Mother India (1957) came out a decade after the India got its independence. In the decade preceding the film, many political and social upheaval had taken place. The new constitution was drafted, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated and the country was stepping into drastic modernization under the leadership of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
The film purposely commemorates the idea of freedom and the unchained spirit. As opposed to Katherine Mayo’s book “Mother India,” which primarily criticized Indian culture and the role of women in the society, Mehboob Khan decided make his film with the exact title to Mayo’s book.
The film is mostly remembered for the fictional character Radha and Nargis’s portrayal of the same. She exemplifies courage and greater sacrifices throughout the film. She is even bribed by Sukhilala, the money lender, to sell herself, however she refuses and chooses to face the dire consequences instead. It was a unique experience for the audiences too for there never was a film with a female protagonist before, and that too a woman who glorified womanhood.
There are many great scenes in the film. It was reported, the local villager willingly flooded his 500 acre land for the famous flood scene in the film. Sunil Dutt as Birju, the youngest son, shines throughout with his unique charm and rebellious attitude. It is for his attitude, that he gets killed in the end. He is killed by his own mother who refuses to let him take away a women’s dignity. In the shocking scene, Radha shoots him without a single doubt whatsoever.
Rajendra Kumar, Rajkumar and especially Kanhaiyalal as Sukhilala beautifully carried their respective roles.
The music was given by the legendary Naushad, and the cinematography was directed by another legend Faredoon A. Irani. No one can ever forget the song, “Duniya main hum aye hain to jeena hi padega,” which is sung by Radha when the entire village decides to migrate elsewhere after a great flood.
Critically acclaimed and awarded with countless accolades, Mother India became the finest example of Indian films. The greater idea of the film was also to bring global attention towards the Indian cinema, when the world was mesmerized by Hollywood and fresh European cinema, namely; Italian Neo-realism and French new wave.
An excerpt on Nargis
Nargis Dutt (1929-1981) was one of the most popular actor of Indian cinema. She was born ‘Fatima Rashid’ to Jaddan bai, another famous actor, singer and composer. With a career spanning over 30 years, she starred in many popular Hindi films.
In Mother India, she portrayed the role of a Radha, a single mother. Unlike many female characters in Hindi films, her portrayal vastly differed from the cliche and stereotypical portrayal of women in films. Radha still remains one of the most iconic fictional characters in film.
Nargis later married her screen-sharing co-actor Sunil Dutt and gave birth to Sanjay Dutt, another popular actor.