OLD IS COLD
Every single thing about this DOA melodrama is dated beyond belief.
JULY 13, 2008 – JUST LAST WEEK, HARRY BAWEJA MADE A LOVE STORY
that whisked us to the future, and this week, with Mehbooba, Afzal Khan is apparently on a mission to send us to the past – to the nineties, specifically 1999, the year of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Here are some specifics that bolster my contention: (1) It’s a sort-of love triangle that begins in Budapest and winds up in one of those impossibly populated (and impossibly colourful) mansions. (2) It features Ajay Devgan (playing Karan) as a besotted lover who discovers that his girlfriend Payal (Manisha Koirala) has a problematic past. (3) Like Salman Khan’s episode of flatulence in the earlier film, Ajay too experiences a mortifying moment when Himani Shivpuri catches him naked after a bath. (She screams, at first, and then bursts into giggles. Had this not been a family publication, we could have had some fun conjecturing the reasons behind these reactions.)
More evidence comes (4) from Ismail Darbar being the composer (a few of his typically intricate tunes made me want to check them out later, without the distractions of the eyesore choreography), (5) from a set that actually looks like the very same dance floor that was used for Dhol baaje, and (6) from the reverential nods to a sweetly rose-tinted notion of Indian culture that appears to exist only in our cinema any more. (Sanjay Dutt plays Shravan, and when he approaches Payal’s father for her hand, he reasons there’s no need to check with her, that papa’s sanction will suffice because it’s the parents who decide such things on behalf of their children. The line sounds even loopier the way Shravan puts it: Hamaare sanskar mein bachchon ka rishta maa baap hi tair karte hain. Don’t you just love it when a man of today can so casually work a word-bomb like sanskar into his conversation?)
But as Mehbooba unfolds, the director appears to have pointed the dial on the time machine to a few decades earlier. He appears to have made Love Story 1965, if you sample these developments: (1) Karan, in a pique, is shown seated next to a stuffed leopard baring its fangs in an impotent gesture of rage. (2) Shravan, in a fit of depression, pounds away at a grand piano, a cigarette dangling loosely from his lips and a bottle of scotch by the side; meanwhile, the chandeliers in the mansion sway madly, as if propelled by his stormy sighs, literalising Rafi’s musings of Apni to har aah ek toofan hai. (3) Payal spouts a line of spectacularly regressive (for today) thought when she expresses her “unworthiness” for marriage to Karan; she confesses that she’s been deflowered, and asks if he would be able to, uh, tread on a path where someone else’s footprints lie before him.
I could add a couple of points – a suicidal car chase is featured in the climax (no mountainside hairpin bends, thankfully); a tasteful trickle of blood from the corner of the mouth offers evidence that someone is about to shuffle off his mortal coil – but let me get to the reason I’m speculating with lists instead of hunkering down to write an actual review. The problem is, film-wise there’s not much else to write about. Mehbooba is a bad movie, plain and simple – and with a capable director, it could have been a good bad movie. It could have been one of those crude melodramas that you think you can’t bear to sit through, but manage to nonetheless because the Indian blood coursing proudly through your veins has, after years of crude-melodrama conditioning, adapted to these audiovisual assaults on your senses, the way the Inuit can take the extreme cold and the Bedouin the Saharan sun. Most of the time, with these films, we respond without wanting to respond, in an almost Pavlovian fashion that makes us feel stupid and somewhat guilty afterwards.
But what pleasures could possibly be derived from a film whose director professes – in a title card at the beginning – that he learnt the “finer nuances of filmmaking” from Raj N Sippy, the titan who most recently brought us Jimmy? That’s surely why we’re subjected to such “touches” as the one where the lights go off in the room when Payal confesses to Karan that she’s not a virgin and therefore unworthy of him; and when he dismisses this objection with a happy wave and opens his arms to her, the lights come back on. (Who knew electricity could be such a potent barometer of the sexual revolution?) The actors soldier bravely through, doing what they can with the material, though I’m fairly certain it’s going to take a while for Ajay Devgan to live down this part where his preferred mode of transport is a carriage drawn by four horses, and where he’s required to declare his love, through song, in full view of a few dozen stupefied Hungarians, who are no doubt wondering if whatever he has is contagious.
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