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A film like Mehbooba makes you nostalgic. It takes you back to the cinema of 1990s, when an altogether new breed of film-makers took over Bollywood. Multiple heroes, lavish sets, scenic locations... money was being pumped in from all corners in Hindi movies. Mehbooba comes across as an offshoot of films made in that phase.
It bears an uncanny resemblance to Saajan[two brothers in love with the same woman], Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam [locales of Budapest + Ismail Darbar + execution of songs], Hum Aapke Hain Kaun [a big hasta-khelta parivaar, with mama-mami, sisters, domestic helps et al... hero atop a chandelier, a la 'Didi Tera Dewar Deewana']. Come to think of it, there could be so many more inspirations...
That Mehbooba wears a dated look can be gauged by the outfits and hairstyles. Also, the presence of Manisha Koirala gives away [she reigned supreme then]. Having said that, let's also add that Mehbooba isn't a 'bad' film. It's dated, yes, but it has the old world charm that still works in the hinterland, in the mofussil areas, the Hindi belt. The tuneful songs coupled with the lavish execution, the atypical Hindi film situations [well presented], the presence of formidable stars like Sanju and Ajay...
Mehbooba is definitely not for the multiplex or yuppie crowd. It's for those who still want their dose of 5 emotional scenes, 4 comic scenes, 6 songs, a good dose of glamour and an item song, all packaged in those 2.30 hours.
Shravan [Sanjay Dutt], a casanova, loves being in the company of beautiful and desirable women. His charm and money gets him any beauty he desires till he meets Varsha [Manisha Koirala]. Varsha is the first girl in Shravan's life who says 'no' to his advances. Shravan is not the type who would take no for an answer. Yet, he realizes his mistake and apologizes to Varsha. To make amends, he asks for Varsha's hand in marriage. Varsha's father convinces her that he is a changed man now and genuinely loves her. After much deliberation, Varsha agrees and they get engaged. Soon, their romantic sojourn ends in lovemaking.
Varsha's dream comes to a shocking end when Shravan tells her that his love for her was just a drama so he could sleep with her. Heart broken and shattered, Varsha feels shattered, her father dies of heart failure. She leaves New York and starts life afresh in Budapest. Much later, Shravan's younger brother Karan [Ajay Devgan] decides to get married. The girl is Payal, who, in actuality, is Varsha. Is this a plan by Varsha to teach Shravan a lesson? What happens when Karan gets to know what transpired between Varsha and Shravan?
The story [Rumi Jaffery] of Mehbooba is as old as the hills. Actually, you don't need to read the synopsis in the booklet to know what the storyline is. 10 minutes into the film and you know what's in store next. But what saves the film from sinking is Afzal Khan's handling of the scenes and the lavish making. A few moments are truly well handled. Take, for instance, the two confrontations between Sanju and Manisha in the first hour as also the hair-raising climax. But what dilutes the impact is its length. With a running time of close to 3 hours, you actually want to scream, "Ab bas bhi karo yaar!"
Ismail Darbar's music is a major asset. Although the songs have a Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam hangover, they still linger in your memory. Ashok Mehta's cinematography is top notch. That the veteran is a master in his field is re-affirmed yet again. Dialogues [Javed Siddiqui] relies on cliched lines. Sets [Nitin Chandrakant Desai] are truly lavish.
Both Sanju and Ajay have visited similar roles in the past and hence, it doesn't take much effort to get these roles right. But Manisha Koirala, what can you say? So beautiful, so regal, so talented... where did it all disappear? Kader Khan's role is also an extension of what he has portrayed in film after film.
On the whole, Mehbooba comes too late in the day. Had it released in the 1990s, well, it might've been a huge grosser. But there's still hope! A film like Mehbooba works well, even today, in the hinterland, the Hindi belt, the interiors and that's where it might find its audience.