A salute to Mother India and poetic justice

The Aazaadi Sawaari series continues with a movie that could have been titled Mother Earth (see #20 below). Jai Hind.

1957 must have been a fantastic year for Hindi cinema. Guru Dutt's Pyaasa (reviewed here) was released that year. So was the film that is the subject of this post. Saw Mother India again recently. Starring Nargis, Raaj Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar, and an excellent supporting cast, directed by Mehboob Khan, and with music by Naushad. Set in rural India, Mother India was about a struggling family in an agrarian society and its resolute leader who fearlessly and tirelessly exemplified the upholding of values despite struggle after testing struggle. Here are some highlights:

1. The film began with villagers insisting the 'mother' of the village, a feeble Radha (Nargis), inaugurate a canal. During the inauguration, we were taken to a flashback that lasted the duration of the film, which meant that through it all, we knew Radha would survive.

2. Radha was married to Shamu (Raaj Kumar). A sawaari took her to her new home...

She was beautiful.

But rather shy (good thing we've evolved, seriously...)

Loved this sequence with the newly married couple...

...hearing it from Shamu's mother...

...who had an interesting take on romantic relationships:

Today, of course, things can be quite the opposite. Am tempted to include a comic strip starring Hum and Tum (Bollyviewer reviewed it recently), but shall stay away ;)

3. Radha was a traditionalist. From the outset of her wedding, she helped with work at home...

...and at work:

One of the highlights of this segment of the film was the song Matwaala Jiya (Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi). Beautifully choreographed, in an excellent setting (watch it at this link), and with an extended introduction to Mukri, who I think belongs in the same league of great comedians as Johnny Walker.

4. The art direction was fantastic, breathtaking in many instances, especially when combined with the background score. This frame alone should serve as an indicator of the excellence with which the artwork in the film was showcased. Loved how the entire region (including even Sri Lanka) was shown here. And the earth tones were used to splendid effect here and throughout the film (contrast with earth tones in Lagaan (2001)).

Sample these and their color palettes:

5. Shamu's mother had mortgaged their land to afford a grand wedding for her son. Lender Sukhilala (Kanhaiya Lal) was corrupt, and took advantage of Shamu and his family's illiteracy to rob them of their crop and other resources. This was where Sajid Khan (the kid in the green shirt below) shone -- he could well have been inspiration for Bart Simpson too! :o)

6. This makes it as promised in my review of 1947 Earth (see #9). The essence of punishment in schools hasn't changed in India, I don't think.

7. Following a series of uncontrolled, unforeseen, and unfortunate (to say the least) circumstances, Radha woke up one morning to discover her husband had deserted his family. She searched to no avail. This was when she transformed to a fiercely committed and determined family leader.

8. The song Nagri Nagri Dwaare Dwaare appeared at this juncture. A fantastic piece by Lata Mangeshkar, the song could probably be classified into multiple genres based solely on its lyrics (Shakeel Badayuni). Watch it about 5:40 into this video.

9. Radha was tried and tested often. Through each calamity, she persevered, until a storm and its accompanying destruction threatened her children. Would she succumb to the genuinely evil lender and marry him for his wealth?

Of course she wouldn't. Mother India wouldn't be Mother India if she did.

There might not be a more iconic frame in the history of Bollywood, this from the song Duniya Mein Hum Aaye Hain, in which every stanza spoke of poetic justice.

Radha's labor, patience and persistence paid dividends when her sons grew up. Birju (right) and Ramu (middle) were played by Sunil Dutt and Rajendra Kumar respectively.

10. The movie was brought to life by Dutt and Kumar, who were excellent playing brothers with opposite personalities. And they added more color to the film too.

Aside: It must have been much more fun back in the day to catch a woman's attention. Reckon they probably do so in Indian villages today (?).

Another aside: This can be a lot of fun. One of my college professors conducted every other (Philosophy) class in the outdoors, and contributed a lot to my habit of reading outdoors :)

11. Can someone please recommend more films with her in a lead role (if applicable)?

12. How about this tarz (style) of saying 'I love you'? :o)

13. Sunil Dutt was delightful as Birju. He was also involved in one of my many favorite songs from the film, Na Main Bhagwaan Hoon, beautifully sung by Mohammad Rafi. Watch it about 6:40 into the video at this link.

14. Of course, Birju and Ramu had not forgotten the injustice done to them by Sukhilal the lender. Discover the rest for yourself. This frame should give a fair indication of the path it went.

15. Nargis clearly made Mother India tick. From the newly married young woman, to the hard-working loyal wife, the mother struggling to feed her children, the mother insisting her sons maintain control of their dignity, and the role model for the village. Nargis excelled in each role.

Raaj Kumar was effective, and although he left the film early, his presence was quite remarkable.

16. Rajendra Kumar and especially Sunil Dutt were delightful. It is said that Mr. Dutt and Nargis fell in love on the sets of this film, and that was perhaps not surprising, given several sequences starring them seemed to have been fun to be involved in.

17. The film was filled with dramatic sequences. At times, I felt they could have moved on because the points were made. In that respect, it was slightly redundant. But holding that against the film would be unfair, especially because in every other department, the product was par excellence.

18. One argument against Mother India is that it was too idealistic, and that it should not have portrayed a benchmark for loyalty and compromise that had an impact on expectations of the 'Indian woman'. While I see this point, my contention has been that in many ways, women should be proud of the way Radha was shown going about her business, being such a fearless leader. I also thought there were lessons learned from Mother India that were very applicable to men (who were shown in the film as more likely to be less moral)! Lessons that are relevant even today, and across cultural and geographical boundaries. I'd be curious to know your thoughts on this.

Rather than dwell on lessons learned as I tend to, I'll share perhaps one of the most important messages I got from the film, which came courtesy Birju: I really should focus more on being a better son :o) Here was a guy who was willing to take on the world to gift his mother two pieces of jewelry. And here I am... (sigh)

19. Caught two allusions to the politics of the region, but unsure whether they were deliberate or are just a figment of my imagination (especially the first): 1) Pee Ke Ghar -- the wedding song -- could be an allusion to independence; and 2) O Jaane Waalon, which had a direct reference to Mother India, the 'Maata', was likely a recollection of migration that accompanied partition.

20. The end to Mother India reminded me of the classic Urdu play (by Imtiaz Ali Taj, if I recall correctly) titled Qurtaba ka Qaazi, required reading in several Urdu literature curricula for its strong emphasis on poetic justice (a man was sentenced to death for a crime that legally deserved the penalty, only the judge who sentenced him was his father), which is also perhaps the biggest takeaway from Mother India: As you sow, so shall you reap. I hope this is a theme we the American people take into the November presidential elections.

And Finally
In addition to the poetic justice, Mother India was about relationships involving family, friends, farmers, lenders, community leaders, medics, and teachers. Their product is essential to any country's infrastructure, across government, academia and business. And its synthesis, along with commentary on the dignity of work, and the definition of an ownership society (or lack thereof), was what made the film as much about Mother Earth and its inhabitants. Do you agree?

Definitely watch Mother India if you haven't. It's full of cinematic treats, beautiful color palettes, and energizing and sometimes thought-provoking music that succeeds in taking its audience back in time. Most of all, it's full of excellent performances (Nargis is second to none) that guide it from start to finish, which make for an engaging viewing experience. No second thoughts about it!

Movie rating: 4.75/5 (Fantastic!)

My classification: PG (for theme, mild violence)

Music rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent!)
Watch all songs thanks to 4NargisDutt's wonderful showcase on YouTube!


memsaab said...

Lovely screen caps :-) I really like this film, although I can't watch it over and over again like I do some. But certainly it deserves it's "classic" status...

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Memsaab: Thank you! It was great to watch it again after all these years. As you say, it's not best suited to repeated viewings, but it's truly a classic for so many reasons.

bollyviewer said...

Not a movie I would ever re-watch (have watched it in parts spread over years and that was traumatic enough!) but the soundtrack was pretty nice. Great screencaps - cant say I noticed the artwork while watching as I was too busy being crushed to death under the weighty "message" of the film! And yes, women have come a long way (I hope) from the times depicted here.

Bollyviewer said...

PS: I think the actress in #11 is Azra. She showed up in side roles in several Hindi movies until the early 70s. Played Sadhana's spoilt cousin in Love In Simla and the second lead in My Love starring Shashi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore.

Anonymous said...

Hey, wasn't this movie originally black & white, and then turned into color? Because some of Nargis' makeup, especially in the first few of your screencaps, looks "too loud"!

Also, your last screencap made me smile.. Rajkumar's "necklace" looks like the current in-style jewelry that women wore this summer!

:-D (Sorry for the *shallow* comments, but i haven't watched the movie yet to comment on it's various aspects.. but you did a great job as usual!)


theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Bollyviewer: Thank you for the note on Azra! Haven't seen the two with her, and now I will certainly hope to!

was too busy being crushed to death under the weighty "message" of the film!

LOL! It was devastating at times, agreed, but used wisely for it to work. You can still give it a try with a finger on the fast-forward button, perhaps? =)

The artwork must've been a heck of a benchmark during its time. The songs (and the scenes leading up to them, as in 4NargissDutt's videos on YouTube) showcase this well.

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Ranya: In a few minutes of researching online, I couldn't validate this. But I think you're spot on, because I remember during the opening credits, the license for the film was dated 1977 (i.e. 20 years after its first release).

That's a very interesting observation on Raaj Kumar's jewelry! :)

Thanks for stopping by!

Nicki said...

I've never seen the movie. It looks beautiful. Thanks for the caps! I've heard great things about the movie though. Have to get it now. Thanks for sharing. :)

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Nicki: It's a fantastic film, and there's lots to appreciate about it. Hope you enjoy it!

memsaab said...

FYI, it was made in color originally, and Technicolour was a new thing for India so the makeup guys were still on a learning curve and some of it was overdone (Sunil Dutt's red face, for instance!).

theBollywoodFan said...

Thank you Memsaab! No wonder the frames with the twilight and fields, and the use of earth tones were all so effective.

Anonymous said...

great post

Michael said...

I don't recall which song, but the use of the swing and the camera moving along with it is wonderful. the makeup is way overdone. as for "message" it is a product of its time, including the introductory heavy earth moving equipment and hammer and sickle of the company that produced it! i believe sunil dutt literally saved nargis' life due to a fire on the set.

Anonymous said...

The film is still so good. When it was first released in South-East Asia in the late 50s, it ran to packed houses on the strength of Nargis' name (she was very famous then , even among large sections of non-Indians)and the film's powerful emotional power. I know of many non-Indians who saw it many times then.The reason is not hard to find: Mehboob told the story of every rural Asia with such emotional sweep that it touched the very stirrings of your heart. It is sad that today's Bollywood prefer to gloss their movies with exotic locations and soft-porn scenes than presenting entertainers deeply rooted in Indian or universal values.