The beginning of Madhumati was about a terrible sense of deja vu, but the film also gave me a terrible sense of deja vu a few times. This was definitely one of those Indian movies that reminded me a whole lot of some other Indian movies. It wasn’t always Madhumati’s fault, either, since at least one of the films I thought of came long after this one (and might have been a shameless ripoff).
So, instead of writing a regular review of Madhumati (which you can find in quite a few places), I thought I’d just mention a few different ways that this movie gave me deja vu:
1. It reminded me of Mahal (1949), for the singing female ghost haunting a mansion (or the appearance of such a ghost haunting a mansion) and the reincarnation theme. Especially near the beginning, Madhumati has Mahal written all over it. But Mahal is far more original, and it is refreshing for the ingenious way that it avoided being a totally supernatural tale (completely dispelling the ghost notion, though leaving some room for interpretation on the reincarnation theme). Mahal was reportedly the first Hindi movie that delved into the subject of reincarnation, but it was so much newer in ways than so many films that followed in its path. That is one of a few reasons I consider it a work of genius, which Madhumati is not.
2. Also, Mela (1948) – I don’t think all that many people remember this film these days, but I saw it just a few weeks ago and it stuck firmly in my mind for its great soundtrack, its fine performance by a near-adolescent Dilip Kumar (as opposed to the somewhat more mature looking Dilip in Madhumati), another good performance by Nargis (even though she has to weep constantly in this movie), and for generally being a real bummer (unbelievably grim – as opposed to believably grim like, say, some movies by Guru Dutt and/or his colleagues). Anyway, I’m not going to get too far into the review of Mela that I never got around to writing, but the haunted hero in Madhumati reminded me a lot of the haunted hero near the end of Mela, and I don’t think it’s just because they were played by the same actor. There is one scene in Madhumati taken straight out of Mela (which may have been taken out of something else, for all I know), in which the hero follows the ghost of his eternally beloved off the edge of a very high place – the same place, of course, from which said lover had plunged – to join her in romantic death.
3. Half the ’50s films that I’ve seen with Pran in them – I’m sorry, but the Pran routine is getting a little tired for me…sometimes. I think his most brilliant performance as a villain (at least in a black-and-white film, and I don’t think I’ve seen him in any other kind) was in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai. But that’s probably partly because he managed to move a little away from being typecast as the nasty rich man with a thin moustache (though he was just as nasty for much of Jis Desh…, with a somewhat bigger moustache). I like it that in so many of these old Hindi movies, the evil villain is a rich man and usually a landlord; that makes a lot of sense to me! But Pran in Madhumati is just too Pran. (And Johnny Walker might be a bit too Johnny Walker also, but that’s a more minor point.)
4. Om Shanti Om (2007) – You can’t blame Madhumati for this corny reincarnation several generations later… But unfortunately, I saw Om Shanti Om years before I saw Madhumati. Now I have a question… At what point does a movie cross the line from being a knowing and winking tribute to being a shameless ripoff? That’s a difficult one… I guess you can ask it about many a rap song too. The whole climactic section of Om Shanti Om was ripped out of Madhumati. I know that other sections were ripped out of other films too and I haven’t seen most of them, but now after seeing Madhumati, I’m going to groan every time I think of Om Shanti Om. Though I don’t have much reason to think of it, really.
Probably several other films that I can’t think of right now… OK, maybe that’s a copout, but I could swear that other parts of Madhumati also gave me terrible deja vu. Meanwhile, Philip Lutgendorf of Philip’sfil-ums mentions a few others in his review:
The film has affinities with Hitchcock’s REBECCA (1940) and VERTIGO (1958), and the initial meeting of hero and heroine closely resembles that of Raj Kapoor’s later RAM TERI GANGA MAILI (1984)…
Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since I saw Vertigo and I’m not remembering it too clearly, though that could very well be the source of one of those other deja vu experiences that I had with this movie. (If anything, maybe the similarity was in the direction and camera work, especially in high places.) I don’t even remember if I saw Rebecca, and I never saw Ram Teri Ganga Maili, but I would bet that Philip is right about these too.
In any event, maybe it’s appropriate that you’re going to see bits of this movie in so many others and vice versa, given the general topic. (If only I could say such a clever thing about so many other movies out there that are actually far more familiar looking but don’t even mention reincarnation…)
And by the way, in addition to being a common theme, this reincarnation idea is a very comforting one, especially as it’s finally related here: If you die a terrible death because of the deeds of a nasty villain, you’ll probably come back and persevere through whatever troubles threaten you in the next life. Though can’t reincarnation work in a downward spiral too? Your life could be repeated in an inferior form, like so many movies influenced by older movies.
P.S. No slight meant to Madhumati overall. I did enjoy it. Dilip and Vyjayanthimala were very good in this. There was a lot of nice camera work, especially in the fog. And it has very good music too, by Salil Chowdhury. (Maybe in the next post or so, I’ll put up some clips. )