BLAST FROM THE PAST Friday Review

Mehboob Ki Mehndi (1971)

Rajesh Khanna and Leena Chandravarkar in “Mehboob Ki Mehndi” which had superhit songs.

Rajesh Khanna and Leena Chandravarkar in “Mehboob Ki Mehndi” which had superhit songs.

Once upon a time, in Bollywood, there was a genre, the Muslim, social, musical drama, now long dead and truly buried which was marked by heroes donning sherwanis and leading ladies in shararas and ghararas; the language was Hindi, laced with heavy doses of Urdu, the ambience overflowed with Lucknawi tehzib . There was a surfeit of songs with lilting lyrics and endearing music. Mandatory scenes included a song in the audience-packed college auditorium rendered either by the hero or heroine and/or a qawwali or mushaira with the lead pair participating.

Almost all the top actors of that period, Ashok Kumar to Rajendra Kumar to Meena Kumari to Pradeep Kumar and Bharat Bhushan who were favourites, acted in films based on this genre, including, “Bahu Begum”, “Chaudhvin Ka Chand” and “Mere Mehboob”. By early 1970s such films became fewer. “Mehboob Ki Mehndi” starring Rajesh Khanna and Leena Chandavarkar, was perhaps one of the last successful ones. Incidentally, Rajesh Khanna co-produced it with H.S. Rawail, who directed it too with aplomb.

Subsequent developments, like militancy, changed the contour and format of films which took a leaf from the real life and presented it to audience. These included “Mission Kashmir”, “Fiza”, “Kurbaan” among others.

Genre: Muslim social

Director: H.S. Rawail

Cast: Rajesh Khanna, Leena Chandavarkar, Pradeep Kumar, Sunder, Iftekhar, Manorama, Jagdish Raj

Story: Anjana Rawail

Dialogue: Gulzar

Screenplay: H.S. Rawail and Gulzar

Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

Music director: Laxmikant-Pyarelal

Box office status: Hit

As for “Mehboob Ki Mehndi” written by Anjana Rawail, with screenplay credits shared between H.S. Rawail and Gulzar, and dialogues penned by Gulzar, it scored a bull’s eye at the box office, riding on Rajesh Khanna’s stupendous wave. Khanna looks dapper and handsome as Yusuf, the college going scion of a rich Nawab, Safdarjung of Lucknow (Iftekhar, with his impeccable dialogue delivery and regal persona, doing justice to his role as the patriarch). Khanna’s mannerisms and stylized acting in songs add to the flavour of the film.After a series of rather predictable twists, love blossoms between Yusuf and Shabana (Leena Chandravarkar), who is hired as a governess for Yusuf’s nephew, Phirangi. Shabana, who studies in a college, and lives with her granny, lands in the Nawab’s service after escaping the clutches of a wicked pimp, Usman (Jagdish Raj in a rare negative role who looks suitably wicked and cunning to lure a damsel into the world of prostitution). While travelling from Hyderabad (from where Usman operates) to Lucknow in a train, Shabana comes in contact with an old, bearded man, Khairudin (Pradeep Kumar) whom she later encounters in the Nawab’s haveli, taking care of the crippled Safdarjung.

Meanwhile, the love story moves towards a predictable dénouement as the ceremonies for Shabana’s engagement with Yusuf are in full swing but the former suffers from guilt of not having revealed her past to Yusuf, that her mother worked in a brothel and her father’s identify was unknown. She confesses everything in a letter to Yusuf, which she hands over to Khairudin to deliver. Meanwhile, Khairudin, who has an old score to settle with Nawab Safdarjung, makes another attempt on Yusuf’s life, but relents in the nick of time after going through Shabana’s letter. With this, all decks are cleared for the wedding which is thwarted with Usman resurfacing and trying to outrage Shabana’s modesty leading to murder, courtroom drama and the predictable revealing of the past.

The screenplay, although taut for most part, tends to slacken at certain critical points in the story, like the unnecessary introduction of Sunder’s character towards the end, followed by a quick-fire courtroom scene. Also, despite being given a tailor made role, the young Phirangi is no match for child talent as showcased by the likes of many other child artists. In fact many times the screen time given to him seems irritatingly long.

Leena Chandravarkar looks petite and coy however her lack of talent is evident when compared to her contemporaries like Mumtaz, Hema Malini and Sharmila Tagore.

The film scores a perfect 10 on the music front; the songs are riveting and enough in number to classify the film as a musical. Anand Bakshi with his pen and Laxmikant-Pyarelal with their baton, weaved a web of magical notes that retain their charm till today. Every number, “Itna To Yaad Hai Mujhe” (Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar), “Jane Kyon Log Mohabbat Kiya” (Lata Mangeshkar), “Mehboob Ki Mehndi” (Lata Mangeshkar, Hemlata), “Pasand Aa Gai Hai Ek Kafir Haseena” (Mohammed Rafi) and “Ye Jo Chilman Hai” (Rafi), is a gem.


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