Mother India – 1938
For film-goers of the present generation, the title ‘Mother India’ would immediately indicate no other film but Mehboob’s spectacular color opus made in 1957 with Nargis in the title role. But very few might know that there was a ‘Mother India’ made much earlier in 1938. The significance of this older film lies not merely in the fact that it was also made in color but that it was the second fully Indian attempt to shoot and process a color film locally, after ‘Kisan Kanya’, made a year earlier.
Both these pioneering attempts were made by Ardeshir lrani, who nearly staked everything to bring color to the Indian screen but unfortunately could not succeed. ‘Mother India’ was produced under the banner of India Cine Pictures Ltd. and in the same Cine-Color process which was developed locally with the help of the foreign technician Wolfe Henius. The camerawork was done by Rustom lrani. Veteran Gunjal directed the film.
Based on a story by the churner of hit family dramas, Mohanlal Dave, the old ‘Mother India’ like its more illustrious successor, was also a woman’s saga spread over two generations. The two stories also bear some surprising resemblances.
It tells about a village woman who is left in the lurch at her marriage ceremony because of the usual dowry problem. When a friend tries to advise the angry bridegroom, he is challenged to marry the woman himself. He does so and the marriage remains happy with a son born to them till rivalry between the two families drives him out of his job.
Poverty and misery make him desert his family (as in Mehboob’s film) while the woman bravely brings up her son as well as a girl left in her care by a neighbor.
Passing on to the next generation, the story shows the grown-up son falling in love with the enemy’s daughter while the mother dreamt of marrying him to the girl in the house. The rest is like the usual type of melodrama about the son turning truant and later getting the divine punishment of temporary blindness while the mother struggles hard to set things right. Finally the good and the bad characters get what they deserve.
The woman’s role representing the country’s ‘mother’ suggested in the title was played by old timer Sharifa who was a well-known actress of the thirties. W M Khan, who had made history by singing the first ever song in “Alam Ara” played the man who deserts his family. Ghulam Mohammad remembered for his impressive height and voice acted the bad man and Ashiq Hussein the young son who is infatuated by the fashionable girl played by Pramila who began to specialize in such semi-vampish roles.
Even so far as the music is concerned the older “Mother India” was in no way less than the later film for it had as many as fifteen songs tuned by Ram Gopal and thus at least in quantity, stole a march over Naushad’s contribution in Mehboob’s film.