Memories of the frankly dull supernatural film Mahal were still fresh in mind when I watched Madhumati. Although it too was billed as a ghost story, I needn’t have worried.
Despite one “I’m sure I’ve been here before” style flashback and one ghostly appearance, Madhumati concentrates on familiar filmi territory rather than spurious supernatural shocks.
The majority of the film covers the tragic rural love story of Dilip Kumar’s newly-appointed estate manager Anand and Vyjayantimala’s Madhumati, the young woman Anand’s callous employer Raja Ugra Narayan (played by Pran) lusts after.
Following Madhumati’s disappearance Anand comes close to losing his mind and is almost tipped over the edge upon sighting Madhavi (also played by Vyjayantimala) and who, as you would expect, is the spitting image of Madhumati.
Anand resolves to use this resemblance to spook Narayan into confessing his hand in Madhumati’s disappearance, but when Madhavi is delayed at the crucial point in the plan Madhumati appears and forces Narayan to confess, before returning to the spirit world.
The denouement worked so well that almost fifty years later film director Farah Khan used the same device in the plot of the Shahrukh Khan film Om Shanti Om.
Madhumati (1958) was directed by Dhaka-born Bimal Roy, who was also behind the camera for the original version of Parineeta – later re-made staring Saif Ali Khan. The story was written by Ritwik Ghatak, who also hailed from Dhaka and later directed the 1973 Bengali film Titash Ekti Nadir Nam.
In common with a number of the films in this season Madhumati also stars comedy actor Johnny Walker, who brings a little light to Dilip Kumar’s shade.
Although the flashbacks that bookend the story feel like an unnecessary and slightly confusing diversion, all in all Madhumati is an enjoyable and well shot black and white Hindi film.