Thursday, August 21, 2008

Madhumati - a tale of two generations! (posted in PFC too)

“suhana safar aur ye mausam haseen..hamein dar hain hum kho na jaaye kahin”
There is a Magnet Hypermarket in Mahim near the station on the western side where I buy some of my stuff. Today was another good day to stop by and buy some stuff that one continually needs. Beside it, in a hole in the wall space a “paan bidi ka dukaan” is there with an ever attentive bhaiya in place. I was needing my next pack of Marlboro Lights and that seemed as good a place as any other. A hidden Tape or CD player (I really don’t know which one) threw up this tune...
...and pulled me back into so many memories, so much so that at 1.45 am I sit down to share some of those memories with all of you.
My brother was just about a year old and it was this Sunday when Baba and Ma decided to go to our nearest town Ooty or Ootacamund then and Udhagamandalam now (really don’t know who speaks of it with that name!!). This was a weekly ritual and we always alternated between Coonoor and Ooty. Coonoor, if it was a short trip – the market, tiffin or lunch in Ramchandra’s , a stroll through the main road, Baba’s stop at a book shop near the bus stand and then back. Ooty was another thing altogether. The market was mandatory but there was this nice half a day at Botanical Gardens or Ooty Lake, Lunch at various places – dosas, sandwiches, Tandoori stuff (yes, they were available even then back in the mid seventies), cakes and other nice stuff that a seven year old usually craves for. But, the highlight for my parents was a movie. There was this quaint hall called National back then, don’t know if it is still there, and that is where Baba gravitated once he knew about the name of the movie that had arrived there. Obviously, readers shall understand that this was the only movie hall that used to screen a few English and a smattering of Hindi movies. Why smattering...because those were the Anti – Hindi post Kamaraj days of Tamil Nadu...and a Hindi sentence usually met a retort like “Yenna da..yenne peserei nee!!”
That Sunday was one of those rare Hindi days and the movie was “Madhumati”. I am not going to harp on the movie here. I know most of you admire it for what it is or has come to represent over the years. But, I cannot begin to tell you about the happiness on the face of my father after he manages to buy those three tickets from the ticket window. He educates Ma about all the erudite people behind the film. Bimal Roy, Ritwik Ghatak, Salil Choudhury, Shailendra, Dilip Kumar, Vyjantimala, “Sar jo tera chakraye” Johnny Walker,Pran, Hrishida and a host of others that I did not even begin to comprehend then. (Actually, I would not have remembered even this so vividly but for his narration of this same episode years later when both of us sat in another dark theatre in Chandrapur and saw that smash called “Golmaal” by Hrishida.) There is some time to go for the film to start. Ma feeds my brother so as to keep him quiet for the next couple of golden hours. Baba is fidgety. I have acquired a strange affinity for the Box office window through which some people were getting their tickets.
The bell rings. We queue up to get into the hall. Well, there are not too many people and so we are able to claim our seats in a jiffy. The Fims Division documentary about 20 point programme, an Emergency thing, is duly shown. I think that was obligatory back then. All halls showed practically the same documentaries. As the FD film was finishing, Baba asks us to keep quiet and watch the movie with considerable interest. For a shifty seven year old, that is a tall order.
The magic starts. For me, the songs, the background score, the supernatural thing, the Bicchua dance, Madhumati being killed by Pran and the “that Aaja Re strain” when Madhumati reincarnates and Dilip Kumar is trying to find her, all hold me in complete thrall. The film is over. I have many questions. Baba is not very enthusiastic answering any of them. Ma tries to do some justice but with another crying infant in her arms, she also is not able to satisfy my curiosity. The thirst remains!
Some years later, Baba has become the Durga Puja Cultural secretary (that is a very honourable position for any culture loving Bong) and he has to arrange for entertainment for four days at the Puja premises near the Factory. I have no clue what he did in between but this is how the Entertainment programme card reads:
MAHASHASHTI – Film: Jana Aranya (Dir: Satyajit Ray)
MAHASAPTAMI – Film : Kaapurush/Mahapurush (Dir: Satyajit Ray)
MAHAASHTAMI – Theatre : Sajano Bagan (Wr: Manoj Mitra, Dir: A.K.Majumdar)
MAHANAVAMI – Film: Madhumati (Dir: Bimal Roy)
Does not that card speak of the pride of a film loving Bengali with all the enthusiasm of filterless Panama cigarettes, broad white pyjamas and half kurta or fatuas as they are known?!
Also notice how cleverly the cultural secretary has inserted his own directorial virtues among two of the best India has produced – ever! RAY – MAJUMDAR – ROY!!
Not that he did any badly, my first interaction with shades of night and day on the same stage was through this play – Sajano Bagan. It got converted into a movie later called “Bancharamer Bagan” in Bengali and it was also made in Hindi in the eighties.
But Madhumati comes, plays to full house and in 1977, 19 years after the movie was first released receives a rapturous ovation from the entire canvassed theatre in their Navami finery. Mind you, there are Army generals, colonels, staff, Cordite Factory officers, workers and even some manual workers in the audience. The power of great cinema!
The more relatable outcome, Baba is mobbed by his seniors who drawl, Majumdar Saheb, aaj to kamal kar diya, haan, very good, Congratulations, and all that. Whoa! That was Bimal Roy who did the magic and not Mr. Majumdar. But who cares, it is the Power of great Cinema!
Baba bounced in that reflected glory for many weeks after that.
He is no longer there. I miss his enthusiasm for good cinema. But, the CDs are there and his enthusiasm has crept into the next gen ever so nicely. Only, can somebody do another movie like Madhumati ever again?