Mere Mehboob (My Beloved) doesn’t get off to a good start, beginning with a ponderous title song I thought would never end.
Starting out with what looked like it would be a slow, predictable love story, I wondered how it could be sustained over three and a bit hours most Bollywood film run to. Thankfully the film quickly picked up, adding elements of family strife, heartache and villainous ambition to the mix.
It also culminated with rather a ‘Thomas Hardy’ section, where multiple plot twists are swiftly tied in the space of the last couple of pages after the story has spent rest of the book meandering along.
This was bolstered, though not helped, by what felt like the absence of a couple key explanatory scenes right at the end of the film.
So, although it started slowly, it eventually picked up speed and was worth the wait.
There were good performances from leads Rajendra Kumar (as student poet Anwar) and Sadhana Shivdasani (as his beloved, Husna), but Johnny Walker – by now 37, but looking a bit older – was somewhat playing against his age as Anwar’s best friend from college. A more detailed look at the story can be found at the MemsaabStory blog.
What made the film stand out to my mind was that it featured mostly overtly Muslin characters. Given the state of the world today I feel (sadly) bound to quickly add that I don’t intend this as a criticism, it just seems unusual for a Bollywood film.
It’s an impression that is reinforced by the number of Bollywood actors, and the characters they play, who eschew Muslim names. Take, for example, Dilip Kumar. He’s considered one of the greatest actors of early Indian cinema, stared in films such as Madhumati and Andaz, and was born Muhammad Yusuf Khan in Peshawar, now in Pakistan.
Even today, My Name Is Khan was a rare occasion for superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s surname to match that of the character he was playing.
Mere Mehboob, however, has its lead character begin the film in Muslin dress and taking part in an Urdu poetry competition, which made for a nice change.