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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Dramatic Destiny versus Destructive Desire

Author: Gary170459 from Derby, UK
27 September 2009

A fascinating film: One rainy midnight Hari Shankar (played by Ashok Kumar) drives up to his palace, enters a rather strange world and finds himself immediately "bewitched by a woman's wandering soul". The story has it that Kamini (the young but already veteran Madhubala) is waiting for the re-incarnation of her dead lover from years before, which he fervently believes himself to be and she keeps popping up in front of him rousing his insane desire. To emphasise the romantic point the main song, Aayega Aanewala (the one destined to return will come …) is reprised throughout the film, a deeply poetic and thoughtful classic sung by the young Lata and the one that helped to make her name.

It started out very stylish and original with some swift camera work, almost like an atmospheric Hindi Noir, and reminded me at various times of Orphee, Gilda, Lady From Shanghai, Ghost And Mrs Muir, and even had pre-echoes of Ava Gardner in Pandora And The Flying Dutchman. But eventually the plot veered away erratically and although always interesting some of the suspense was lost as the supernatural aspect was lessened and the ordinary world started to creep in. For the climax Ranjana's integrity was definitely compromised in her wreaking terrible revenge on husband Shankar! The incredibly worldly-wise wispy Kamini murmured "Come" and Shankar ran to her – but what man wouldn't! The scenes with the tribal woman dancing for her life were riveting viewing; the music was superb throughout – of course this was made decades before the heavily Westernised Bollywood Beat took over. The "surprise" climax has already been given away in a previous post, but to me the big surprise is how it could have surprised anyone in the original audiences! And was it destined to end that way, with people watching nowadays destined to not be surprised at all?

It was a confusing mystery melodrama with many heavy thoughts on youth, beauty and mortality but ultimately surprisingly shallow – probably depending on your age. However no matter how much it reminded me of a few other films you'll not see a film quite like it, and personally it's usually well worth watching unique films from the Golden Age.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Haunted house movie or melodrama?

Author: Jan van Steenbergen (ijzeren_jan) from Opoczno, Poland
19 September 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A haunted house. An often recurring motive in horror movies, and here we have an early example. It differs from other haunted house movies in several ways. Even Indian cinema has quite a few of them. Thus, we have already seen an evil bhoot (spirit), a sympathetic bhoot, a frustrated bhoot, a bhoot seeking justice, a horny bhoot, a bhoot who loves kids... And here for a change we meet a female bhoot who is deeply in love. She doesn't even look like one: she is astoundingly beautiful, sings and dances, and as if that were not enough, you can have a normal conversation with her as well. Sure, at last we find out that she is not a bhoot at all, but merely the old gardener's daughter playing tricks until she loses it herself. A very pleasant surprise, at least for me; I guess I have already watched so many "real" bhoots that the possibility didn't even occur to me that this one is just an ordinary person of flesh and bones.

Obviously, Mahal differs from other haunted house movies even more. Usually, a new family settles in an old home, and in the beginning little happens. Somebody hears a mysterious noise or sees something odd in the mirror, weird accidents happen... little enough for the household skeptic to remain a skeptic for a long time. But here, things happen very quickly: for Hari Shankar, the love story of the previous inhabitants of the house and a certain similarity of the guy to himself are enough to persuade him. When the pretty lady bhoot starts singing songs for him, he doesn't have to think long. Hari is deeply convinced that he is the previous house owner's reincarnation, and that the bhoot is the great love of his former life. It doesn't take long before the romance starts (once more).

I should add that unlike most other haunted house movies, Mahal is not a horror movie at all. It is more like a drama movie with a touch of the supernatural. More than anything, it is about psychology. All in all, Mahal has more in common with "Kabhi Alvida naa Kehna" than with "Bhoot".

Personally, I like it when a movie has a tempo like Mahal's first half hour. I found myself wondering: if things are moving so quickly, what's going to be next? And here comes a surprise: during the following one and a half hour almost nothing happens at all. All we see is Hari's inner crisis deepening while his obsession with Kamini grows. Until his family and friends convince him to get married to another woman and finally get the hell out of that house. Nevertheless, Hari can't forget Kamini and keeps thinking of her, turning his poor wife's life into hell. That's the first half of the movie. In the second half, we know that Kamini is not a bhoot at all, but suffering from a heavy case of mythomania. Everything evolves now around the question what will happen next. Hari has pretty much lost it, and even though Kamini has already told the truth, he cannot accept that it was all nonsense. Clearly, a story like that cannot end happily, and so, Hari dies a stupid death, his friend has to spend the rest of his life with a gardener's egoistic daughter whom he has nothing in common with but this entire unfortunate history, and Kamini/Asha, instead of having the man she loves, now has two lives on her conscience and a husband she doesn't love and probably never will.

I genuinely love old movies, but there is a lot I miss in Mahal. A story like this is very, very dependent on building atmosphere, and I'm not sure the film makers succeeded in that. Granted, the camera performs true miracles at times, but as a whole, this movie reminds me a bit of a Wagner opera (about which Debussy once said: "wonderful moments, horrible quarters"). Although the music of Mahal undoubtedly belongs to the better soundtracks of old-school Bollywood, I have a feeling that there were too many songs, which made the longish movie even more longish. Although the story is interesting in itself, I have a feeling the script could have done more justice to it. Compared to other film scripts from the old days, when script writing was still an art and not merely a craft, it fails to impress.

With the actors I have a similar problem. The acting is surely not bad, but I miss that... that something. Ashok Kumar obviously does not have the kind of screen presence of a Humphrey Bogart, a Marlon Brando or a Robert Mitchum. Madhubala's role consists mostly of dancing and being beautiful. Besides, it is hard to identify with any of the characters in the movie. Hari is essentially a naive weakling, who in addition to that treats his poor wife more than horribly. Kamini turns out to be a cold, calculating would-be femme fatale who doesn't even seem to feel sorry for all the trouble she has caused. Both Hari and Kamini/Asha are sad examples of how sick and obsessive love can be. Ranjana, Hari's wife, is utterly colorless. The most reasonable person in the story is undoubtedly Hari's friend Shrinath, but at least at the beginning he is portrayed as a complete bumpkin. Together they are a bunch of egoistic, unsympathetic people, who actually deserve all the bad things coming to them.

All in all, Mahal is certainly not a bad movie, but it does not live up to the expectations raised during the first half hour, and more importantly, it could have done more justice to the promising storyline. As a matter of fact, I think this movie could be the starting point for a pretty decent remake. Not that I'm a great fan of Shahrukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai, but I'm sure they could do a terrific job here!

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Classic suspense movie

Author: manjits from Australia
14 March 2007

This is one of the greatest suspense movies of all times in any language. Kamal Amrohi was a genius, who could never reproduce at the same level, as in Mahal, his debut venture. In this respect, he reminds me of Orsen Welles, whose debut venture Citizen Kane was his best, and one of the greatest movie of all times. What upsets me most is that Mahal is considered a ghost story by many commentators. Nothing could be further from truth. It's a great suspense story, told in a straight forward way, and yet exceptionally hard to guess the surprise ending on first viewing. Khemchand Prakash's music is among the finest in Hindi movies. But for his early demise, he would have been as much an icon as Naushad he introduced to Hindi films.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Suspenseful drama

Author: sandeepjoshi9-1 from India
12 January 2007

This is classic in real sense of the word. A tight suspense from beginning to end. Mahal is one of the greatest films ever made in Bombay filmdom. Adding to the suspense is all time great song 'Aayega aane wala...'. See it for a very young Madhubala and highly expressive Ashok Kumar. Kamal Amrohi has not made any better movie than this one. Though his 'Daira' is another great hidden classic. He is primarily remembered for 'Pakeeza'. Very few films gained the status this film achieved. This is certainly one of the ten best from Bombay. The story has twisting end which will certainly surprise you and you will never be the same again. Most of the movie was shot indoors, one can easily tell that comparing it to modern standards, yet the directorial perfection is amazing. A must see.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Beautifully crafted film noir revolving around deeply passionate love

Author: msroz from United States
12 October 2013

"Mahal" is rightfully regarded as a classic in Indian cinema. The music is absolutely gorgeous, complemented by the visuals that go along with the songs, and the songs add to the story greatly, creating a pleasing whole. The overall pacing is deliberate and slow, allowing plenty of time to absorb the emotions that the characters are going through. The film is what you might call Gothic in its use of a large mansion with secret corridors, ornate decor and dark interiors. The lighting is noir chiaroscuro.

The story revolves around deep love from two separated lovers, brought together in the mansion, who do not even know each other, but who have been hit by the thunderbolt of love. Obsession in love rules.

The female is thought to be a ghost, photographed luminously. The new occupant, the male, falls head over heels for her. In true noir fashion, the unpredictable events that follow are on the tragic side.

The motivations of the characters depend on their beliefs in reincarnation. This does not make this movie into a horror movie or even a supernatural movie. Indeed, it surely is not a horror movie. Neither is it fantasy. It is a heightened melodrama of love, photographed using noir techniques, and built around a noir story that has a femme fatale or two and a crime to boot. Police and authorities do not play anything but peripheral roles and mainly toward the end. The story rests squarely on the travails of the ordinary persons involved. As in a good many noirs, a dreamlike and sometimes nightmarish quality pervades the film.

The songs became hits. The lead actress, Madhubala, became a superstar. This was the director's first film. He was Kamal Amrohi. I rate the film highly because he succeeded in producing and sustaining the uncertain and dark atmosphere within the film, which in some ways reminds me of "The Lost Moment" and "Letters from an Unknown Woman".

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3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:


Author: JoeytheBrit from
22 April 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Mahal is considered something of a classic in India, which is what prompted me to have a look at the DVD but today, if anything, it simply serves to emphasise the divide between that which the west and the east consider quality entertainment. That doesn't mean Mahal is bad, necessarily, just that it is different, and so it is difficult for a non-Indian to offer a review that most Indians won't consider to be wildly off the mark. At the end of the day, though, all you can do is offer your opinions and views and let people think what they will…

Like most Indian films, this one has a 150-odd minute running time thanks largely to both a number of musical numbers and a slow, meandering plot which occasionally captures the appropriate atmosphere for which it is obviously striving but which, for the most part, falls a little flat. The hero, well-played by a brooding Ashok Kumar, suffers inordinately for his love for the woman he believes to be a ghost but who is, in fact, his gardener's daughter. The film plays this as if it is some huge twist when her true identity is revealed at a trial, but nobody in this day and age will be surprised by the revelation. The object of his affections, it has to be said, is something of a hottie, and first-time director Kamal Amrohi allows the camera to lovingly caress her beauty at every opportunity, pulling in so close that her face fills the screen.

The film doesn't have the kind of plot needed to fill out the lengthy running time, and the sombre ruminations on fate and love and the forces beyond our understanding that control and toy with us all grow a little wearing after a while. But, having said that, it's not difficult to understand why this film is so popular in India.

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