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Bollywood Throwback movie review: Mela (2000)

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The film is representative of everything wrong with the ’90s’ masala flicks, which have now become one of a kind guilty pleasures.

(Editor’s note: This is the first in a recurring series where film critic Vikrum Mathur will be reviewing and giving his take on older Bollywood movies that perhaps have been forgotten or that can be introduced to an entirely new generation.)

One of the newest releases at the beginning of the new millennium, Mela, released in January 2000, was supposed to be a dynamite blockbuster. It had superstar Aamir Khan in the lead and was being directed by Dharmesh Darshan, at that time best known for making the classic hit Raja Hindustani (with Aamir). Twinkle Khanna was the female lead and perhaps the most important aspect of the film is that Aamir’s brother, Faisal, would be making a comeback to the acting world in the movie after a disastrous debut in Vikram Bhatt’s Madhosh. The film was touted as a huge commercial potboiler and audiences could not wait to see the magic of the coming together of all of the aforementioned factors.

Mela released and…was a box office disaster in every sense of the word. It was critically panned, ridiculed, and forgotten. For a film with such talent and massive expectations, this devastating blow affected every one’s career terribly, except for Aamir. In fact, the failure of Mela made Aamir stronger when the following year he bounced back with Lagaan and never looked back since.

However, is Mela really that bad when viewed 16 years later? Let’s find out…

melaMela tells the story of Roopa (Twinkle Khanna), a carefree, innocent young woman awaiting the return of her brother (Ayub Khan). When he returns, the happiness of the siblings knows no bounds and it seems that the world is an ideal and beautiful place. However, terror strikes in the name of Gujjar (Tinu Verma) who begins to terrorize Roopa’s village, eventually killing her brother and turning his attentions to her. Roopa escapes, with the vow that she will destroy Gujjar, and is subsequently presumed dead. Roopa, naturally, survives and befriends 2 buddies, the lovable Kishan (Aamir Khan), and Shankar (Faisal Khan). Kishan and Roopa fall in love, while Roopa and Shankar develop a sibling relationship. How they all team up to defeat Gujjar, forms the rest of the story.

In terms of performances, no one is truly at their best. Aamir, who normally did light roles very well, is a tad annoying here. For this, I do not blame him, I blame the director because we all know what a brilliant performer he is. Twinkle is not so bad, but her intense scenes become too melodramatic. Once again, I blame the director. Faisal Khan is actually the best of the lot, but in the face of his brother, he lacks the screen presence needed to be a solo leading man. Tinu Verma is pretty good as Gujjar, with a terrifying presence and look. Surprised he did not get many villain roles after this. All the supporting cast from Johnny Lever, to Asrani, to Navneet Nishan are ok.

The music of the movie by Anu Malik, Leslie Lewis and Rajesh Roshan is strictly average. Only the title song, “Mela Dilon Ka” by Alka Yagnik is worth remembering. And one will never forget it as there are a few different iterations of it throughout the movie (a trait common to Darshan’s films, where the title song is hammered into you). I am also sure the song “Dekho 2000 Zamana Aa Gaya” is probably not remembered as one of Aamir’s proudest moments.

Now to the script and direction. Thinking of the time the movie was made, there is nothing wrong with the script. At that time, these masala revenge potboilers ruled the roost, and usually were very successful. This movie had it all – revenge, love, songs, comedy – everything. However, the movie is not ambitious at all. It blatantly rips off from Hollywood movies, like Dumb & Dumber, and does not tread any new ground. The comedy falls flat, the revenge storyline is way, way too melodramatic (almost to the point where you are nearly getting depressed), and the love story angle is forced. Darshan made a better film with Raja Hindstani (also a bit melodramatic but tolerable) and made an excellent subsequent film with Dhadkan (which I think is his best work). Here, it is not clear what went wrong behind the scenes. Maybe ego clashes, maybe overconfidence, maybe lack of passion. Things just do not come together here and it shows, badly.

Having said that, I still recommend the movie. Why? Because it is bad fun. You won’t be bored, you will laugh hysterically at everything before you, and to give credit where it is due, despite a nearly 3 hour run time, the movie moves pretty fast. It is representative of everything wrong with the 90’s masala flicks, which have now become one of a kind guilty pleasures.

If you have time to kill and see the essence of Bollywood when it had run a particular genre of film dry, see Mela. I doubt anyone really remembers this movie today.

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