The other day, I wrote about Roland Joffe’s new film ‘Singularity’, starring our own Bipasha Basu, as one half of the Indian-British couple (the other half is played by Josh Hartnet) who cross the bounds of time to consummate their love, during the British Raj and today. I admire Joffe as a filmmaker. He has made some important films — ‘The Mission,’ ‘The Killing Fields,’ and even ‘City Of Joy,’ another film based on India, with Om Puri playing the rickshawpuller Haria from the Dominique Lapierre’s novel. But, I have a hunch that this film will not work. Films involving reincarnation of star-crossed lovers have rarely worked.
But, there are some fine examples where the theme not only worked, but actually triumphed. One example is Bimal Roy’s ‘Madhumati’ (1958). In one sense, this Dilip Kumar-Vyjayantimala vehicle started it all. Another example is Subhas Ghai’s ‘Karz’ (1980), which was inspired by 1975 Hollywood film, ‘The Reincarnation of Peter Proud’... There’s ‘Milan’ (1967), ‘Mehbooba’ (1976), ‘Kudrat’ (1981), ‘Suryavanshi’ (1992), ‘Karan Arjun’ (1995), ‘Hamesha’ (1997)... And, I don’t need to mention the mega-hit ‘Om Shanti Om’, which was a mismash of all the aforementioned films. And the Harman Baweja dud ‘Love Story 2050’ (2008) was not really a reincarnation film, was it? Nobody remembers! Oh, I forgot ‘Prem’, and ‘Ab Ke Baras’, both were the debut films of the respective stars, and both were duds.
The reincarnation theme borrows from the tenets Hindu philosophy, and the Buddhist idea of the transmigration of souls. According to Buddha, one can achieve moksha and break the cycle of birth and rebirth, only when one achieves nirvana, which is the state when one is free of worldly desires. Movies involving rebirth, work on this idea... there was a pair of lovers (or bothers in case of ‘Karan Arjun’) and they were killed or died before they could do whatever they wanted to do, get married perhaps. Hence, they are reborn, and the fate reunite them to complete the task left incomplete in the previous birth. Hooray! After all, as Krishna said in ‘The Gita,’ the soul is immortal, it’s the body that is temporary; like we change the old clothes and wear new ones, the soul sheds one body and goes to live in another. Other things remain the same. Love is immortal...
One film that uses this reincarnation theme as its central motif, before revealing itself as a gothic thriller, is Kamal Amrohi’s Mahal (1949). I remember seeing the film first time on TV, in the night, and I could sleep for the next two nights. The film haunted me like nothing has ever done.
Ashok Kumar, a lawyer or something, moves into a new town and buys an old haveli, rumoured to be haunted. He is supposed to clean the place and bring his wife. On his first night in the building, Kumar notices a portrayed on the wall, which resembles his face. He is little intrigued. Then he hears, someone singing, ‘Ayega, ayega...,’ in Lata Mageshkar’s haunting voice, and sees a beautiful girl sitting on the swing. Before he could ask the girl anything, she disappears.
This becomes a nightly occurrence. Finally, Ashok Kumar manages to talk to the girl in a black dress, carrying a lighted candle (which will becomes a staple image to represent a ‘bhatakti atma’, a lost soul), playing by Madhubala with an irresistible charm, anyone would fall in love with her, and the girl tells the lawyer that they were lovers in some previous life (the portrait is the proof). Something went wrong, and the lovers decided to kill themselves by jumping on the water behind the haveli. In the bargain, Kumar died and his soul was reborn, whereas the girl remained trapped there, for eternity. The girl convinces the lawyer in no time. Now, desperate, the lawyers asks the ‘ghost’ what he could do to consummate the relationship, this despite the fact that he is married. She said there is a way; he has to die again, or he can kill a woman and the ghost can come to reside in the dead woman’s body...
Okay, stop. I shouldn’t say anything more, for the sake of those who haven’t seen the film and want to see it. The twist in the tale that Amrohi generated is fantastic. The film is worth the watch.