We study the critical behaviour of solutions to weakly dispersive Hamiltonian systems considered as perturbations of elliptic and hyperbolic systems of hydrodynamic type with two components. We argue that near the critical point of gradient catastrophe of the dispersionless system, the solutions to a suitable initial value problem for the perturbed equations are approximately described by particular solutions to the Painlev\'e-I (P$_I$) equation or its fourth order analogue P$_I^2$. As concrete examples we discuss nonlinear Schr\"odinger equations in the semiclassical limit. A numerical study of these cases provides strong evidence in support of the conjecture.

PB - SISSA U1 - 7280 U2 - Mathematics U4 - 1 U5 - MAT/07 FISICA MATEMATICA ER -