Bollywood Classics : Mahal (1949)

Kamal Amrohi’s Mahal was released sixty seven years ago, to a mesmerized and awestruck audience throughout the  country. A Musical Reincarnation Thriller, a movie defining genre, Introducing Beautiful Madhubala in just an age of 16 and launching the career of Lata Mangeshkar, the playback singer who is going to hold Guinness World Record for Most Number of Recorded Songs. The movie that Inspired countless others, that inspired a Masterpiece from Bimal Roy- Madhumati.

Madhubala in her Debut Movie Mahal at age of 16
Gorgeous Madhubala in her Debut Movie Mahal at age of 16

Kamal Amrohi only directed four movies in his career, his best being the last Paakezah, but his Debut from 1949 is not bad either. In-fact it is surprisingly brilliant melodrama mixed with a tinge of insanity to go as a dessert. If anyone would ask what genre this movie would belong, I would have to invent one. It certainly is a Gothic Thriller, but I am not sure whether Romantic-Musical-Gothic Thriller exist as a genre.  It is one weird movie with Insane characters, strange story line and Stunning Cinematography.

After India’s Independence, as Bombay Talkies slowly came to it’s end, they made  a lot of movies and Mahal was one of those movies, the movie starts with Hari Shankar (Ashok Kumar) a son of rich Court Judge, entering an old abandoned mansion where only one gardener lives, he recently bought the house from a government auction. When he asks the gardener to leave the house a portrait falls from wall, showing a face strikingly similar to himself.

Ashok Kumar in Mahal

The movie starts as a regular Horror house movie, with scary ambience and slanting camera moves. With sound of wind gushing by and leaves flying around. But the interesting thing about it is, the movie does not have cliches, the movie created them. Mahal was India’s first Reincarnation Thriller and also India’s first genuine Gothic Horror. The movie started the trend of reincarnation movies that spans decades to the latest released a couple of years ago.

Without Spoiling the story- because trust me you do not wanna be- the movie takes a lot of strange turns, where you might stop and wonder why are you doing this with your life and whether these characters are sane or not. But in the end it all comes to a satisfying end for a pessimist. A movie with theme of obsessive love and characters ‘nuttier’ than a lot of Psychos. I mean these characters are not joker kind of insane, they just take a few decisions which makes you wonder why would anyone do that.


With a brilliant Song sung by Lata Mangeshkar that is still famous and has been countless times remixed and reused- Aayega Anewala- she became a star and changed Movie industry in India. At Record Labels in Bollywood, there used to be just the name of characters with Song Name. But after this movie due to popular demand, they wrote Lata Mangeshkar’s name at record label and thus she became a household name when All India Radio recieved numerous calls asking the name of the Singer and Even All India Radio had no idea what her name was.

let us finally talk about the best thing about the movie, the movie is gorgeously shot, well Madhubala can brighten each frame she is in with her natural young beauty, but the cinematography is stunning throughout the movie. Cinematographer Josef Wirsching worked on the movie- who also worked with Kamal Amrohi in his Masterpiece pakeezah- and transformed the screen into a visually beautiful flowing poetry.
Beautiful Cinematography

For example the scene in which the portrait falls down, we see the painting fall just for a second and in the next scene, we have a close up of Ashok Kumar, the camera drifts slowly down to his legs as we trace his footsteps with leaves in wind and slowly reveals the painting. The scene is brilliantly shot and takes the viewer inside the movie and flows easily.

Bimal Roy who was an editor for the movie went on to be inspired by the movie to create a Bollywood Masterpiece Madhumati, which was later copied a lot of times, not only in India, but also in Hollywood. The reincarnation Movies started streaming in Bollywood and never stopped. Mahal Above all was a Movie which changed bollywood in many ways.

There  is no doubt then that The film rightfully was included in the British Film Institute’s list, “10 great romantic horror films”. It deserves it’s spot.


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