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The Palace of Illusions: From Madhubala’s luminescence to Lata Mangeshkar’s haunting voice

From Madhubala’s luminescence to Lata Mangeshkar’s haunting voice, Mahal changed many a destiny.

mahal, mahal movie, mahal film, madhubala, lata mangeshkar, rajkumari, zohra ambala, entertainment news From Madhubala’s luminescence to Lata Mangeshkar’s haunting voice, Mahal changed many a destiny.

Film: Mahal
Year: 1949
Director: Kamal Amrohi
Cast: Ashok Kumar, Madhubala
Music: Khemchand Prakash
DVD: Eros

She laid down the terms of endearment herself. In Kamal Amrohi’s 1949 reincarnation saga, Mahal, that catapulted her to fame, Madhubala — she of the perfect face and a million-dollar smile — told us what she was about. “Main koi veham nahin hoon.. koi khwaab nahin hoon.. mujhe gaur se dekho… mujhe chhuna mat.. mujhe sirf dekho.” Safe to say, we have kept our end of the bargain.

Once you get past that face and her presence, Amrohi’s directorial debut, Mahal, has ample moments to draw you in. His visual signature and attention to detail — much lauded in Pakeezah — is as much on display in his directorial debut. The long winding corridors of the mahal, the swaying chandeliers, the chiming clock, the framed doors and the girl on the swing singing Aayega aanewala… all create a gothic-noir mood which spooks and entices in equal measure. Amrohi’s German cinematographer Josef Wirsching played with shadow and light in an exquisite manner; his stunning close-ups create a love saga full of dramatic tension. Mahal is a tragic story of two ill-fated lovers who transcend time and death just to be together. The hero’s dialogue tells us about the high stakes of his kind of love: “Maine apni Kamini ko agle janam mein haasil karne ke liye taqdeer ko puri keemat adaa kar di hai.”
Amrohi was hellbent on Ashok Kumar playing the role of Hari Shankar in Mahal. Kumar had just moved to Filmistan, and decided to go all out. He didn’t just agree to work in this film, he also produced it for Bombay Talkies, his old studio. The casting of the female lead took its time. The part was originally written for the reigning superstar Suraiya, but Amrohi was in the mood to gamble. He reposed his faith in the then-16-year-old Madhubala who had done a few films as a heroine, without much success. Mahal changed her destiny.

It also changed the destiny of Lata Mangeshkar and accorded the respect to playback singers that had been missing so far. It was the first film where a playback singer was credited on the record sleeve. Before Mahal, the screen name of the heroine singing the song was credited. In the first batch of records, even for Mahal, Kamini (Madhubala’s character) is credited for Aayega aanewala. Legend has it that when the song played on AIR, listeners jammed the phone lines to know the name of the singer and, for the first time owing to public demand, Lata Mangeshkar’s name was announced on air.
In a piece on the film in Outlook, writer Nasreen Munni Kabir wrote about how Mangeshkar recorded the song. “She stood in a corner of the studio, with the microphone at its centre and then she walked toward the microphone singing the opening verse, from Khamosh hai zamana… to is aas key sahare, and when she got close to the mike, she sang the refrain, Aayega, aayega.. After much trial and error with this procedure, the song was finally recorded to everyone’s satisfaction.”

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Mahal is more than just this one song. Mushkil hai bahut mushkil is hauntingly beautiful. Dil ne phir yaad kiya and Rajkumari’s song, Haaye mera dil, are just as melodious. Amrohi’s transitions are unforgettable; a scene ends with Kumar declaring, “Main usse bhula doonga,” and it cuts to Madhubala singing Mushkil hai bahut mushkil.

Mahal set the trend of a beautiful spirit having her own “haunting caller tune”, which was later seen in films such as Madhumati, Bees Saal Baad and Woh Kaun Thi. It is regarded as Khemchand Prakash’s best musical work. But a studio employee had declared that the only reason the film would fail was because of its music. The story goes that after the film’s success, Prakash got a lot of fan mail and despite his deteriorating health, he went to that employee’s house and made him read the letters and eat humble pie.

Play It Again
l Aayega Aanewala – Lata Mangeshkar
l Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi – Rajkumari, Zohra Ambala
l Mushkil Hai Bahut Mushkil – Lata Mangeshkar
l Ghabra ke jo Hum Sar ko – Rajkumari
l Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya – Lata Mangeshkar
l Main Woh Dulhan Hoon – Rajkumari
l Haaye Mera Dil – Rajkumari

First published on: 05-07-2015 at 08:00:39 am
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