Bimal Roy’s Madhumati (1958) is an Indian masterpiece starring Dilip Kumar and Vyjantimala. Rinki Roy Bhattachaya, his daughter has written this book as almost an offering to her father’s memory.Not party to any more of the actual work on Madhumati, Rinki’s book is an account of her search for stories about the film to know how it was made and the elements that went into making it one of the masterpieces of Indian cinema.
Author: Rinki Roy Bhattacharya
Hardcover: 222 pages
Publisher: Rupa & Co (1 September 2014)
Price: Rs. 450.00
For those who have seen and loved Madhumati as one of cinema’s sweetest love stories, this little volume will unlock sweet memories of pastoral dalliances and love beyond the ordinary. For the uninitiated, it will do much to pique their curiosity, and perhaps drive them to looking for a dvd of the film. And verily, they will not be disappointed.
Rinki Roy Bhattachaya has written this book as almost an offering to her father’s memory. In an absorbing foreword to the book, she tells the enthralling story of how, hidden from view she watched a story session of the film with Dilip Kumar (whose presence in the room below almost made her swoon) adding dialogues and suggestions as the session went on.
Not party to any more of the actual work on Madhumati, Rinki’s book is an account of her search for stories about the film to know how it was made and the elements that went into making it one of the masterpieces of Indian cinema, and perhaps her father’s most loved hit.
Lucky enough to have access to the three main stars of the film, Vyjantimala, Dilip Kumar and Pran, Rinki includes quotes from the three which bear on their work in the film. However maybe the long years in between and fading memories are the reason that the interviews are not as long and satisfying as they could have been. Yet we have gems like Dilip Kumar admitting to a student- teacher relationship with Bimal Roy the director, and Vyjantimala objecting to the very idea of transforming the original black and white into a colour film.
As much to fill in the gaps in her own first-hand knowledge of the making of the film as to enlighten the reader, Rinki sets out on a voyage of discovery, tracing the path her father and his unit must have taken.
Surprises await her aplenty. When she sets out for Kathgodam to visit Nainital and the surrounding areas where Madhumati was shot, to meet Razia, now old, but at the time of the film, a young woman who forgot her purdah in her haste to see her screen idol Dilip Kumar, or when she encounters the locals who were part of the shoot, Rinki finds herself listening to stories about the making of the film that are almost as fascinating as the film itself. Her effort to know about the veracity of the costumes worn by the heroine, her search for locations of the film’s many picturesque scenes takes her to places with names she has only heard in passing – Haldwani, Ranikhet, Nainital and some completely alien to her knowledge viz. Gerhia, Ghorakhal. It takes her too to Navgarh in Raigarh district in Maharashtra where she comes face to face with the make believe quality of cinema as she discovers that an entire song sequence was shot here, with two cut up trunks of trees passing for the real thing. She also comes to know from a note written by cinematographer Dilip Gupte that the first, opening scene of the film was shot on the road near the Khopoli exit to the Pune highway, and the audience was led to believe that it was shot along with the rest of the film in the Himalayan regions of North India.
In fact almost 80 percent of the film had to be reshot in Maharashtra, and Rinki expends an entire chapter on the telling of how the over budget film was saved from being canned for want of funds.
Among the many interesting stories Rinki stumbled upon and shares is that of Bimal Roy recruiting local talent to ensure veracity for his film. This included a woman who had a faint resemblance to the heroine and was made to stand in for some shots, the most exacting being one in which she runs down a steep mountain, through many retakes. Another story is of an encounter with a taciturn gentleman who confirms the fact that the costume worn by the heroine was quite similar to what the women wore in the region. Long, flared skirts, and silver necklaces, being the most identifiable.
And like many stories about cinema in the days before supporting and assisting technicians grew aware of their rights, this book too holds a story about how despite having edited the entire film by himself, Gurudas Dhaimade, popularly called Dasbabu thanks to the Bengali group he worked with in the unit, never got credit for his work, which went to Hrishikesh Mukherji instead. Das makes a strong case for his claim, including the fact that at the time Madhumati was being edited, Hrishi-da was also in the process of editing his own film, Musafir, and was not free to edit Madhumati. Perhaps nothing shows the angst of the person cheated of his due more than the statement he makes to Rinki that he has not seen the film, disappointed as he was by both Hrishikesh and Bimal Roy keeping their silence and not giving him his due credit at any point.
The book also has many excerpts that throw light on the making of the film, added at the end, as ‘Other Voices’. One of them translated from ‘Sabse Mehengi Raat’ by Gyan Singh tells of how a radio shop owner repaired the sound recording system on a cold night and was rewarded by a handsome payment beyond his asking, for the service done. Amitabh Bachchan adds his note too, and so does Maithili Rao, the film critic, on ‘Madhumati’s place in film history’. In fact, though the many excerpts are valuable in providing insights on the film, they also add a certain disjointed quality to the book, giving it a jig saw feel.
However, more interesting are the lyrics of the songs written by Shailendra, which give an insight into the pastoral mood that permeates the film.
The book also has a section of photos, reviews of the film, and a complete filmography of Bimal Roy the director, all of which will prove very valuable for students of cinema.
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