#43 #Scriptors100BestFilms #Madhumati

When we talk of Film Noir, the first image to come to our mind is of a foggy path in a dark-n-cloudy atmosphere and of course… the silhouettes. Do you know which Indian film first tried this genre? Of course, now since you know the topic already, you’ll say Madhumati. (You don’t get any point for this guess) Madhumati is immortalized in Indian Cinema for its enigmatic yet beautiful shots and enchanting songs (especially Lata’s).

We all know the story of Madhumati. It has been remade (and ‘badly’ remade, a.k.a. Om Shanti Om) many times. But what’s the story ‘behind’ Madhumati?

Well, Bimal Roy, one of the ‘biggies’ of Indian Cinema of all time, was particularly known for his realistic films that dealt with social issues, fine examples of which are Do Bigha Zamin, Sujata, Bandini, Devdas, Parineeta, etc. For the ‘critically lauded’ status, his last few films hadn’t managed to garner as much ‘commercial success’, such as Devdas. (Yes… the sublime Indian tragedy of all time hadn’t really shone at the box office). Bimal Roy Productions was in a desperate need of ‘mortal big bucks’ along with the critical praise. His search for a ‘story with engaging (read ‘lucrative’) plot’ ended when he came across a story written by his highly esteemed colleague, Ritwik Ghatak, who agreed to help him make it into a movie and even wrote the screenplay. Rajinder Singh Bedi wrote the dialogues, Shailendra wrote the lyrics, Salil Chaudhury wrote the music… and the film promptly jumped into the production.

Madhumati was the first Indian film to be launched outside of India, Czechoslovakia to be precise. It was shot in Ranikhet, Nainital, which provided the foggy climate they needed. Those were the old days when monitor wasn’t used during shoots and what is being shot could only be seen after the negatives were developed. After the shoot was completed and the negatives were developed they found out that many key shots were spoiled being ‘too foggy’. It needed re-shoot. Re-shooting at the location was out of the question as it would be too expensive. So they created the sets in Igatpuri as well as did some re-shoot in Aarey Milk Colony. The budget still shot up by more than 80 lack rupees (which was a HUGE sum in those days), and Bimal Roy had to do some serious persuading to the distributors and ask for their money to make up for the dearth. He even waved off his directorial fees to make it lighter for them. Well, he was Bimal Roy, a biggie, and distributors didn’t need too much persuading. They chipped in, the movie was completed, released, and was not only successful but was the biggest grocer of the year.

But describing Madhumati in a corporeal way, merely as a ‘commercial hit’ would be an insult. Even though it was a commercial film, it was made by one of the most talented filmmakers in the country – the commercial aspect couldn’t possibly ruin the cinematic excellence that Bimal Da was known for. Madhumati stands like a colossus among those films that brought us the priceless filmic experience. Every aspect that goes into filmmaking was as if treated with the same intricacy and intensity as polishing a diamond.

Sourness and tang to a pickle are what suspense and mystery to a film that deals with the theme of reincarnation. Madhumati satisfies every such expectation. Bimal Da’s directorial and Dilip Gupta’s cinematographical techniques created the mysterious and haunted feel of Shyamnagar. The signature song of the film, ‘Aaja Re Pardesi’ has only silhouettes and long/back shots of Vyjayanthimala and until the end of the song the audience doesn’t see her face – an ingenious attempt to keep people waiting for it, thereby creating the curiosity and mystery around her character. Madhumati is also known to have fittingly and innovatively used the elements that create mystery – not only the obvious tools like shadows, lights, and fog, but also folk music instead of generic pieces from the available music database. This is where S.D. Burman’s (who was Bimal Da’s first choice for music direction) prediction that Salil Chaudhury would be a more apt choice came true.

Madhumati went on to win many accolades that included the honor of being an official Indian entry to the Oscars, National Award, and ‘nine’ Filmfare awards. Lata’s finely rendered songs went on a nationwide rampage to win hearts, and these timelessly melodious songs are still held in the highest regard by the hardcore music lovers. Vyjayanthimala and Dilip Kumar’s superstardom, despite not winning any acting award, was immensely accelerated. Madhumati is a film, in which Vyjayanthimala’s (she was 22 at the time) naive beauty shone like a burning lamp in an old temple’s shadowy garbha gruha. Innocence at its best!

Hrishikesh Mukharjee, another great biggie of Indian Cinema, was the fifth time editor for Bimal Da. Shailendra; one of the most gifted lyricists India has seen wrote all the timeless classics that we tirelessly hum even today.

So many exceptionally talented people came together to make Bimal Da’s first out-n-out commercial venture and turned it into a eternal classic.

Vishal Wagh
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Vishal Wagh

Lazy Writer. Voracious Reader. Big time comedy and horror films fan. Love to chill and hate to chat. Still exploring.
Vishal Wagh
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