The musical film, set in a village milieu, was a tragic love story involving Manju and Mohan. Manju is married off to a seventy-year-old gentleman, who declares that he didn't realise he was being married to someone so young. After the husband's death, the lovers meet and Manju dies accidentally. Mohan is convicted for her murder, and after spending twenty years in jail, he too falls off the cliff and dies when he follows Manju's spirit.
Manju lives in the village with her father a school teacher and step mother. Mohan (Dilip Kumar) and Manju (Nargis) live in the same village and are friends since childhood. The friendship develops into love and they are both excited about their wedding. Mohan decides to go into town to buy jewelry for the marriage. On the way he is robbed and becomes unconscious with his injuries landing him in a hospital.
Mehkoo (Jeevan), is a no-good retired from the army man, who lusts after one of the young village girls. He is influential with Manju's stepmother and, with her by his side he calls the village panchayat. Here he denounces Mohan as a cad who has run way with a girl, telling them that he won't return for the marriage. Since th wedding day has been fixed, the panchayat agrees with Mehkoo that Manju should get married on the day decided. A supposedly suitable groom is found for Manju, who turns out to be a seventy-year-old sickly man. When he enters the wedding chambers, he finds that Manju is too young to be his bride. Remorseful, he asks forgiveness but pleads with her to care for his children. Manju takes on the role of the old man's wife. The man dies with Manju now left a young widow in charge of the children.
One night in stormy weather, she goes out to meet Mohan, and is killed when she falls off a cliff. Mehkoo and other villagers arrive to convict Mohan of murdering Manju. Mohan says nothing in his defense and is sentenced to twenty years imprisonment. On release from jail, Mohan goes to the same place where Manju had died. He sees her spirit, who beckons him to follow her. As he does, he falls off the cliff edge and dies.Dilip Kumar ..... Mohan
Nargis ..... Manjo
The film produced and directed by S. U. Sunny, was a Wadia Movietone presentation, with J. B. H. Wadia's wife, Hila Wadia, being mentioned as the main presenter. Hila suggested that J. B. H. make a film with music director Naushad, who was at the top of his musical career having composed music for films like Rattan (1944), Anmol Ghadi (1946) and Shahjehan (1946). Following the success of Mela, Sunny set up his own production company, Sunny Art Productions where he made films like Babul (1950), Udan Khatola (1955) and Kohinoor (1960).
Dilip Kumar, reportedly was unwilling to act in Mela, till he reached the studios and heard the opening lines of the song "Mera Dil Todnewaale" sung by Mukesh and Shamshad Begum. Kumar felt the story line was weak, in his words "absence of meat", and asked certain changes to be made, which were accommodated in the script. As Kumar reports in his autobiography, "Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow", "We had some healthy brainstorming sessions, which helped us to add depth and intensity to the story besides logic". He felt the changes were good both for him as well as the rest of the cast members.
The film came in for harsh criticism from the editor of Filmindia, Baburao Patel. In the December 1948 issue of the cine-magazine, he compared the "formula" used for the story as similar to that of the film Rattan (1944), terming it as a "rehash of Rattan". His review focused on the Parsi (Wadia) and Muslim (Bazidpuri) angle, who he reported as wanting to run down the Hindus by making a regressive film like Mela. Calling the film a slander on Hindus, he labelled it as an anti-social film, which encouraged suicide, a criminal offense. The army was slandered because the film showed the villain as an ex-army man, "The most objectionable character in the picture is that of Mehkoo". He found "unbelievable" features in the story, especially the quick arrangement for Manju's wedding without looking for Mohan, and that a seventy-year-old widower remarrying, wouldn't know the age of the woman he's going to marry.
The film was commended for its "pleasant photography", Nargis was praised, but was found to be unacceptable and seemingly "synthetic" in her role of a mother. Dilip Kumar as the hero "does his job well". For Jeevan, who played the role of Mehkoo, he had this to say, "Jeevan plays Mehkoo and succeeds in creating disgust and revulsion, the two main aspects of his role".
The film was released on 8 October 1948 at Excelsior cinema, Bombay. The music of the film was a main part in the commercial success at the box-office, with it being reportedly referred to as Naushad's "Golden jubilee (fifty weeks) Mela". According to Meghnad Desai, a weak story was camouflaged by the "stunning melodies" in Mela and other films.
The reported box-office gross for the film according to IBOS was ₹. 50 lakhs in 1948. The adjusted gross as of 2015 is roughly estimated at ₹. 340.44 crores.
Composer Naushad had Shamshad Begum singing some memorable songs, in the process getting the "best out of Shamshad" for this film. "Dharti Ko Aakash Pukaare" and "Taqdeer Bani Banke Bigdi" by Shamshad are both notable songs, reportedly showing her growth as a "serious singer". The song "Dharti Ko Aakash Pukaare" was originally put in as a title song, but it became extremely popular forcing the producers to have the full song added in the film.
Another popular song was the Bidai (Farewell) number, "Gaaye Jaa Geet Milan Ke" (Sing Songs Of Meeting) sung by Mukesh, at the time of Manju's departure from home after marriage. It was used in the film to show Manju's feelings, which highlight her "secret sorrows" that "cannot be voiced but are palpable" through the medium of the song. The song is sung by Mohan (Dilip Kumar) as he's racing home in his bullock cart to meet Manju (Nargis), whereas Manju is leaving for her husband's home.
Mohammed Rafi's popularity as a singer rose with the single song sung by him in Mela, "Ye Zindgi Ke Mele".
Chiranjeevulu (1956), a Telugu language film, was a remake of Mela. In the Telugu version, the hero is turned blind, and the old man who marries Manju is changed to a young bachelor, Dr. Krishna. The film was made under the Vinoda Productions banner, produced by D. L. Narayana (Dronamvajhala Lakshmi Narayana) and directed by Vedantam Raghavaiah. The dialogue writer and lyricist was Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry. The film starred N.T.Ramarao, Jamuna, Gummadi Venkateswara Rao, Peketi Sivaram, C.S.R. Anjaneyulu. For actress Jamuna, it was cited as her "career-best performance"; Peketi Sivaram played the negative role of Mehkoo, originally played by Jeevan. The film "was a box office grosser".
Mela had music directed by Naushad with lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni. The singers were Mukesh, Shamshad Begum, Zohrabai Ambalewali and Mohammed Rafi.