Mother India: Landmark Movie In Indian Cinema

mother indiaDirector: Mehboob Khan
Production: Mehboob Productions
Cast: Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar, Nargis, Raajkumar
Music: Naushad

What’s the Movie About?

The movie is about a poverty-stricken woman (Radha, played by Nargis) who raises her sons through several trials and tribulations including her husband’s death, debt, nature’s fury, and even the disobedience of her own son. Despite the massive struggle, she always remains on the right/moral side. The movie is a great tribute to womanhood.

Its a remake of an earlier hindi film called ‘Aurat’ (1940). Mother India was India’s first official entry to the Oscars, where it lost by just one vote in Best Foreign-Language Film category.

The closest that an Indian movie came to winning an Academy Award (Oscar) was ‘Mother India’. The movie lost out to Italian film ‘Nights of Cabiria’ (directed by Federico Fellini) for the Best Foreign Language Film award by just one vote.

Director Mehboob Khan who had personally flown down to Los Angeles (after getting vibes that his movie would win the Oscar) was heart-broken when Mother India didn’t win the Oscar award, and to add to the drama he even suffered a heart-attack and had to be rushed to the hospital.

Where Was It Shot?

Most of the movie ‘Mother India’ was shot at Umra & Chikli in surat, Kashipura Sarar in Vadodara; these places are located in Gujarat. It was also partly shot at Panchwad in Satara in Maharashtra.

Fire in the haystack scene that was shot at Umra, in Surat, Gujarat. This place in Umra (around 20km from Surat) is still fondly remembered as the place love blossomed between Sunil and Nargis Dutt.


Fire in the haystack scene shot at Umra, Gujarat

This scene is remembered more because of its off-the-screen effects. Back in those doubles, body-doubles were rarely used. During the filming of this scene, because of a change in the wind direction, the fire blew in the direction of Nargis. Because of the scale of the fire, it could have been disastrous for Nargis, had Sunil Dutt not intervened and saved her. In the incident, Sunil Dutt suffered major burns. And by the time Dutt had recovered, both Nargis & Sunil Dutt were in love. Nargis was already a superstar at that time, however, Sunil Dutt was new to the industry and worked win the municipality bus depot! In the movie, however Sunil Dutt (Birju) plays the role of Nargis’s son. In the movie Dutt rescues his mother by jumping into the canal nearby. Within a year of this incident, they were married.

You can see a similar scene in the movie ‘Om Shanti Om’, where a fire scene was recreated where Shah Rukh saves Deepika, and they then fall in love. That scene was inspired by this fire scene from Mother India.

The flood scene in Mother India was shot in the villages of Bhuinj and Panchwad, in Satara, in the state of Maharashtra

Mother India flood scene shot in Panchwad, satara in maharashtra

This is another important scene in the movie that just adds to the already tough life of the protagonist. This scene was shot by flooding a 500 acre farm land. Many believe that for this scene, the villagers did not receive any money. However, account statements of the production revealed that the villagers were paid.

About the Music

The music for the movie was provided by music maestro Naushad, who composed 12 songs for the movie. Although the songs were not well received upon release, over time the songs started becoming popular.

This was also the earliest Hindi movie where Western classical music and Hollywood-style orchestra were used to provide the background music.

‘Duniya Mein Hum Aaye Hain’ song from the movie

More Trivia

  • The opening sequence in the movie showed a Hammer and Sickle symbol, reflecting the producers company (hammer and sickle were also the tools of farmers & workers in those days, and denotes hard work). However, because this movie was nominated for the Oscars during the cold war anti-communist period, the sequence was edited out to avoid any conflicts.
  • Indians were disappointed when Mother India didn’t win the Oscar award. Various stories then started floating around why the movie didn’t win. One cynical theory was that the Immoral Americans couldn’t understand why Radha, the main heroine, didn’t give in to the money-lender’s sexual advances that could have saved her from all the sufferings.

    However, director Mehboob Khan (who had flown in to LA hoping that he would win) realized that to win, you also need skillful publicity to support an Oscar contender, and the result would have been different had he known that fact earlier.

  • Because of the large scale of the movie, the movie’s cost far exceeded its original budget and even bankrupted the mighty Mehboob Khan (who had great financial clout). The production of the film even came to a halt; that was when one of his proteges, actress Nimmi, went to his office and gave a fat bundle of notes to the manager and said, “This is to help complete the film, but please don’t tell Mehboob Sahib.”
  • The star cast may look like an amazing one today, but back then, barring Nargis, the other stars — Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar, Raajkumar were trying to establish their foothold in the industry. In the coming years, however, each of them would go on to become a superstar. Sunil Dutt plays a negative role in this movie, and he has played the role of a dacoit in many more movies.

Back in those days Kanhaiyalal was one of the most popular villains in hindi cinema. In this movie, he plays the role of Sukkhi Lala. An amazing actor, who had the ability to get into the skin of the character.
kanhaiyalal as Sukkhi Lala in Mother India