I think of Mohnish Behl (sometimes credited as Mohnish Bahl) as one of Bollywood’s less prominent, but more consistent, actors. He is definitely not one of the big stars in the industry, and I’ve never seen him play the leading man in a movie (never even really seen him dance apart from some simple, undemanding stuff in ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’) – but his performances are usually well-executed and solid. He always a good complement to a cast and does a good job of supporting the big shots in each movie. I really like that. Mohnish is in his forties now, and he’s the son of the late and great Nutan Behl, a very talented actress from way back. He also happens to be a good singer, as well as an actor. Apparently he’s had more success with TV series than movies – which doesn’t surprise me because he’s usually second (or third, or fourth) banana in his films.
I’ve read somewhere that Mohnish is known for playing the ‘bad guy’, and has basically been pigeon-holed into that role, and I think, maybe, at least part of that is attributable to his ‘dark’ looks – and I’m not referring to skin tone (although he is dark-skinned) – I’m talking about the prominent jet-black eyebrows, the strong nose, the somewhat brooding profile. But when he smiles, a genuine full-on smile, I think he looks as charming, sweet and harmless as a little boy, which is why I quite like him when he plays a nice, serious, sweet, kind-hearted good guy – I think he does rather well with those roles, even better than he does with the stereotypical bad guy.
I’ve seen Mohnish in 9 films so far – 4 in which he was the baddie, and 4 in which he was (basically) a good guy. In the 9th one (‘Astitva’), he was neither bad nor good, at least not in a stereotypical way – he was just a guy who made a big mistake – what he did as a result was definitely wrong (and he really suffers for it), but the real ‘baddie’ in the film turns out to be someone else…
HUM AAPKE HAIN KOUN…!: This was my first Mohnish Behl film, which is why I was rather taken aback to find out that he is known for playing baddies. In HAHK, a much younger Mohnish plays Salman Khan’s serious, quiet, responsible, and generally ‘good’ bhaiyya. He and Renuka Shahane (playing Pooja) make a lovely couple in this film – they have two very sweet scenes in particular – the charming ‘ice-breaker’ involving paint spilled on his clothes when he and his brother go to ‘check Pooja out’, and the scene where he helps Pooja put on her necklace before she goes to visit her parents. She asks him if he’ll come with her, and he sweetly says he’ll come and get her at the end of the trip. I love that scene because it shows the real closeness and intimacy between this rather restrained, shy, ‘traditional’ and seemingly very conformist pair. It’s also the last moments he spends with his wife (sorry, spoiler for those who haven't watched HAHK - she dies when she goes to her parents' home), which is really just sad. Although Salman and Madhuri Dixit are the definite frontliners in this film, I love the jodi that Mohnish and Renuka created in just a few scenes together.
ASTITVA: This is one of my favourite Bollywood films simply because of its subject matter - the fact that it tackles honestly and directly the harsh everyday issues which are usually glossed over or sugar-coated in Bollywood – free will, infidelity, self-determination, marriage, the power imbalances between men and women. It also showcases a wonderful performance by Tabu – the best I’ve ever seen her do. Mohnish plays a romantic, handsome music teacher who falls in love with his student (played by Tabu), who also happens to be a married woman. Tabu is not in love with her teacher, but she is lonely, and aching for the attention and love her too-busy husband deprives her of. So they fall into bed one night – it’s the only time it happens but Tabu gets pregnant. Desperate to protect her marriage, she allows hubby to believe the child is his – but of course, years later, everything starts to unravel. I love Mohnish’s performance here – in many ways he’s just a plot device to move Tabu’s story along, but despite the ‘smallness’ of his part, he gives the role his best shot – he’s restrained, sincere and believable.
That's Mohnish singing away in the background in 'Astitva', while Tabu wonders if she dares to act on her desire for him... nicely shot song by the way.
HUM SAATH SAATH HAIN: I have a special spot in my heart for this film (made by the makers of HAHK) because the music really rocks, it’s very family-oriented, and it tackles some of the real-life issues big families face. Sadly it bombed in India, but I love it. Salman Khan (in a likeable role for once – although he still can’t resist taking off his shirt), Saif Ali Khan (all fun and mischief) and Mohnish all play three close, loving brothers; and Sonali Bendre, Karisma Kapoor and Tabu play the women they love (by the way, they all fall in love with female versions of themselves, which is rather silly but kinda cute in the film).
Mohnish plays the eldest brother – he’s quiet, responsible, wise, and cares very much for his family. He has a disability, for which reason many prospective dulhans have turned him down – until Tabu comes along and falls in love with him and his entire hamdan, and then realises she really wants to be the eldest bahu in this family, and to look after everyone for the rest of her life – I mean she actually takes the entire family on her honeymoon trip – and they go to her in-laws’ village for the honeymoon! No-one in the real world is that nice and adorable and selfless, but it’s kinda sweet – Tabu manages to make it look like it’s all genuine free choice, NOT obligation or convention or tradition, that makes her do this – which I guess is why I liked it. Anyway, things go swimmingly until there’s a family crisis and all the happy-smiliness is challenged.
I love Mohnish and Tabu is this film – they are too cute. There’s the scene in which Tabu comes to tell him she really wants to marry him; and there’s the wedding scene in which he takes out his traumatized hand and she supports it with hers, and he looks all moved and surprised. I love that so much (see photo above). Then there’s also the sweet scene in which she talks to him and Salman about their relationship. Tabu is a stabilising force, a bridge-builder in this film, I like that. I also really liked the natural-ness, genuineness and sweetness (but with the necessary depth) of Mohnish’s performance. He smiles a lot but somehow you believe his character is really happy (or happy in a sad way, as the case may be) and not just faking it – you know?
KOYLA: In this intense, violent and rather ‘different’ (and therefore interesting) Rakesh Roshan film, starring Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit, Mohnish has a very small role – his character appears in just one scene. It’s a pivotal scene in some ways, but it’s still just one scene in a 3 hour film. But he does a really great job, and hands in a memorable and moving performance as Madhuri’s brother who comes home to find her in the oppressive custody of the evil chief (played with frightening relish by the late, great Amrish Puri). Mohnish disappears from ‘Koyla’ after that violent, bloody confrontation – but he does strike you when he comes in. Again, a small role, but he does a good job with it.
JAANWAR: This is a funny little action thriller starring Akshay Kumar and Karisma Kapoor. Actually, it’s not trying to be funny, it’s dead serious – but it’s so OTT and silly in parts that you can’t help but laugh. I think it’s good fun though. Here Mohnish plays the father of a son who was lost in an accident, and who after several years has been forced to accept that his missing son is probably no longer alive. Shilpa Shetty plays Mohnish’s grieving wife, who refuses to accept that her son is dead. Unbeknownst to the couple, their son was found by Akshay’s character, a reformed criminal, and is alive and well. How they get him back is another story – Mohnish makes some mistakes, but he eventually sees the error of his ways, and all comes right in the end. Mohnish is good in this film, not spectacular or anything, but one of his scenes with Akshay in his son’s bedroom sticks out in my mind – he really manages to express the frustration, grief and desperation of his confused character effectively.
From 'Ek Rishtaa' - Mohnish is the guy in red right at the edge of the screencap - he was all bruised and banged-up and stuff so I didn't really want him in my screencap at the time...
EK RISHTAA (THE BOND OF LOVE): Here Mohnish plays the bad guy – a really bad guy who pretends to be good in order to weasel his way into the affections of Amitabh Bachchan, Rakhee, and their picture-perfect little ‘ek raja hai, ek rani hai’ family. He wins the heart of the patriarch first, then wins over and marries the sweet, unsuspecting daughter, played by Juhi Chawla; and then proceeds to drive a wedge between AB and his son (played by Akshay Kumar). He does a good job in this film – he really is very, very evil. But I still think he does good better than he does bad…
BOL RADHA BOL: I just saw this terrible, abysmal David Dhawan film over the weekend – it is really, truly awful. It stars Rishi Kapoor, who is actually not bad acting-wise (despite the awful garish sweaters he favoured at the time, the awful dancing, and his repeated use of the word ‘bugger’) and Juhi Chawla (who smiles and opens her eyes very wide and generally plays the cute card waaay too much, and only really acts in like 2 scenes, in which she’s actually good, which just makes you wonder why she didn’t act right through – and who by the way is not a good dancer AT ALL – I must remove her name from the list of good Bollywood dancers I did a while ago – but I digress). There’s also a ‘wonder dog’ called Sheru/Moti – I don’t like the use of 'wonder dogs' in Bollywood films at all, it creeps me out – especially in a film like this, in which there’s a scene with the characters laughing and cheering while two dogs fight. Awful. The scripting is really bad, the story is silly and the film is poorly shot, and… not good. Anyway, Mohnish is again the bad guy, with his hair all slicked back to make him look evil. He does look evil, and he does ok with the part, but it’s not a memorable performance.
RAJA HINDUSTANI: Again, Mohnish plays the cartoon-ish stereotypical bad guy – he laughs at poor village-y Aamir Khan (in the title role) and tries to make him look stupid, because he lacks all the social graces the man who marries Aarti (played by Karisma Kapoor) should have. Again, Mohnish does ok, he does the whole snide horrid thing well, but it’s nothing special.
KAHO NAA… PYAAR HAI: We all know and remember this film as Hrithik’s ticket to Bollywood superstardom, and to be honest I can’t remember too much about Mohnish’s performance – except that he played a dirty cop who connived with the bad guys to get rid of our hero. I think he played it well… but it was probably not very demanding.
So, as far as Mohnish Behl is concerned, for me:
When he is good, he is very very good
And when he is bad, he’s umm… not bad…