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Reincarnation... the story goes on ever after

20 Apr, 2023 | Archival Reproductions by Cinemaazi
Reincarnation's like changing clothes. Rajesh Khanna and Hema Malini in "Kudrat" (1981)

After death what? Heaven, hell, limbo, nirvana or nothing? Or reincarnation? A question that all of us ponder over sometime or the other. A question to which no universally satisfactory answer exists.

Scientists are reluctant to believe that death means anything more than the termination of biological activity and chemical disintegration. On the other hand, religion has never been inclined to consider death as really the end- it has always insisted that the story goes on even after or rather ever after. In many ways a cheerful prospect- a sort of happy ending.

Re incarnation is a theme for films has never required explanation for acceptance by audiences. Kamal Amrohi's "Mahal" and Bimal Roy's "Madhumati", hits of yesteryear, are still remembered. The theme is in demand once again. It is the basis of a Hindi film recently released, of two others on the way.
Vyjayanthimala with Dilip Kumar in Bimal Roy's "Madhumti" (1958)

So while scientists turn to sophisticated methods to test the validity of this age-old belief, numerous heartening, if intriguing, cases keep turning up the world over, of people who claim vivid knowledge of an earlier life on earth.

'Reincarnated' characters have off and on been turning up on the screen, too. Christianity not favouring the concept, early cinema from the West hardly dealt with the subject. In Indian, especially Hindi films, reincarnation has been a favourite theme- the concept of being part of both folk lore and philosophical speculation, has never required explanation for acceptance by film audiences.

Kamal Amrohi's "Mahal" and Bimal Roy's "Madhumati" were among the early films that dealt with the subject and became very popular. Later came films like "Neel Kamal" and "Mehbooba".
Sometime ago an American film, "The Reincarnation of Peter Proud", had a very successful run in India. Inspired by if or not, several Hindi film makers were suddenly aboard the reincarnation wagon. At least three big films were launched after "Reincarnation of Peter Proud". One of them, "Karz" was released recently. Two more "Kudrat" and "Karishma" are in the offing.
Reincarnation for unrequited love... Rajesh Khanna and Hema Malini in "Mehbooba" (1976)

"The Reincarnation of Peter Proud" is based on a novel by Max Ehrlich, inspired by an experience in his own life. Though he had an initial skepticism about the subject, he says, "As I got into the research, I was astounded at the work already being done in this field by reputable scientists. Cases of prenatal life memories seemed to stand up under thorough investigation. There were phenomena which could be logically explained only within the frame of the subject living at some other time, and in some other place. Now I have a wide-open mind on reincarnation. I believe it possible and that one day, perhaps someone will prove it."

Ehrlich also wrote the screenplay for the film which focuses on a young man's obsessive belief in his own prior existence. Irresistibly, he seeks out the people and events of his previous life, especially the woman who murdered him. Essentially a murder mystery with the added riddle of reincarnation woven in.

The earlier Hindi 'reincarnation' films revolved around romance- reincarnation providing the backdrop of unrequited love traceable to an earlier life.

Now, like in the American film, the Hindi films involving rebirth use it as a dramatic device to expose apparently mysterious misdoings that have been buried in the past.
Michael Sarazzin and Cornelia Sharpe in "The Reincarnation of Peter Proud"  (1975)

"Karz" is essentially a musical version of "The Reincarnation of Peter Proud". There is an attempt to Indianise the latter by dispensing with details alien to our situation and introducing characters more familiar to the audiences. For a good part of the film the stress is on music.

There is no doubt left about the reincarnation in "Karz". With a couple of references to the Hindu beliefs on the subject, it is established that Rishi Kapoor is a reborn version of Raj Kiran. With the murder of Raj Kiran shown at the very beginning, there is little mystery left, the only suspense being how Rishi Kapoor is going to avenge his previous life murder.

This 'openness' in "Karz" seems deliberate, to avoid complexities with flashbacks. It has been noticed that Hindi film audiences find it difficult to digest fragmentary flashbacks repeatedly punctuating the story and falling together, and making sense only towards the end. As in the recent "Red Rose", after a couple of weeks run, the director was forced to reshuffle his film and bring forward a long flashback sequence purporting to explain the reason behind the protagonist's maniacal behaviour, which originally appeared only towards the end.
"Karz" - a reincarnation theme looking for second life... Rishi Kapoor and Tina Munim.

Whereas in "The Reincarnation of Peter Proud", though the title suggests it, it remains a mystery as to who is reincarnated as whom- in the beginning all that we have is a series of versions that the protagonist is haunted by, which hint at a previous life he has lived, but things are never clear till the second half. The hero does not accept the business of reincarnation for quite sometime.
If some of these films make it big, it may not be long before the business of lost brothers eventually becomes outdated and the idea of wandering souls catches on.

This, reportedly, is more or less the stand taken by a reincarnated character in "Kudrat", being directed by Chetan Anand and now in its final stages of completion. According to the producer, B S Khanna, "reincarnation is involved but it is not a film about reincarnation. It is a film illustrating the fact that you cannot escape punishment for sin." it seems the punishment here is delayed until certain characters, victims of the sinners' acts, are reincarnated. The film has a psychiatrist too who uses the technique of 'regression through hypnotism' (done so effectively in the film "Audrey Rose", released here recently). The novelty in the film would perhaps be that of putting up reincarnation to the test of law.

In "Kudrat", the reincarnated characters have the same faces as in their previous life, only their clothes change. This, it is felt, will make it easier for audiences to understand things.

Sunil Sikand, who is making his directorial debut with "Karishma" now under production, does not think so- in his film, like in "Karz" and "Peter Proud", the reincarnated character has a different face. "This is the only thing you can say we have taken from 'Pater Proud', otherwise it is full of action- like in a James Bond film.

In fact reincarnation could serve as a very effective dramatic device in the present format of Hindi films. Think of a villain who disposes of the hero in the first few reels and then sits back complacently only to be shocked by the hero-reincarnated after twenty years.
Psychiatrist gives the disco treatment... Vinod Khanna and Hema Malini in "Kudrat" (1981)

If the present trend continues (there is new about yet another film, "Triveni", being launched which also involves reincarnation) and some of these films make it big, it won't be long before the business of lost brothers eventually becomes obsolete and the idea of wandering souls catches on. And this would still allow for multistarrers- count the number of heroes you want and have as many reincarnations. After all Hindu philosophy states that you can be reincarnated any number of times; of course it also says that it is not necessary that you be reincarnated as a human being.

The renewed interest in reincarnation has been worldwide. The sensational accounts of apparent reincarnation cases in the books "Life After Life" and "At the Hour of Death" make it difficult to deny the possibility of rebirth.

"The Reincarnation of Peter Proud", "Audrey Rose" and in a slightly different context and different vein, Satyajit Ray's "Sonar Kella" do attempt a debate on the subject but the Hindi films made so far hardly pretend to throw any light on reincarnation itself. It seems as though reincarnation is just another addition to the existing formulas.

This article was published in Filmfare magazine’s 16-31 August, 1980 edition written by Arun Kumar T R.
The images appeared in this feature are from the original article.

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