Mehbooba

By Subhash K Jha

Starring Manisha Koirala, Sanjay Dutt, Ajay Devgan
Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali….oops, Afzal Khan
Rating: * ½

Manisha Koirala is the one reason why one would want to brave this prolonged homage to the cinema of Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

This one is a 3-hour long rag-carpet welcome to Sanjay Leela Bhansali Hum…Dil De Chuke Sanam. The plot, ambience, characters, music and even the interactive interludes between the main protagonists are all derived with lipsmacking relish from Bhansali's film.

Why, Mehbooba (no relation to Shakti Samanta's Mehbooba in 1977) even goes to Budapest where Bhansali shot the second-half of Hum….

Except, that Mehbooba goes to Budapest in the first-half and to the bustling screechy noisy food-laden haveli from the first-half of Bhansali's Hum… in the second-half.

Ho hum…. The melodies (if one may call them that) flit in and out like unwanted guests after every ten minutes of dialogue.

If the songs were sacrificed on the editing table, maybe—just maybe—Mehbooba would be more bearable in its old-world love triangle ambience of two brothers (one idealistic and lovelorn, the other unscrupulous and ever-libidinous) who fall for the same girl.

The meat of the m├ętier goes to the majestic Manisha…Still resplendent and lovely no matter where and in what they put her, Manisha never fails to infuse a poetic aura to her character.

Fetchingly photographed by that wunder-lensman Ashok Mehta at times Manisha looks as incandescent as she did in Bhansali's Khamoshi: The Musical.

Alas, like this long-delayed film, Manisha too has gone through innumerable ups and downs in her career.

The inconsistencies in the narration are covered up with a lot of exterior gloss. To the director Afzal Khan's credit the film's scattered pastiche is woven into what can pretty much be described as a seamless 'yawn' about two men and a woman who should know better.

The sets and locations are opulent flamboyant and eye-catching. No subtlety is applied in the visuals or emotions. The song-and-dance numbers that come along with alarming rapidity are shot with an eye for unhampered opulence.

So who gets the girl at the end? That's a question which must remain in the audiences' mind in any love triangle.

Beyond a point we stop caring completely about these three compulsively conflicted characters, even though one of them is played by a star who brings in an element of the tragic and classic grandeur from an era gone-by.

And one isn't referring to either of the two male leads. Devgan and Dutt behave like Devgan and Salman Khan from Bhansali's Hum Dil… discussing the same woman with each other ad nauseam as though she were two different entities.

A case of a split personality? By the time the triangle is resolved (with one of heroes coming to a suitably stickly nemesis) the only 'split' personality is the audience.

Most of them have fled the dread of watching a film that goes back the oldest traditions of Hindi cinema and emerges with a product that substitutes genuine emotions with elaborate props borrowed from a master storyteller's creative godown.

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