“Nargis…recognised that in Mehboob’s Mother India she had an immortal farewell vehicle to her career – a film that her millions of fans would remember her by forever. Nothing in her future could be greater than Mother India…”
(Bunny Reuben in “Follywood Flashback: A Collection of Movie Memories”)
In light of the theme of 102 Years of Indian Cinema that defines this year, the above quote stands as significant testimony to the immense, overwhelming power the iconic image of Nargis in her role as the ‘Mother’ figure holds for audiences even today, and serves as almost a template for Indian constructions of female identity within a larger cultural and social framework.
Mehboob Khan’s “Mother India” (1957) is a tremendously complex film; impossible to sum up in one reading. What has been spoken of at length is its thematic portrayal of the nation as ‘mother’, the issue of ‘honour’ in terms of female identity, the ‘mother-son’ relationship, and so on.
What these issues mean in feminist terms — within the larger iconic universe of Mother India — is a question that is central to an understanding of the film’s extraordinarily layered meaning and to Hindi films today. Film scholars have attributed its importance to its alignment with the ideology of India that Nargis portrays. As Javed Akhtar once remarked, “All Hindi films come from Mother India.”