Mother India, the mother of all Indian movies takes you through a brave journey by a young girl who transforms herself, into a wife, a daughter in law , a mother and then to a village panch who chooses her duty over her family. She leaves behind then cliche of being a stereotypical downtrodden rural woman who is feeble, instead she emerges out as a strong woman who cares about society she lives in. She is in constant hustle with her dignity and her duty towards her children. She overcomes all by her passion and hardwork but finally chooses dignity of women in society over a rogue son. (She even says it via a line of a song ‘Aurat hai wo aurat jise diniya ki sharm hai, sansaar mein bas laaj hi naari ka dharam hai’)
Mother India, is one of the finest and the most accomplished movies made in India, so much so that whenever I step inside the famous Mehboob Studio, I feel elated that I am standing where once the great scenes of this movie were shot. In the ages where, females were depicted in the most sad possible manner, Mother India Based on a socialist theme in an Agrarian society, accounts lives of countless Indian women who were and still are bound by their Indian values and beliefs, and are forced to advocate the greater cause of personal sacrifices for others.
Celebrating 10th year of Indian Independence, in 1957 Cultivating in the backyard of rural India, the aesthetic value of the movie largely remains of portraying the meager lives of poor citizens of newly formed nation. It carries the idea of building a greater nation through hard work, implementation of communist ideas of a better world, well this vision of the director can easily be seen in the logo of Mehboob Productions in form of a hammer and a sickle. The script was intentionally written in a way that promoted the empowerment of women in Indian society (including the power to resist sexual advances) and the maintenance of a sense of moral dignity and purpose as individuals. These themes, present in Aurat, the original inspiration for the movie, directed by Mehboob Khan himself in 1940 were further developed with a strong sense of nationalism and nation-building, utilising characters personifying abstract qualities such as “beauty and goodness, wealth and power, poverty and exploitation, community spirit”
The story of Mother India starts, with aged sarpanch Radha, offering a dam (probably signifies the reserve of dignity and power of a woman) to the village. This is the same village, where she once entered as a young bride, who then lost her husband and mother in law to hunger and penance. A single woman left in a dreary world now has to live a life of dignity at the same time take care of her two children, Raamu and Birju, who love her more than anything else in the world. Sukhilala (A sign of capitalist society, or should we say Banks in modern times) is the villain, of people like Radha, and tries manytimes to rip off Radha of her accomplishments and dignity, but Radha is not altered, She fights back till the end. Radha becomes an icon of worship because of the choices that she has made, specially the choice of killing her own son for saving daughter of the village.
The film took 3 years to make, and was shot extensively at Mehboob Studios in Bandra and several original locations of Undivided stay of Bombay (Which had Gujrat and Maharashtra). Before the actual script was finally finished by Wajahat Mirza and S.Ali Raza there were portions of the movie (Flood Portions) were shot to maintain its realistic feel. The original inspiration, Aurat was inspired by works of Mehboob’s favorite author, Pearl S Buck’s (The Good Earth and The Mother) which showed the elements of Buck’s writings on aspects like moneylenders, toiling on land and rearing her children through prolonged hardships. The film was specially appreciated by the International Award Juries and became the first ever Indian film to get a nomination to Academy Awards. The film lost the award by a single vote. Music is par excellence and is one of the best works of Naushad.
To all the actors of the film, this became a historical celluloid masterpiece . To 26 year old Nargis (who had been till then had been known for being a fashionable woman who wore tank-tops and skirts) slipped into this role like hand in a glove. Her dedication to the subject and her strength of character as an artist is extraordinary. One scene of all stands apart, the scene where a Radha comes tp surrenders and sell of her dignity to Sukhi lala but instead gathers courage looking at her mangalsutra fall on idol of Lakshmi, and decides not to fall apart and find a way to deal with her miseries. At Karlovy Lovy Film Festival in Europe, Nargis not only got a standing ovation from the audience but also was awarded with the best actress award. For Nargis this movie turned out to be a personal milestone, in an iconic scene where Radha/Nargis is trapped in fire (A real uncontrolled fired), She was saved by Sunil Dutt for real, and thus found a soulmate while shooting for this film. For Kanahiya Lal, this film made him come in top ten most hated villain list. The film also featured Rajendra Kumar, Raj Kumar, Kumkum in pivotal roles. Everyone acted the best the could have been. The movie excelled in every department. Film’s cinematography by Fardoon A Iraani is till date one the best. He was awarded a filmfare for the same. Kaushik won best sound recording for a magnificent sound design which was mostly a synced sound. It also won filmfare award to Mehboob Khan for best direction, Best actress award to Nargis and also won the best film in 1958.
This film has been a case study for filmmaking students across the world. Several books have been written around the movie, a lot has been said, just because every time you watch this movie you not only get transferred to life of Radha but also feel how relevant this movie still is in the present world which is at tiff between the communist and capitalist.