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05 August 2011

Mere Mehboob (1963)

Directed by: HS Rawail
Music: Naushad
Starring: Rajendra Kumar, Sadhana,
Pran, Ameeta, Nimmi,
Johnny Walker,
Ashok Kumar

Muslim socials rank right up there with raja-rani films in my list of favourites. I have a soft spot for them. I enjoy Urdu, I love the culture, the tehzeeb, the adas, the clothes, the achkan, the graceful shararas, the churidars with flowing kameezes, the veils... There is a refinement, a restraint, an elegance about Urdu that warms my heart. And so, *despite* Rajendra Kumar, here is one of my favourites from the genre.

At the very beginning, let me tell you, please suspend disbelief. The whole movie is based on such an (sweet and) impossible (for our times) premise that if you cannot willingly accept that, the rest of the movie will fall flat. Just remember that the movie is set in a more innocent time, and that the initial scenes were (mostly) *exactly* played out the same way hundreds of times, in hundreds of campuses across the country. 

Trivia: Most of the college scenes in this film were shot at Aligarh University; the title song was shot at the University Hall. The film opens with a shot of the University's famous Clock Tower.

It is close to the end of the academic year, and the ready-to-graduate Anwar Hussain is hurrying through the campus when he bumps into a young woman who is hurrying in the opposite direction. He catches a glimpse of the most beautiful eyeshe has ever seen through the naqab; and there is a moment when their hands brush while picking up their respective books.
Anwar loses his heart to her on the spot, but despairs of ever meeting her again. After all, he is all set to leave the university, and where is he going to find her again? His friend, Ghayal, comes to his aid - there is a mushaira competition in which Anwar is going to take part (he is the defending champion); why doesn't he write an ode to the girl? Anwar does just that, pouring his heart out in verse after verse, and the lyrical Mere Mehboob echoes through the halls.

His eyes vainly search for his beloved through a sea of veils. Husna (an impossibly beautiful Sadhana), who is in the audience, cannot help but respond to his emotional appeal. She loses her heart to him, and tries to meet him after the function but shies away when others come to congratulate him. 
Anwar knows neither her name nor where she lives, and so, as Ghayal tells him, it is better if he buries his love wrapped in the shroud of his desires.  

Next day, a morose Anwar boards the train to Lucknow. Unknown to him, Husna is also on the same train. So is her brother, Nawab Buland Akhtar Saheb (Ashok Kumar), who, coincidentally, boards the same compartment as Anwar and Ghayal. The latter knows the Nawab Saheb and introduces him to his friend, and the journey passes pleasantly enough with the Nawab Saheb insisting that Anwar visit him while in Lucknow.

Anwar has gone straight to his sister's house, where he is met by a supremely happy Najma (Nimmi).
Orphaned at an early age, and with their inheritance stolen, Najma had taken her much younger brother and run away to become a dancer at a theatre. She has supported him, and paid for his education, and now he is back, she feels fulfilled.
He is equally fond of her, and wants her to stop dancing now that he is qualified to stand on his own feet. Najma, happy though she is to see him, does not want her lack of respectability to cloud his prospects. Anwar, to his credit, gives a damn, if only he can acknowledge her publicly.

But she refuses. She wants him to reach dizzying heights of success, and if that means that she, once Suraiyya Begum, daughter of a honourable doctor, has to remain Najma, then so be it. But she is admant that she will not have her brother dishonoured so. It is her wish that he regains the izzat  of their late father. 

Anwar moves into a rented house where he has a beautiful neighbour.
She is Naseem (Ameeta), Husna's friend. Husna visits her, and confides in her about her love for her poet. (And I still maintain that Sadhana CAN'T dance!)

Now Najma can dance, and does - on stage. In the audience is her brother - who can not only see her dance, but also her damnation; not only hear her sing, but hear the echoes of her helplessness. Later, at home, he begs her to leave the theatre for good. She promises that she will - the day he becomes a doctor.
But that is not enough for Anwar. When he insists, and threatens to not see her again, she gives in. There are many things that she hasn't told her brother; among them, that the Nawab Saheb is her protector.
When Husna, who knows about Najma, asks her brother why he cannot marry her, he tells her that society will never accept who Najma is today, even though she is the daughter of a respectable family. He loves her, but cannot marry her, since he has a responsibility to the name and honour of his family. And because he really loves her, he will not marry at all. 

Anwar is, in the meantime, frustrated because he has applied for the post of an editor at Azad Press, but that requires recommendations. Ghayal takes him to Nawab Sahab's palace. The Nawab, happy to see his young friends again, promptly does the needful. Anwar is grateful, but hates feeling obligated. To put him at ease, the Nawab asks if Anwar would tutor his sister - she writes poetry, but needs some help to refine her verse. 

Nawab Sahab is not a bad man at heart. He is well aware that his love for Najma (and hers for him) cannot be. His love has kept her safe from the advances of lecherous men, but who will keep her safe from ruination? He wants to withdraw from the relationship, so she can marry someone else. She stops him - मेरे आका, मेरी भलाई की आढ़ लेकर मुझसे मुंह न मोड़िये|(Don't turn your face away from me, under the guise of my well-being.) She has never dreamed of being his wife. As she says, मोहबत को सुहाग का जोड़ा पहनाया जाए, ये ज़रूरी नहीं|(It is not necessary that love has to wear a bridal veil.)
Both of them are accepting, not only of their love for each other, but also the circumstances that prevent them from legalising that relationship. 

Anwar, mindful of his obligations, comes to the Nawab Sahab's palace to teach the Nawab's sister. He asks her to recite a verse so that he can have some idea of her taste in poetry. He is shocked when she recites his verses!
And they talk about their lost loves - only, they pretend it is their respective friends who are the lovelorn couple. (Yeah, I know...) And they are both so happy at having found a way to meet the person they love, that they rush off to share the good news with their friends. Happy beyond belief, Husna sings Mere Mehboob while at Naseem's house, and Anwar overhears her. Only, the girl at the window is Naseem, and he thinks she is his burqewali.
She, in turn, is smitten by the handsome youth across the street. Luckily (for us, not for Naseem), Husna and Anwar soon realise the truth. Thanks to the Nawab Sahab who not only calls Anwar by name, but also informs Anwar (much to Husna's consternation) that it was Husna who studied at Aligarh University where she heard this poem, and has been boring him with it ever since.
As he is leaving, Nawab Sahab requests him to recite something fresh, something new. From behind purdah, Husna is enchanted... who wouldn't be?
Anwar does have a few qualms about Naseem but is able to squash them quite quickly. And when he next goes to tutor Husna, is audacious enough not only to break Purdah, but also the bounds of hijab.
He also reveals his feelings (if they weren't clear enough already) in verse.
Back home, Anwar is visited by a heavily veiled young woman - she has come to inquire about his health. Her mistress, Naseem Ara is concerned that he is ill, for he hasn't opened his balcony doors for many days. When the woman returns, Husna is waiting for her and is surprised to see Naseem in her maid's burqa. Naseem confesses that she had gone to meet her lover, and Husna, in love herself, wants to know all the details.
Soon they are competing with each other to praise their respective beloveds. And they decide to see whose beloved is really the best. 

Aside: My only problem with this song is that both of them are pining for Rajendra Kumar (and praising him!).

Despite this small bump, it looks like Husna's and Anwar's lovestory is on the right track, but little does Husna realise that she has just bumped into her fate.
He is Naseem's cousin, Munne Raja, who is seriously smitten by Husna's beauty. And who can blame him? Naseem warns him to forget her since she is the Nawab Buland Akhtar's only sister. 

Meanwhile, the Nawab is seriously thinking about Husna's marriage, and as is usual, he discusses it with Najma. Though he has received many proposals for her hand, he has an educated boy of good character in mind.
Najma, unaware that he is thinking of Anwar, nevertheless throws her vote in favour of the unknown youth - character and education are as important as wealth. The Nawab is satisfied. Anwar, it will be.

Husna and Naseem have still to compare their beloveds. Husna calls Anwar so Naseem can see him with her own eyes.
Poor Naseem Ara. And Anwar is equally shocked. However, both of them carry off the situation with grace and dignity. He is gentleman enough to call on her later so he can apologise; she accepts the apology and requests that Husna never know of her love for him. It is Naseem's turn to shut the windows of her balcony forever. 

On his way out, he is accosted by Naseem's aunt. She is willing to pay any price in order to keep Naseem happy, even if it means buying her love. Anwar recoils. The aunt is not beaten - she goes to Nawab Saheb with a proposal for Husna. If he accepts, then Munne Raja will get his Husna, and Anwar will have to marry Naseem. Nawab Sahab is not enthused. The aunt tries to convince him - not only will Husna live in luxury, Munne Raja will take care of all his debts! The Nawab is incensed. And worried.
The course of true love is not destined to run smooth. Munne Raja is not one to take the insult lying down. Neither is Naseem's aunt one to give up so easily.
And of course, Anwar does not know of the Nawab's relationship with his sister; and the Nawab does not know that Anwar is the brother of the woman whom he loves, but deems unfit to be his wife. 

Will Anwar accept his sister's illicit relationship with Nawab Sahab? Will the Nawab Sahab be able to put his sister's happiness above his family's honour? Will Munne Raja and the aunt succeed in throwing a monkey wrench into the works? And what will happen to Najma and Nawab Sahab's own love story? Will Husna and Anwar withstand all their trials and tribulations and win through?

Naushad composed such beautiful songs for this movie. My favourite song, apart from Mere Mehboob (Rafisaab's version) is the plaintive Yaad mein teri jaag jaag ke hum, and the soft Ae husn zara jaag tujhe ishq bulaaye.

The two-brother sister relationships in the movie (Anwar-Najma and Nawab Sahab-Husna) were drawn with such affection that it tugs at your heartstrings. This is an old-fashioned romance, gentle, quiet; there is honour, and what people are willing to do for the sake of it - both personal and familial; there is love that is ready to put duty first without too much melodrama. And characters behaved with such grace, dignity and strength under pressure, that it was hard put not to like them. They were human. There is an affectionate acceptance of that human frailty. 

And if all this is not enough to make you want to watch this movie, take a look at  all the female pulchritude on display - 
and Ameeta

 and Nimmi

ps: I know I have gone crazy with the screen caps, but it was hard to resist. :)

© Anuradha Warrier


  1. I absolutely *love* this movie and Sadhana is to die for! It was such a shock to watch Mera Saaya after this and see the ravages that goitre had caused to her once lovely face.

  2. Yes, that was rather sad, wasn't it? She was so luminous in this one.
    She did try to make a comeback of sorts in Anita, which was the third part of the trilogy that comprised Woh Kaun Thi and Mera Saaya, but it never quite worked. Anita had great songs, though.

  3. I adore Muslim socials too. :-) And this one (yes, despite Rajendra Kumar!) ranks as one of my favourites. Such a wonderful film, such good songs - even though my father's version of the title song ("Mera khoya hua rangeen pajama de de") sort of spoils things for me...!

  4. "Mera khoya hua rangeen pajama de de" - gosh, that made me laugh so much!

    But that song is *so* romantic that I am always a puddle of mush when I listen to it - there is so much emotion in the lyrics that I feel almost voyeuristic - it's like catching a glimpse into someone's soul. And I must say, despite my dislike of Rajendra Kumar, he did a good job in this movie.

    I was going to say "You too?" in response to your comment about Muslim socials, but I think I'm beyond being surprised at this point. We have too many similarities in taste and thought for that to happen any more. :)

  5. I’m so
    lucky today that I was able to read your post which gives me a lot of ideas
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  6. Welcome, Gulel, and thank you.

  7. Yes, muslim socials were charming, graceful, gentle stories. And the songs were really immortal. My only problem is when I listen to "Mere mehboob mein kya nahin...", and realise that they are talking about Rajendra Kumar.

  8. My only problem is when I listen to "Mere mehboob mein kya nahin...", and realise that they are talking about Rajendra Kumar.

    You and me, both, Nalini. :) Yet, for all that, he did do a good job in this one, and didn't look quite as much of a codfish as he usually does.

  9. It is seldom in hindi movies that romance is depicted with such innocence,charm and grace."Mere Mehboob" is an shining example of the same.The execution of the song "Tumse Izhaar-e -dil" is so beautiful and shows exchanges of sweet emotions of two people deeply submerged in love. Rafi's melodious voice adds richness to it. Sadhana looks so graceful and charming in this film. Rajendra Kumar has done justice to his character as Anwar and makes a delightful pair with Sadhana which later worked wonders in "Arzoo".

    As regarding screen caps,I have the same OCD when it comes to Sadhana's films like Arzoo,Ek musafir ek hasina etc.......... :)

  10. I agree with you - and it is that 'innocence, charm and grace' that made the lovestories of that time so engrossing. I loved everything about Mere Mehboob...

    Thanks for reading. :)


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