I recently saw the much touted ‘Om Shanti Om’, and it left me cold. Shah Rukh Khan was good as usual, but to me it now seems that he uses the same style of inanity – ‘Chak De India’ was an exception I think – to project the hero as a ‘good’ fella. The new heroine Deepika Padukone was passable. But the theme of rebirth was handled so badly, even if it was a spoof of older movies – a clip from ‘Karz’ of the 80s acknowledged that. Not to mention that the title of the film is the song from the movie. The idea of the appearance of the real ghost, in place of the person who was supposed to ‘act’ as the ghost of the murdered actress to frighten the villain, was lifted straight from that golden oldie ‘Madhumati’.
Made in the late 1950s, ‘Madhumati’ was released in 1958 or 59, I am not sure which. We were then living in Pondicherry, and Hindi films reached theatres there well after a year or two after they were released elsewhere. As for English movies, we could see them only on Sunday morning shows, many years after they were released. But the thrill of going to see a picture/cinema/movie was so great, that all these delays seemed trifles.
I used to find out about the newly released Hindi movies because of the songs which were broadcast from Radio Ceylon in those days. And ‘Aap hi ke geet’ and the weekly Binaca Geet Mala were sure-fire indicators of the latest in film music. And so, long before ‘Madhumati’ came to Pondicherry, I was very familiar with the songs composed by Salil Chowdhary. A song book sent from New Delhi, costing only four annas, gave me the right words. And I would listen to those mesmerising tunes on the radio. When the picture was released in Pondicherry, I just had to see it.
Going to a movie then was an experience to be savoured in its anticipation. First we had to get my father’s permission - his golden rule was one picture a month. Next he would direct us to ask our grandparents, who lived with us. They of course never said no, and Grandmother would also happily come along with us. The planning, the getting ready, and wondering if the driver would come to drop us in time, would we reach there before the documentaries and the ads started – all these thoughts would keep me greatly excited. Today, when we can have all this at the mere flick of a finger in our own homes, this thrill cannot really be understood, I feel. And not only that, today I just can’t sit through any movie for three hours – I am so used to the commercial breaks!
‘Madhumati’ was a joy with Vyjayantimala looking her best(see picture), and Dilip Kumar who was just perfect as a besotted, and later, tragic lover. Good story, lovely locales and divine music. I think the picture won many awards then – best movie, best director for Bimal Roy, who had also produced it, best actress for Vyjayantimala and best music, too. And Lata Mangeshkar, too, for the literally haunting piece, “Aaja re Pardesi”.
In Mumbai Bimal Roy’s daughter Rinki Bhattacharya heads the Bimal Roy Memorial Committee which is recreating that magic tomorrow with a special show at theatre Globus. Stars Vyjayantimala and Dilip Kumar will be present.
The video below is from the picture 'Vanchikottai Valiban' with Vyjayantimala and Padmini mesmerising viewers with their dance.