secrets to win.

Every emotion makes an appearance here; ego clashes until it shatters to accept change; Gods create obstacles almost breaking one’s spirit, but blesses the resilient one in the end with immortality and splendour.

These unfathomable, and at times a bit ridiculous, tales are the means to measure the unfathomable, ridiculous reality we live in; these tales, the bases of our culture, our rituals and an amalgamation of past societies, lead us.

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Journeying through the circle of life.
[Image from Pixabay.]

Splendidly well-adjusted to change, it accepts deletions, additions, revisions without much hullaballoo. It revels in various versions and shades read throughout the country. Same gods-goddesses, demons, sages, avatars… often playing different roles, but embarking on similar journeys.

Written in a playful and ambitious tone these valued legends, retold by storytellers in every generation, are our inheritance; it holds a secret for every tenacious individual.

It is not a particular theme that is the moral of the story here but the journey, the journey with its endless possibilities and absurdities, twists crafted by the capricious fate and the supremacy of time that gives us insight into our understanding of life.

And such has been the role of the myths, legends and epics and of course, the storytellers and it continues.


The renowned author R. K Narayan’s Gods, Demons and Others is an interesting and engaging read, one that opens the gates to Indian mythology for one and all.


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Chapter II: Chiming Stories

I started blogging back in the year 2011 following my brother’s lead, unaware of the world of bloggers, without any plan of action, happy simply to write one, happy to share my stories on Home Chimes.

This is what I wrote in my introduction earlier-

“I dreamed of Home Chimes a long time back with my eyes open. Since then, I am on a journey to understand that dream.”

“I dreamed of Home Chimes…”
Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

It was indeed like a dream because I do not remember why I came up with this particular name. I remember that I wanted it to do something with the word ‘chimes’, but that was it.

After I selected the name and started blogging, I found out that there used to be a magazine in the late 19th century in London that was also named Home Chimes. And that it went out of publication around the year 1894. You can read about this magazine here

I was very thrilled to know that Jerome K Jerome was amongst the many writers who got their work published in this magazine. Such a wonderful thing it is, I thought. But then this new information made me wonder if I should change the name of my blog to be truly authentic.

I did not change it. The happy coincidence forced me to keep exploring the hidden meaning behind Home Chimes and to keep writing about the stories I became a part of.

From anecdotes to spiritual thoughts, from poems to film reviews, from comic strips to scientific phenomenon, I wrote about all that made me “curiouser and curiouser”. It started as, has stayed and will always be a lovely place – Home Chimes.

One fine day a simmering thought spoke to me, the devotion with which I write these blog entries and the joy that it gives me, it said, is immense, and I realised then that the blog holds a very special place in my life. Gleefully, I stepped forward. Neither a hobby nor a medium, my blog should be simply what I do.

I am a writer, I love the art of storytelling. And like lightening it hit me that it is time now to turn to the second chapter – Chiming Stories.

Tales of this and that world.
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Dear all, with much gusto I have begun and I promise that the second chapter would be a wonderful one. Tales of this and that world, of today and tomorrow… just to give colour to your thoughts and add rhythm to your flying time, ‘Chiming Stories’ is here to tell you a story. Oh! And a good chunk of it will be about the lotus-eyed one, because I love him.

From my dear old Blogger I have now shifted to the fantastic WordPress, the sound reason behind it is – I wanted a high-quality website and the complete freedom to create it.

Both the responsibility and risk are mine now. Voila!

“O muse, bless me that I write well and become the best in chiming stories.”

Amen! Ya-hoy!

P.s. – I apologise for the glitches you must have noticed (and will notice in the coming weeks as well); it is because I am still in the process of developing this website and am doing it all by myself, kindly bear with me. Thanks!

Ambitious? Yes.

Gori knows not where the path leads to, the wet air, the dusky flora, and the mysterious tunes do not guide either.

Soaking in the newness she walks forward.

And why is it that we always choose to walk ahead, why does not the uncertainty collapse us?

If we stop to rest, if we feel defeated, if we turn back embarrassed and ashamed, we still reach, in some time, at the glorious hour of a beginning.

The tired, wounded, and sullen eyes once again look up, once again fathom the depth, once again find the path.

Taking the rope bridge, climbing the echoing mountains, crossing the glassy rainbows, Gori saw that valley where her loved one awaited her.

The gush of wind cheered her, the dew heavy leaves blessed her, the clouds played the drums for her.

And why does it seem that the whole world dances when we dance and the whole world moans when we moan?

How come we hear the call when there is a concrete silence around us, when facts dispel hope and when dejection raises a toast?

In anger the head is alone, when rejoicing the heart holds it all.

The illusion rudely reveals the reality and Gori faces the brazen cold marshland.

What happened to the beautiful valley, to the lover’s promise, to the perfect dream? Hush! The monster rises, its shadow darkens Gori’s faith.

Thundering sky strikes with lightening that Gori catches with her bare hands. Heaving, she runs towards the monster.  

Why is life so epic, so grand, so ambitious? Why do the storytellers talk about ‘once upon a time’?

If the legends appear amused by the mundane, then how many of us are at folly for it is the ordinary that becomes extraordinary?

The tales have never ceased to be melodious, we live perpetually enchanted.  

Gori starts walking, leaving behind the triumphant air, gravity shining on her forehead.

She resumes the journey as a narrow track becomes visible to her now, a solo night jasmine tree on the way, showers her with its flowers, Gori takes its fragrance along.

Gori knows not where the path leads to, soaking in the passionate silence she walks forward.  

Are the night jasmines very ambitious to wait for and shower a victorious warrior and not anyone else? Yes, they are.  

The flowers are ambitious by nature.
Image by Marisa04 from Pixabay

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What Is So Grand In The Way Dragons Fly?

Eyes gaze at the grandiose being, follows its path, amazed and overwhelmed by the unbelievable. What is so grand in the way dragons fly? It is just in its element, it is its utmost self.

The dragons are awed by every mind that is familiar with its stories. Fire breathing, winged, snake like, four legged, cave dwellers, treasure keepers, proud and wise. Flying high above the clouds, quasi-free from bondage, they come back on the ground to quench their thirst. They don’t kill for joy, they understand the laws of nature.

Mythical or not, dragons are glorious creatures. I say mythical or not for a storytellers’ imagination is an entity in itself, very much alive, though in thoughts, formless and fluid, but true. Found in a story, the dragons thrive in this other realm.

Storytellers gave something more than just a pair of wings to the dragons, that something is splendour and beauty. Thus, right in the thought there was magnanimity and ferocity. What else is a dragon if not a magnanimous loveable beast? Ah, here is what sprinkles magic in a dragon’s story, they are loveable beasts. Our storyteller friends didn’t suffer, at least, and I thank every heaven, from poverty of mind; they dared to imagine and realized that nothing is more powerful than true love, not even a dragon.

So rhythmically every dragon’s story is about love; a hero either fights back or fights along the dragon and wins back her love/ life and is showered with unheard grandeur. Always a talk of antiquity, dragons are, but worth noticing is not the ‘antiquity’ bit, it is the ‘always’ bit. Always remembered, locked in the heart.

But what is so grand in the way dragons fly? It is just in its element, it is its utmost self. Exactly, it is its utmost self. Like the storyteller who thought of it with utmost concentration, power, passion and love. Maybe just for a few minutes the storyteller was in her element, she was her utmost self, and thus, she gave birth to the dragon.

These legendary creatures ruled the sky once upon a time, and they still do, just travel to their realm and witness how majestically they fly.  

Photo courtesy – Google