The Fool

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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La Strada And The Round-Faced Clown

Film Analysis

La Strada (1954). [Source – IMDB]

On the road you travel with the familiar and the unfamiliar together. Familiar landscape, known route, desired destination, accompanied by your loved ones and yet with an unfamiliar feeling, a comfortable anxiety, a strange pleasantness, a quiet freedom and a quiet fear. It fluctuates, this feeling, it dances.

Maybe it is ‘change’, for the road takes you on a journey and before you realise it, it changes you.

On the road with just the familiar is a routine and on the road with just the unfamiliar is an adventure, for Gelsomina it was the latter.

Federico Fellini, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, co-wrote and directed La Strada, Italian for ‘the road’, a 1954 film that also won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (first of Fellini’s total four wins in this category, the most for any director till date).

[Though spoilers cannot ever mar the magic of a Fellini film, still let me alert you that this article will analyse the story of La Strada. So go watch it first if you have not already.]

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The vagabonds, the circus, a fatal incomplete relationship, and the seashore – Fellini’s favourite elements to weave a story – all merge harmoniously to create a tragedy that stays with us in the form of Gelsomina’s round clown face and her innocent eyes, a sketch of whom, Fellini said, acted as the germ of a story for this film.

The excellent Italian actress Giulietta Masina, Fellini’s wife, played the role of Gelsomina. [Source – The Guardian]

Story

Gelsomina is not like other girls, she is a little bit strange says her old mother who has already taken 10,000 lire from Zampano and is begging her to replace her late sister Rosa as Zampano’s wife.

Crying her eyes out, the old mother cannot let go of her simpleton daughter, but has to do so as then she will have ‘one hungry soul less to feed’.

Gelsomina, her old mother and younger sister. [Source – IndieWire]

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The superb Anthony Quinn as Zampano. [Source – Media Life Crisis]

Gelsomina is confused but excited at the same time as she would get to visit new places and learn to sing and dance.

But when the neighbour enquires about her return, Gelsomina becomes quiet, she goes and sits in Zampano’s motorbike cart (a cart covered with tarpaulin, attached to the motorbike) and leaves crying and waving at her mother, her six younger siblings who run behind the bike-cart, shouting out her name and waving back.

Zampano’s motorbike cart. [Source – Classic Film Aficionados]

And so, in this sudden, brusque manner Gelsomina joins Zampano, a travelling performer, donning two hats, one as his clown assistant and one as his wife.

A tall, well-built, rough and rogue looking Zampano’s famous street act is to break a 0.5-centimeter thick iron chain bound tightly across his chest; Gelsomina’s role is to first build the tension by playing the tambour, wait for Zampano to show off his strength, and then to go around collecting money in her hat.

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Donning two hats. [Source – Wonders in the Dark]
Zampano in the middle of his act. [Source – IMDB]

Sometimes they perform spoofs where Zampano becomes the hunter, aiming with his rifle at Gelsomina the duck and sometimes Gelsomina the clown dances and Zampano plays the tambour.

While she stays dressed as the clown the whole time, Zampano alters his look from macho strongman to a silly giant, now breaking the iron chain, now playing a simpering buffoon.

And the journey continues, with performing for the audience being the highs for Gelsomina and spending money on liquor and women the highs for Zampano.

“I go away… back to my village… it is not because of the work… I like this work, I like being an artist… but I don’t like you”, says a troubled Gelsomina to a drunk and sleepy Zampano, who asks her to “stop the bullshit”; Gelsomina then leaves.

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Il Matto walking on a high wire. [Source – IMDB]

Reaching the town, she witnesses a religious procession, watches another street performer, Il Matto (The Fool), walking on a high wire, relishes these new experiences, her eyes gleaming with joy.

But this joy doesn’t last for long, as Zampano reaches there in his bike-cart, thrashes Gelsomina and leaves with her, shouting at the silent drunk onlookers.

Who can speak up against the short-tempered strongman, the brash brawn mind, the rude and cold-hearted? Who else, but The Fool?

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Il Matto played by the fantastic Richard Basehart. [Source – IMDB]

Zampano and Il Matto hit off on the wrong foot as Il Matto doesn’t stop giggling, teasing Zampano about his chain-act, calling him an animal, telling the circus owner that they indeed needed one in their circus.

In Roma, St. Paul, a world-famous circus Girafa, presents the audience with its amazing acts. Gelsomina, Zampano, and Il Matto perform on the same platform now.

Sticking to their traits, Il Matto jokes around with Zampano in between his act and Zampano chases him, swearing that he will kill him.

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Gelsomina, Zampano, and the circus owner looking at Il Matto walking the rope. [Source – IMDB]

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Il Matto interrupting Zampano’s act. [Source – IMDB]

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Il Matto training Gelsomina. [Source – American Cinematheque]

Later when Il Matto wishes Gelsomina to be a part of his skit, Zampano roars at him, warning every circus artist that Gelsomina will work only with him.

To cool down a grumbling lion, The Fool strikes again, this time with a bucket full of water and splash, he empties the bucket on Zampano.

Zampano chases Il Matto with a knife; luck favours The Fool as the police intervene.

With Zampano still in jail, Il Matto asks Gelsomina to work with him or join the circus crew, leaving Zampano for good. But understanding Gelsomina’s dilemma, Il Matto tells her that everything, even a stone, has a purpose, and maybe she is meant to stay with the poor brute Zampano.

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Gelsomina playing the trumpet. [Source – Little White Lies]

The journey continues and Gelsomina dreams of marrying Zampano, she believes they are meant to be together; the nun, whom they meet in a monastery where they take shelter for a night, also tells her the same, that “we both are travellers; you follow your God, I follow mine.”

But a reckless Zampano is too numb to think so. Moving towards a disaster, Zampano and Gelsomina meet Il Matto one day; a bitter Zampano hits him twice only to accidentally kill him.

Scared and shocked, he then dumps both Il Matto and his car into a nearby stream and runs away with Gelsomina.

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A troubled Gelsomina. [Source – IMDB]

“Il Matto, he feels bad”, says Gelsomina and cries every time Zampano tries to talk to her; she looks shattered, she whimpers or stays quiet.

Zampano asks her if she wants to return home, but she refuses to, saying that Il Matto had suggested her to stay with Zampano.

Travelling in a snowy region, after a gap of ten days, Gelsomina steps out of the bike-cart; a haggard Zampano tells her that he did not mean to kill Il Matto, that he should not be punished for an accident.

Wavering thoughts make Gelsomina enjoy the cold weather and then make her cry for late Il Matto.

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Before abandoning Gelsomina. [Source – Charles Matthews]

Finding Gelsomina sound asleep, Zampano, in his desperation leaves; he keeps some cash, her wears, and the trumpet by her side. He looks at her as he quietly drags the bike-cart, starts it at some distance, and drives away.

A few years later Zampano, now working with another circus group, living with another woman, performing the same chain-act, on a roadside hears the tune that Gelsomina used to play on the trumpet.

A woman who was humming the tune tells him that her father gave shelter to a strange girl some four-five years back and that she picked the tune from her. When he asks about her whereabouts, the woman says that she is no more; the woman asks him if he knew her, but Zampano leaves without saying a word.

That night a drunk Zampano, after having a fistfight with some people at the bar, comes to the seashore, washes his face, sits down, looks at the sky and breaks down. All alone there, he cries.

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Zampano at the seashore. [Source – Vague Visages]

Characters

Gelsomina represents the gentle femininity, one who always forgives, makes sacrifices and is loyal, and Zampano the harsh masculinity, one who is stubborn, insensitive, and also self-destructive; both are the extremes, lacking a balance.

Zampano made it a point to tell everyone that Gelsomina knows nothing and felt jealous if others praised her. At the monastery when the nun is left amazed by how well Gelsomina plays the trumpet (a tune that she picked from Il Matto), Zampano goes to a side and starts chopping woods, to show off his prowess.

He needed her, but could not admit this and thus, never changed his behaviour; in the end, he meekly chose to run away instead of facing Gelsomina’s honest eyes.

Il Matto, whose entry formed a triangle, though acted like a fool, laughing every time in a high squeaky giggling manner, understood them all better. Il Matto valued relations and he valued life, but nevertheless was a lonely soul.

As fate would have it, Il Matto and Gelsomina both die, and Zampano, reaping what he had sown, lives a miserable life.

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Even a stone has a purpose. [Source – SP Film Journal]

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Feminine Masculine. [Source – Film at Lincoln Center]

Music

The melancholic yet dreamy tune that enchants and leaves a listener yearning is one of the key elements in the movie; the entire score was composed by the brilliant Nino Rota.

First played by Il Matto on his kit violin, later by Gelsomina on her trumpet, the tune is a leitmotif that marks these two character’s inner voice.

It is through this nostalgic tune that Gelsmina’s inner voice is heard by those who listen.

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The perky track that introduces the circus appropriately captures the attention, alerting the public to gather around and get ready for the show. The element of humour in it announces the arrival of the fools, the jokers, the clowns amongst the crowd.


Theme

In a post-world war Italy, when poverty shackled the majority, the travelling performers set out to earn a living by entertaining the masses.

They left their sorrows, their losses behind and moved from village to village, town to town to sing, dance, and make others laugh. A huge responsibility shared by the marginal class.

Through Gelsomina, Zampano, and Il Matto’s lives, we got a glimpse of the world of the vagabonds, the gipsies, the outcasts. They were crude and curt like Zampano, simple and full of warmth like Gelsomina, witty and notorious like Il Matto; they restricted themselves to the periphery, mingling with the rest of the world now and then, living un-noticed, bringing their unique charm and performing spectacles only heard of in tales.

The nomadic still carry magical chalks, bordering the society, with us on one side and all of them on the other side.

On the other side, life is too unpredictable and ruthless; throughout the film, Gelsomina enquired about her late sister Rosa – whether Zampano treated Rosa in the same manner as he treats her, whether Rosa knew about Zampano’s affairs, whether Rosa had met Il Matto – she had taken Rosa’s place but never had wished for the same end. Alas, she had to face it too.

And in this way, the story completes a circle.  

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On the other side. [Source – IMDB]

Strange for the circus people and even The Fool was Gelsomina, the way she walked, talked, and especially her face; Il Matto in a scene says, ‘What a strange face! Are you really a woman? You look like an artichoke!’, and yet, this outcast amongst the outcasts was the most humane.

Gelsomina’s loving and kind behaviour is a reminder of what Margaret Mead, the cultural anthropologist, had said about civilisation –

“Margaret Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die … A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety, and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts.”

Quote from Ira Byock’s book ‘The Best Care Possible.’

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The round-faced clown. [Source – Fellini: Circle of Life]

La Strada

Directed by – Federico Fellini; Screenplay by – Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano; Story by – Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli; Cast -> Gelsomina – Giulietta Masina, Zampano – Anthony Quinn, Il Matto – Richard Basehart; Music by – Nino Rota; Cinematography – Otello Martelli, Carlo Carlini; Edited by – Leo Catozzo

Fellini in action. [Source – IMDB]

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The Thought

So that the brush strokes are fine, so that the rhythm is right, so that the planet follows its trajectory, so that the Universe meets the end, everything has to be done perfectly.

Not the type of perfection that binds you, but the one which leads you to Nirvana. For perfection, concentration is a must.    

One requires such a level of concentration that unites with the soul of the Universe. It then works wonders.

What is otherwise the glory of nature, the majesty of the mountains, the thunder in the sky? And evolution?  

Perfection is nature, nature is perfection.
Image – Pixabay.

Meditation is the key, the answer to everything.

In a quiet mind, the peaceful colours of the Universe shine and bring along the eternal power.

Just a touch of this energy makes the mind sublime and supreme, no matter if only for seconds, the experience is life-changing.  

If this is not Love, then what is? Loving oneself purely and believing that we all are one. The golden thread is common, it is absolute, it is present.  

I remember a folk tale about a fool who once stated that he could see a bright light in everything, in everyone around him. The fool found the brightness overwhelming, he danced until he died.

People did not bother much, after all, who believes a fool, though they later started worshipping the fool.  

Death of the fool became the foundation of a belief. The fool was a juggler, a perfectionist in his art. 


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