Mother India (1957) मदर इण्डिया / مدر انڈیا

Country: India
Language: Hindi
Director: Mehboob Khan
Running Time: 172 minutes
Starring: Nargis, Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar, Raaj Kumar

Ratings: IMDb.com – 7.4/10 | Rotten Tomatoes – 83%

Film Festivals:
1958 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

Awards:
1958 Filmfare Awards: Best Actress (Nargis) / Best Cinematographer / Best Director / Best Film / Best Sound Recordist
1958 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival: Best Actress (Nargis)

Nominations:
1958 Academy Awards: Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film

Considered to be the bedrock of Indian commercial cinema, Mother India was the first Indian film to be nominated for an Academy Award. Many people saw the film as an extension of Director Mehboob Khan’s earlier black-and-white film Aurat (1940), albeit in color.

The setting is rural India, as an apt metaphor of India’s independence after being freed of British colonial rule. Mother India depicts the story of Radha (Nargis), a single mother who struggles to survive in her village as she tries to raise her kids, and pay off the debts incurred by husband. The entire story is shot as a flashback.

Shot primarily using warm and earthly colors such as orange and brown, Mother India is a beautiful film that highlights the majesty of the rural Indian landscape and brings to life the mettle and strength of the drudgery in bucolic India. The movie’s themes also create a multitude of iconic and symbolic impressions. For instance – the scenes of i) Radha hauling an ox plow and ii) her standing neck-deep in floodwaters and lifting her children over her head symbolized hard work; that the people of India had to rely on themselves to keep the country going after its independence despite the slew of problems that besotted them. While the village, with its traditional and cultural values embodies India’s dependence on Agriculture as the backbone of its economy at that time, the portrayal of dams, tanks and canals were used in similar fashion to reflect India at its fledging stage of growth and development. Finally, one of the most iconic and powerful scenes in the film was that of Radha standing deep in the mud soaked soils of her fields and calling out to her fellow villagers not to abandon the land and their mother country India. The villagers then return to salvage the crops and in doing so, form the map of India out of the cut wheat. Overall, the film’s visuals provided a vivid and colorful picture of India in the 50’s.

Because the story was told from the perspective of a flashback, director Mehboob Khan makes use of visual/editing techniques such as dissolves to depict the progress in time. Compared to a straight cut, the use of dissolves creates a smooth transition that makes the viewers feel like they are watching everything unfold as time ebbs by. The recurring shot of a wheel throughout the film was also used to suggest the cycle of a season, not just that of a harvest but also the characters’ growth from childhood to old age. (Shakila, 2008).

One of the key issues that Mother India tried to address was feminism – of the Indian women’s fight against male oppression at that time, and for honor and integrity. Central to this was the strong commanding performance and focus on the film’s protagonist, Radha and how she relied on hard work and determination to surmount her problems, which incidentally were mostly caused by various male characters in her life i.e. her husband, the tyrant Sukhilala and her sons. The idealization of her as the sole breadwinner and the perfect mother further augmented all these.

Overall, Mother India is a strong and compelling portrayal of the status and ideological image of womanhood that director Mehboob Khan wanted to bring out for women at that time. Through Radha, we see a model of strength, determination, devotion and virtue – epitomizing the perfect model of the mother figure not just for her family and the village, but also ultimately to the entire nation.

References

Shakila. (2008, July 30). Mother India – the cinema of Mehboob Khan. Retrieved on October 23, 2010, from http://aboutfilm.wordpress.com/2008/07/30/mother-india-%E2%80%93-the-cinema-of-mehboob-khan/

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