MAHAL (Kamal Amrohi, 1949)

Its extreme length burdened to the point of multiple fractures in a meandering, attenuated narrative, writer-director Kamal Amrohi’s The Mansion nevertheless possesses an eerie charm that sporadically draws us in after we feel we’ve been shut out: a facsimile of protagonist Hari Shankar’s enrapture with Kamini, the succulent, ghostly girl who keeps appearing and disappearing, but can most often be found on a swing, once Hari Shankar has assumed occupancy of the spooky mansion that his father bought and summarily rejected as vile and uninhabitable. “O ye, my beloved will return,” Kamini sings, convincing Hari Shankar that he is the reincarnation of her long-ago lover (a wall portrait of someone from the past who looks just like him also helps), and when he marries Ranjana—an attempt by concerned others to wean him off his obsession with Kamini—but continues with that obsession, well, what is a wife to do but commit suicide in such a way that it appears that her husband has killed her? A trial ensues; having plagiarized from Hollywood’s Rage in Heaven (W.S. Van Dyke, Richard Thorpe, 1941), the Hindi film also steals a bit from They Won’t Believe Me (Irving Pichel, 1947). It is impossible to believe anything at all about Amrohi’s farfetched melodrama except that that’s one creepy mansion—but one without an Ingrid Bergman or a Susan Hayward hanging about.
     For the record, Kamini insists from the start that she is not a ghost, not a dream, but “a reality”—whatever that might mean in such a context as the film provides. It all proves a matter of central caste-ing; keep a lookout for the gardener’s daughter.
     Except for one spirited passage, which shows a solo dance that might be to the death, the film is devoid of suspense.

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