24th August 2000 was the day Kalyanji (of the music director duo Kalyanji Anandji) passed away. Here we revisit a Bollywood film that had some wonderful and memorable compositions by the duo.
Most Bollywood fans will always tend to associate the title Mahal with Kamal Amrohi’s 1949 thriller that starred Ashok Kumar and Madhubala.
However, there was one more film titled Mahal that starred Dev Anand and Asha Parekh. The film, released in 1969, was declared a surprise hit at the box office.
Rajesh (Dev Anand) is an egalitarian gambler who is considered to be lucky at the gambling wheels due to his Midas touch. He also works as a secretary to Shyam (Abhi Bhattacharya). He often gambles to help others. His mother (Pratima Devi) is always at loggerheads with him, chiding him for gambling.
She laments that his father was cheated by his friend and that was reason enough for his untimely death. Notwithstanding the family's parlous financial situation, Rajesh is a happy-go-lucky man. Rajesh has a younger sister Munni aka Chanda (Azra) whom he dotes on. Chanda is in love with Ramesh (Sudhir).
In Calcutta, Roopa’s uncle receives a proposal for Roopa (Asha Parekh) from Shyam. Both are scheduled to meet. But Shyam has an exigency. He writes a letter to Roopa and asks Rajesh to deliver it to her.
Shyam is interested in getting married to her. But Roopa is not interested in the alliance. Even before Rajesh can convey the message, Roopa and her friends mistake Rajesh for Shyam and rag him. But things are sorted out and all of them set out for a picnic. Finally, Rajesh tells Roopa that he was just getting even with her. This infuriates Roopa.
Motilal (Rajan Haksar) runs a gambling den. He asks Rajesh to carry out an important assignment for him in Darjeeling, for which Motilal cooks up a story saying that his real name is Ravi and that he is the sole legal heir of Seth Dinanath, his father’s younger brother.
Motilal says that Seth, who is on his death bed, wants to meet his nephew Ravi and atone for his sins. All that Rajesh has to do is to visit Seth Dinanath and pretend to be Ravi until the old man’s death.
Moti manages to convince Rajesh to pose as Ravi and gives him forty thousand rupees in cash for the job.
Seth has a huge tea estate in Darjeeling. After Seth’s death, Ravi would be the legal heir. But he is hesitant to meet his uncle as his splenetic uncle had ill-treated his family.
Meanwhile, Rajesh has discovered that Ramesh is none other than his childhood friend and he loses no time in fixing the marriage of Ramesh with Chanda using the money that Motilal has paid him. Once the marriage is solemnized, Rajesh confides in Chanda about an important assignment that he has to complete and boards the train to Darjeeling. Moti has given him a notebook that contains details of the family history.
Soon after Rajesh leaves for Darjeeling, Motilal is murdered. The suspense now starts building up gradually.
Before Rajesh reaches Darjeeling, he encounters a mysterious woman (Farida Jalal in a brief but memorable role) on the train. The woman leaves her scarf behind. He also meets an old man (David) who is baffled that Rajesh is drawing the portrait of his daughter Roopa.
Rajesh is picked up from the station and housed in Hotel Mount Everest. A driver comes to pick him up from the hotel. Rajesh meets Seth Dinanath and introduces himself as Ravi. Sethji is confined to a wheelchair and he tells Ravi that he was eagerly looking forward to his arrival. He expresses penitence for his past misdeeds.
Ravi is introduced to Sethji’s nurse (Farida Jalal). Sethji asks Ravi why the time 9.33 am is important for him. He wants to test whether Ravi is his nephew or an impostor. Ravi gives the correct answer and Sethji is convinced that Ravi is his nephew. Sethji tells Ravi that he has been put up in a hotel and has also been enrolled in a popular club so that he becomes well-known in social circles in Darjeeling.
In the skating club, David meets Ravi and invites him home for his daughter Roopa’s birthday party. Roopa is not too happy to meet Ravi (or Rajesh) and makes her unpleasantness clear to him. Roopa’s mother (Ratnamala) keeps on shrieking for no particular reason. She is concerned about Roopa going astray. Unable to pacify a livid Roopa, Ravi returns to his hotel room where the nurse is waiting for him. She soon bids him goodbye addressing him as Rajesh.
A shocked Ravi follows her to her home where she sings a song (the nurse can also dance well, so it seems). She tells Ravi that he should poison his uncle the next day and that they could share the property equally after his death. Else she will spill the beans to the uncle that he is an impostor.
Ravi agrees but the next day he subverts the attempt to poison his uncle.
David reprises his violin playing act from Shehar Aur Sapna (which is a tad irritating) and assures Roopa that Ravi is a good choice for her. He informs Roopa that Ravi is the only heir to the wealthy Seth Dinanath.
Roopa thaws and falls for Ravi’s charms.
Ravi and Roopa meet, get drenched in the rain, lose their way and finally locate a desolate cottage that has a bonfire and a cot along with pillows, mattresses, and blankets. But mercifully Ravi and Roopa don’t get swayed by emotions (unlike Aradhna and the song Roop Tera mastana) – instead they sing a dulcet duet.
But soon enough Ravi is trapped. He receives a call from his uncle and when he rushes to the mansion, the uncle is dead. One more shock awaits Ravi as he realizes that the uncle (Seth Dinanath) who is dead is not the same person (Sapru) whom Ravi had met on his first visit to the mansion. The police arrive and arrest Rajesh.
Rajesh’s friend cum brother-in-law Ramesh is the police inspector who is in hot pursuit after Rajesh. It dawns on Rajesh that he has been framed.
As Rajesh escapes, he spots Badriprasad, the impostor and follows him to his house. But the impostor is also murdered and it is revealed that Farida Jalal was Badriprasad’s daughter. She tells him that they had been forced to act as per the instructions that were given to them.
Rajesh gloms onto her words because that is the only way he can find out clues to trace the real assassin.
Rajesh’s mother is convinced that he is the assassin and bristles at her son but Chanda is convinced that her brother cannot be a murderer. She shields him when he visits her during raksha bandhan but the house is surrounded by the police.
Ramesh steamrolls the family and holds Rajesh guilty of the murder. Still, Rajesh manages to escape with support from his sister.
Seth Dinanath’s will is not traceable. The secret of this will is in a ring that is in possession of Shyam who claims that he is Sethji’s long lost nephew Ravi.
Is Shyam telling the truth? Who is the real heir to Sethji’s huge fortune?
Who killed the nurse and the impostor? Who killed Motilal? How will Rajesh prove his innocence and escape the gallows? Will his adroitness come to his aid? Who murdered Seth Dinanath?
You have to watch the film for answers to these questions (No spoilers please!).
The film is fairly engaging and one can actually forgive the tacky production values (especially scenes that have been shot indoors) as well as a few glaring loopholes in the plot. Roopa’s ambivalent feelings for Rajesh are inscrutable at times. The subplot involving Kamal Mehra and his comic antics ends up slowing the pace of the film that is otherwise brisk due to the slick editing.
The debonair Dev Anand delivers a stellar performance even though his character has similarities with the one that he portrayed in Jewel Thief (1967). His mannerisms are more subtle here and are bereft of prolix normally associated with his characterizations.
The screen chemistry between Dev Anand and Asha Parekh is sparkling. Of the supporting cast, Farida Jalal and Azra stand out with their earnest performances. Sudhir looks charming but scores average in the acting department. Kamal Mehra and Sundar ham as usual.
This was one of the earliest films of Farida Jalal and she has performed a sexy dance number along with Dev Anand. Incidentally, this was also one of Azra’s last films. Azra was the daughter of yesteryear actress Sarojini and producer Nanubhai Vakil. The beautiful Azra began her career with Mother India (1957) and acted in films like Babar, Junglee and Ganga Jamna but she did not make much headway in Bollywood despite having an excellent screen presence.
It is a mystery how a beautiful actress like Azra never got the recognition that she rightfully deserved. Azra married into the reputed Lokhandwala family (they are builders – you would have heard of Lokhandwala Complex in Andheri (West), Mumbai) in 1971 and then no one heard of her. It was only recently revealed that Azra was very much in Mumbai and lived in a palatial mansion in Bandra. But she chose to shun the limelight after marriage and is quite happy in her space.
The music by Kalyanji Anandji had some brilliant and soulful compositions like – “Ankhon Ankhon Mein Hum Tum”, “Yeh Duniyawala Poochenge” and “ Aiyee, Aap Ka Tha Hamein Intezaar”.
The cinematography by Pratap Sinha is a feast for the eyes with the beautiful locales in Darjeeling that have been aesthetically captured on camera. The indoor scenes have been shot in Filmistan Studio and Mehboob Studio.
The film is a fast-paced thriller and some of the credit has to go the slick editing by Ramchandra Mahadik. Produced by Mahipatray Shah, Mahal was directed by Shanker Mukherjee.
Don't miss this edge-of-the-seat thriller.
(After working in the corporate world for close to two decades, Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam started her second career innings as a head-hunter. She is passionate about Hindi movies and loves retro music. When her family shifted to Chennai in the 80s, Bhagya had a taste of Tamil cinema too. In the long term, she plans a book on two of her favourite directors – Guru Dutt and K Balachander. She travels across the country on work and is based in Mysore.)