The Other

A User's Guide to Indian Cinema, Week 3

by Farisa Khalid

15 August 2006

 

From the User’s Guide to Indian Films Intro

The movies described in the User’s Guide are the hit list of Indian cinema. They’re not only the best films of all time, but they give you the best glimpse of what Indians enjoy, their sense of tragedy and comedy, their aspirations, their regrets. In short, it’s a visual chronicle of Indian society in the last fifty years. Enjoy.


Week 3: Mother India
1957, Color, Hindi.
Dir: Mehboob Khan

Mother India is Pather Panchali’s commercial counterpart: a sweeping epic about a poor, beautiful village woman struggling to raise her crops and feed her family. A box-office blockbuster in its day. Mother India is a mélange of Sounder and The Grapes of Wrath. The movie, an ode to the hordes of rural laborers who make up the backbone of the economy, was a matter of pride for post-Independence-Nehru India and became the first Indian film to be nominated for an Academy Award. The film’s socialist director, Mehboob Khan, used the narrative as a platform to advocate the central beliefs of his party. Forty years later, in an India fat with success, the leftist ideals of Mother India seem dated. But only ten years before its release, the partition of Pakistan sparked a series of devastating communal riots across the subcontinent, leading to the murder of thousands of Hindus and Muslims. It seemed that in a country obsessed with belief, the only way for its disparate peoples to survive alongside one another was without religion - organized religion, that is.  Faith as a primal vehicle for life and ritual is very much alive in Mother India, and the visual symbols and references to Hindu mythology and practice is what gives the film its raw, emotional power: the eternal wheel of life echoed in the roll of the plough from the beleaguered oxen, as well as the film’s title, the nation embodied as Mother, the pagan sacred goddess of life and death, articulated with quivering intensity by the film’s radiant star, Nargis.

 

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