At a time when Indian Cinema was struggling to leave an impact, Mother India became the first film to be ever nominated for an Oscar. Mehboob Khan’s eternal masterpiece has stood the test time of time, maintaining its position as one of the finest Bollywood films the world has ever seen.
What makes Mother India so great
Even after almost 4 decades of Hindi Cinema, there were no films that had left any sort of significant impact. This changed in 1957 with the release of Mother India. Just 10 year after Independence, the nationalist film struck the right chord with not only the Indian audience but also our white oppressors abroad.
Based in a small village in India, Mother India was one the first films to have a female protagonist. Radha played by Nargis, to this remains one of the most powerful characters in Indian Cinema.
Radha and her Husband owe a huge debt to the evil moneylender Sukhilala who keeps demanding unrealistic interests from time to time. When Radha’s husband loses both his arms in an accident, he runs away in shame and disappointment, leaving Radha alone with two young boys. In an age, where Indian women were considered inferior to men, Mehboob Khan’s Mother India shows the power of an Indian Woman rising up against all the odds.
The sheer passion and determination of Radha stirred up a wave of emotion in the Indian Audience, that mostly consisted of peasants of farmers. Almost all Indian citizens could relate to the struggle of the woman and received hope from her willpower.
The powerful plot
The main theme of the story was the sacrifice of the protagonist Radha. But before you read ahead, there are going to be SPOLIERS, so read at your own risk.
The film begins with Radha, who is known as the mother of the village, inaugurating a canal that had been under construction for many years. During the inauguration, Radha is reminded of her life in the village and begins her thrilling narration. In many ways, the canal was a reflection of Radha’s life, struggling to control the water and finally mastering it.
Radha’s marriage with Shyaam is financed by her father-in-law who takes a loan from the moneylender Sukhilala. Unable to pay him back, Shyaam and Radha give away one third of all their harvest to the lender. When Shyaam, loses his hands in an accident, he is ashamed and does not want to be a burden on his wife, forcing him to run away from his pregnant wife, mother and three sons.
In a storm, that followed soon after, Radha loses not only her mother-in-law but also her youngest son and her unborn baby. Such a loss is enough to dishearten anybody, but Radha remains strong and continues to work for the wellbeing of her two sons, Ramu and Birju. Her struggles are very evident in the film but she never gives up and keeps on working. The evil moneylender Sukhilala offers to marry her, but her honour does not allow her to sell her body to the heatless lender.
Soon enough, both her sons are young men, but her life is still made miserable by Sukhilala. The younger son Birju played by Sunil Dutt, cannot stand his mother being tortured and starts to trouble Sukhilala and his daughter. The villagers decide to expel him and Birju is banished to the forests.
A few years later, Birju returns with his band of dacoits and kills Sukhilala, while kidnapping his daughter. As he his escaping with his young captive, he is shot by none other than his mother, Radha. Probably the most powerful scene in the film is when the bloodied Birju, dies in the lap of his weeping mother.
Mother India is a film that has defined Indian Cinema for many years. The delightful acting along with the proper encapsulation of the Indian spirit explains why it is first Indian film to be nominated for an Oscar. The works of Mehboob Khan, started a new wave of extraordinary films by Satyajit Ray and Guru Dutt. Radha in Mother India is the epitome of sacrifice and motherly love, beautifully demonstrating the power of Indian Women.