Before I write this review, I must highlight that I am not qualified in any way to critique old classics. So some of my view might sound naive or immature or simply prejudiced.
Directed by Kamal Amrohi, “Mahal” is one of the first gothic horror movie to be made in Bollywood which would later inspire a series of “Haweli main bhatakti aatma” genre of movies. It also launched the careers of Lata Mangeshkar with her melodious and haunting rendition of “Aayega, Aayega” and Madhubala with her expressive face.
The review contains spoilers and if you really ever plan to watch the movie don’t read ahead.
Our hero, (Ashok Kumar) comes to stay in this Haveli by the river Yamuna all by himself. He soon learns of the tragedy that came to pass there – a young lady died in grief over her lover’s accidental death. He also learns that it is believed that the ghost of that girl still walks the old mansion waiting for her lover to come to her. Sure enough, our young hero chances to see this vision for himself. Against the advice of his friends, he tries to make contact with this ghost and finds himself falling in love with her. Frustrated with his behavior, his family marries him off (what an idea, Sirji!) . Unfortunately, the marriage does not cure him of his depression and though he travels far to get away from his memories he is unsuccessful. His behavior drives his wife to commit suicide and as she dies she blames her husband for her death murder (you go girl!). What follows is a short and rather silly court case where all his revealed. Apparently the maid servant of the mansion, harboring dreams of being loved and being rich was pretending to be a ghost and walking around the premises in white/black clothes.
Now, dear readers, tell me – if one gets in one’s head to be pretend to be a ghost, to seduce a rich young man and then to convince hims to leave his wife and kill another person – is one not psychotic? How can that be passed of as great love? And then asking your great love to marry your best friend – isnt that superbly regressive? Also if you were just a ‘pretend’ ghost, then how can your voice actually haunt someone miles and miles away?
Those were my main logical issues with the movie – but then times have changed and for some twisted reason all of that made good sense at that time – which was why this movie was a blockbuster.
I felt that the movie was also a tad long and only some of the songs were good. BN Tagore’s art direction was brilliant – the Haveli, the costumes, the lights – everything was very classically gothic and I believe set the tone for design for movies like Madhumati, Karz. Ashok Kumar was a really good actor – I haven’t seen that many old movies and I was quite impressed by the suaveness of this old school actor. The supporting cast was quite inadequate – a trend I have noticed in quite a few older movies – if the hero and heroine can act then it doesn’t matter if the other minor characters can’t emote. They just fill spaces on the screen. Madhubala was quite melodramatic in her role and her beauty did have that haunting quality that was required for this movie. However, her dialog delivery was very flat and that sleepy look in the eyes could barely pass as seductive. I think that is what was expected of actresses of that time – coz Vijayalakshmi who played the wife acted exactly in the same way.
So, the scariest moment in the movie – watch and find out -there are a few nice creepy scenes
And the funniest moment in the movie – The dance of seduction by two sisters ( I know, I know – so many wrong images pop up but watch this)
Verdict: Though it may seem silly in the 21st century, the movie is still much better than what we have out in the market today. Watch it. However, “Madhumati” is still my favorite Indian horror movie.