Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Mehbooba took close to a decade in the making, and it must have taken a great deal of patience on the part of director Afzal Khan and everyone else involved, to see it through. The stars change sizes and hairstyles from one scene to the next, the costumes are clearly dated, but the somehow, the thread of the plot (such as it is, borrowed from a hundred films) is not lost.

We can snigger at the awful costumes, the garish interiors, the tawdry dance numbers, hokey emotions and long-lost Kader Khan, but some years ago, this is what our mainstream films used to look like. Now some of our films have acquired the spit and polish look of Hollywood, but think back to hits like Saajan, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and maybe Hum Aapke Hain Koun and this film fits right into that bracket. New York girl Varsha (Manisha Koirala) turns down the advances of rich play boy Shravan (Sanjay Dutt), slaps him in public and huffs that all women are not saleable commodities. Shravan plans an elaborate revenge, pretends to reform, proposes to her, seduces and ditches her.

Varsha changes her name to Payal and goes to start life afresh in Budapest (shot lovingly by Ashok Mehta) —must be because Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was shot there, or it could be any place; folks speak Hindi anyway! There she is chased by Karan (Ajay Devgan) an artist, who claims she is the women of his dreams—his kitschy paintings bear witness to it. On the insistence of her uncle (Kader Khan), she agrees to marry Karan—not once, it seems, pausing to ask for his surname!

The scene shifts to a huge palace in Rajasthan, and it is revealed that Shravan and Karan are brothers – so close that they sleep in the same bed, bathe in the same tub, drink booze from the same bottle and lust after the same mujrewali. "Their tastes are so similar," says the fond mother. The two go "meri wali is better" (by this time Shravan is really in love with Varsha) and audience is supposed to feel a twinge-- the "meri wali" is the same, what's going to happen now?

Time was when Bollywood audiences cared for such spurious suspense, even though they knew exactly how the story would end. Now we just look at our watches, alarmed that the film has gone on for three hours, and hadn't it better end? At least the two male stars are still big, though Manisha Koirala has faded out--if released ten years ago, Mebhooba might even have been a hit. Now it's the equivalent of a museum piece.


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