This is a perfect rainy-day movie about true love and reincarnation. Bimal Roy uses weather to great effect in this film, setting the mood and atmosphere for each plot development, and enhancing the emotional impact of the story.
It begins in the pouring rain with a car wending its way along a dark, steep, winding road. Inside the car, Devendra (Dilip Kumar) and a friend are on their way to the railway station to meet Devendra’s wife and child, who have cabled to say they are on the way. Although Devendra is clearly anxious to get there, they are forced to stop by a landslide which has blocked the road. The driver goes for help, and tells them to go to a nearby haveli for shelter.
The haveli has been long abandoned and is full of dust and cobwebs; but Devendra feels he has been there before. As the rain continues pelting down and thunder rolls outside, he asks the old caretaker about things the house used to contain. He finds a portrait that he remembers painting himself in a former lifetime (not as crazy in the movie as it sounds here). He begins to tell the story of his former life there…
Flashback to a beautiful, sunny valley. A young man, Anand (Dilip Kumar) is walking along, enjoying the breeze, on his way to a timber estate where he has been employed as estate manager. As he walks, he sings the beautiful song “Suhana safar” (the first of many beautiful songs—by Salil Choudhary—in this film). Then he hears a woman’s voice singing a pretty, haunting refrain, but he can’t see her. He runs into Charandas (Johny Walker) hanging drunk from a tree; Charandas turns out to be his servant, sent to meet him at the train station but waylaid by a couple of drinking establishments on the way. As an aside, let me say that whenever I see Johny Walker’s name in the credits I know I will be laughing. He doesn’t even have to DO anything. I just start laughing when I see him.
Anand discovers over the next few days that the estate accounts are not in very good order, and he does not ingratiate himself with the workers and the foreman on the estate. He also spends a great deal of time wandering in the forest and sketching. He keeps hearing the same woman’s voice, singing the same fragment of a song (“Aaja re”) but only gets fleeting glimpses of the girl. Finally, at the end of a beautifully choreographed scene where he chases her through patches of fog, following the jingling of her anklets, he meets Madhumati (Vijayanthimala):
They begin meeting every afternoon in a glen, and of course fall in love while dancing around the trees and singing. Even her father, who sports a terrifying mustache and at first dislikes Anand, is won over when Anand asks to marry Madhu.
Of course, this happiness can’t last. The owner of the estate Ugrnarain (Pran) arrives and is unimpressed with Anand’s lack of servility:
He also sees Madhumati and is attracted to her, although she rebuffs him. He conspires with one of the estate workers to trick Anand into leaving for a few days and uses Charandas to lure Madhumati to his haveli. At this point, the pouring rain returns and you just know things are taking a turn for the worse:
When Anand gets back, her father informs him that Madhu has gone missing. Anand searches for her everywhere, and when there is no sign of her goes crazy with worry and grief. This causes Charandas to seek out a witch-doctor type and gives us a momentary comic diversion from the gloom:
Charandas also tells Anand that he had taken Madhumati to the haveli at Ugrnarain’s request, thinking that Anand was there sick in bed, but Anand is unable to get any information from Ugrnarain. Then one afternoon as he sketches Madhu’s portrait in the forest, she appears before him.
But wait! she is not Madhu, but Madhavi, an identical (though unrelated) look-a-like (not rare in Hindi cinema). Once Madhavi realizes that Anand is not a crazy predator and she comes to know the story, she agrees to help him and the local police chief trap Ugrnarain into a confession.
I won’t give away the ending. This movie is well worth watching, especially—as I said—on a rainy day; and preferably with a glass of wine and a loved one near at hand.