Mother India (1957): Khan’s Oscar Nominated Epic

Mehboob Khan directed Mother India, an epic drama starring Nargis, Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar, and Raaj Kumar.

Mother India
A film poster showing a lady with a wooden plough on her right shoulder

Film poster

A remake of Khan’s earlier film, Aurat (1940), it is the story of Radha (Nargis), a poverty-stricken village woman who, in the absence of her husband, struggles to raise her sons and survive against many troubles.

The title of the film was chosen to counter American author Katherine Mayo’s 1927 polemical book Mother India, which vilified Indian culture.

There are allusions to Hindu mythology are, and the film’s lead character is a metonymic representation of a Hindu woman who reflects moral values and the notion of a self-sacrificing mother.

Mother India metaphorically represents India as a nation in the aftermath of its independence in 1947, alluding to a strong sense of nationalism and nation-building.

While some authors treat Radha as the symbol of women empowerment, others see her cast in female stereotypes.

The film was shot in Mumbai’s Mehboob Studios and in the villages of Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh.

Naushad’s score introduced global music, including Western classical music and orchestra, to Hindi cinema.

One of the most expensive Hindi cinema (Bollywood) productions, the movie earned the highest revenue for any Indian film at that time.

It was released in India in October 1957 and had several high-profile screenings, including one at the capital, New Delhi, attended by the president and prime minister.

Mother India became a cultural icon, regarded as one of the best films in Indian cinema.

The film was also nominated for the Best International Feature Film, becoming the first Indian film to be ever nominated.