Sunday, March 2, 2014

Filmi-Lab: Madhumati (1958), Dilip Kumar, and Time-Travel Equations

I was going to just write about Madhumati, but I realized that most of the things I had to say revolved around Dilip Kumar and current thoughts about filmi eras.  Also, although Madhumati is a good film all 'round, I feel like I can't add much to Dusted-Off's review, and my guess is that this film is high up on the list for anyone who prefers Hindi films from the 1950's, and thus, my voice won't mean much in the scope of things . . .

So, a warning. This post contains emotional content. I would hate to be THAT blogger who carelessly leaves her feelings out in the sun, not noticing when they start to rot and cause property values to plummet. Or worse, the blogger who lets her emotions be that relative that stays longer than two weeks, uses all the towels, and drains all the milk cartons. Thus, I give fair warning while STILL attempting to do justice to my personal experiences of late. For, at times, one's life and the films one watches spiral into one another and cause weird chemistry explosions in one's brain. And those results need to be Documented, dammit. For posterity, and truth . . . So, consider this a Filmi-Lab Results post. Yeah, that sounds better than "Filmi-Feelings and Whether or Not I Should Have Them."

Hypothesis 1:
There is a Hindi film from the 70's to fit every mood.

Experiment 1: 70's Movie Night in Illustrative Screen Caps

Expectation of bliss. 

Dharmendra, my dear, I've never felt this close and yet so far from you. 

Aims for another 70's film. 

I love you but I feel like we're not communicating right now, and this
isn't your finest moment. 

Pauses halfway through and reaches for a book. 

Ponders why a book about Hindi films is getting the job done better
than a film itself.  

Hypothesis 1: Inconclusive results. 


Hypothesis 2:
There is a Hindi film from some era to fit every mood.

Experiment 2: 50's Movie Night(s)


 Wonders if anything will fit one's mood again ever. 

Cynically wallows in the remembrance of past passion.  

Lets optimism win out. Tries a couple different 1950's films. 

Mojo returns. 

Hypothesis 2: Supported, requires further field testing


My Proposed Equations:

1. Life lacking a certain spice  +  More time   x   More sleep      =   ↑ 70's movie appreciation

2. Life moving too fast   -   Sleep   +   Over-stimulation    =    ↓ 70's movie appreciation

3. Overstimulated brain   +    Desire for simplicity    =   ↑ 50's movie appreciation



My Conclusion:

Barring my run-ins with world pop-cinema of late, my most pleasant Hindi film experiences have been equivalent to a cuppa and a warm breakfast nook and a rambling book where everyone mostly lives and the bad guys can all be recognized by their handlebar mustaches. I think that Bilbo Baggins at almost any point in his adventures would understand. Films from 1950's offer a measured cinematic experience more often than not, while the frenetic romps of the 70's can induce a headache even when I'm not low on sleep. And when I am . . . when life feels like sciatica because everything occurring in one's immediate vicinity seems to hit a nerve, perhaps it isn't the best idea to immerse oneself in a cinematic acid trip.


Recommendations for Further Research:

Right now I have several more black and white films sitting on my desk, beckoning to me with their simplicity . . . and with their Dilip Kumar.

And thus, we get to those other thoughts I mentioned. Those gushy thoughts. Though I have fairly broad appreciatory powers for men and women (which extends to my favorite actors and actresses), I feel like I give quite a bit of space to women/actresses on this blog. Nargis, Hema, Rakhee, Sharmila, Zeenat. . . I love them and I sometimes I crush on them and sometimes I want to be them. So, I'm not going to apologize that it's a feller's turn. Plus, I mentioned back in January that I wanted this year to contain A LOT more Dilip Kumar.

I'm going to say something that kind of shocks me (if not you). I'm still in the throes of realization about it, so pardon the sensationalism I'm sure will bleed through the next paragraphs. Dilip Kumar might be the best actor I've seen since . . . I'm thinking, I'm thinking. Well, since that moment I re-watched Sharmilee with my sis and realized how brilliant Shashi was in it. Or maybe since I saw American Hustle and realized anew that Jeremy Renner is a freaking genius. All of which means that when I say Dilip Kumar is one of the best . . . it places him in very good company.

I DO realize "best" is an arbitrary qualifier. To be clear, when I throw around the "b" word here. . . I am considering the deployment of craft, not charisma or confidence. Plenty of actors in Hindi films use their star power and experience wisely.

To clarify that distinction between method and talent, I'd say that that Dilip's screen persona reminds me of what you would get if you crossed Sanjeev Kumar's projection of intellectual awareness with Vinod Khanna's emotive physical presence. And in contrast, I would offer up actors such as Amitabh or SRK . . . both of whom are undeniably talented, but are also able to stay afloat purely by the buoyancy of their formidable personalities if they so desire.

I don't think Dilip Kumar had the same luxury. Sure, he was attractive in his own way and had a certain kind of presence. And sure, he was known for his tragic roles, and I bet he learned how to easily manipulate er, elicit a empathetic reaction in his audience. But as an audience member, I feel more than empathy. If anything, I am just impressed with the variety of reactions he conveys while remaining firmly planted in the same characterization. I have an uncle who, when passionate about a topic, says that he feels X or Y "in the gut of his heart." As odd a picture as that may paint, it's what I feel when I watch Dilip act. I relate to the intellectual process going on behind his face, and I relate to the damned sensitivity of his characters.

I feel like I need a new word to describe the Dilip slouch.
Madhumati, for all of its commercial twists and turns, is a film that spends a lot of time with the male lead; time that the director (the sensitively attuned Bimal Roy) uses almost as brilliantly as Dilip Kumar. The story is two dimensional, and yet the Roy/Kumar power couple gives us something fully formed and corporeal. Something able to cast a long shadow into the future. [Everybody and their mother has copied this one, including, obviously, the production team behind Mehbooba.] But if anything turned this story from a mass "reincarnation" entertainer into a visceral plea for love and nonviolence, it was the many reincarnations of Dilip's effing face. That face registers all the little moments, not just the big ones, and you never feel that his character can see into the future . . . as a lot of masala heroes seem to be able to do. Instead of knowing that he "must win" the woman or the fight for justice, he alternately flees from and embraces the momentary uncertainties.

And by planting his performance in the
"character's" present, rather than the arc of the story, he also places himself firmly within the Method branch of acting techniques. Whether or not Lee Strasberg or Stella Adler would approve, Dilip's character in Madhumati is devastatingly human, embodying all the strengths and weaknesses that humanity entails. And, so, while I love the stylized unreality so common to Hindi films (and Hindi film acting), I also appreciate deviations from that norm. Dilip's deviation also happens to be very easy on the eyes.

In summary, I think I found my custom 50's cocktail: One part Sanjeev, One part Vinod, one part a different era's sensibilities entirely. Except that DK's persona is best served neat and warmed over a slow flame, like my favorite brandy.

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