Aurat (1940)

In 1957, Mehboob Khan produced and directed a film that has achieved almost iconic status in the history of Indian cinema. Mother India was the first Indian film to receive a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and won several Filmfare Awards, including Best Film and Best Actress.

Mother India is a fine example of the importance of perseverance. If you don’t get it right the first time, try again. Sometime along the way, somewhere and somehow, you will get to your goal. Also, if you did something well once, chances are you’ll do it better the next time round. Practice makes perfect.

I’m not talking about how Radha, the female lead character of Mother India (and of Aurat) manages to surmount all the obstacles in her path and emerge strong. I’m talking about Mehboob Khan himself, who was the director not just of Mother India, but of the film, Aurat, of which Mother India was a remake. Based on a story by Babubhai Mehta (and supposedly partly inspired too by Pearl S Buck’s The Good Earth) and with dialogue by Wajahat Mirza, Aurat was a film Mehboob Khan only directed. Seventeen years later, now a producer in his own right, he remade the film, both producing and directing it. And how well he proved that if you do something well the first time round, there’s a good chance you’ll do it well, and even better, the second time round.

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Waaris (1954)

As frequent visitors to this blog would know by now, one of my weaknesses is good music—and there have been, over the years, dozens of films that I’ve watched primarily because they had good scores. In some instances, just one song that I really liked. More often than not, my luck’s been pretty shoddy and I’ve ended up sitting through frightful films like Akashdeep, Saaranga, and Akeli Mat Jaiyo.

With Waaris, which I watched mostly because of Raahi matwaale, I had hopes [cautious, considering my track record, but hopes nevertheless]. It stars Suraiya and Talat Mahmood, both favourites of mine, and it was produced by Sohrab Modi, who even if (when acting) had a penchant for ‘declaiming to the skies’, did make some good films.

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Khozhdenie Za Tri Moray (aka Pardesi) (1957)

Frequent readers of this blog have probably realised I have a soft spot for ‘real life’ stories: Gladys Aylward, Dr Kotnis, Changez Khan, Shahjahan: I’m game. Of course, I don’t always end up with films that bear any resemblance to the life of the person in question, but there’s no harm in trying.

So, another. Afanasy Nikitin was a horse trader from Tver in Russia, who came to India in the late 15th century, having started off from Tver in 1466. His travels took him down the Volga River, through Persia, and then via dhow to India. He is believed to have disembarked in present-day Maharashtra; over the years that followed, he travelled through a large part of peninsular India, including Bidar and Vijaynagar. He died in 1472 in Smolensk, on his way home; his travelogue of India, however, endures: entitled Khozhdenie Za Tri Moray (‘The Journey Beyond Three Seas’), it describes in detail all that Nikitin saw of what was to him a wild, exotic land like nothing he knew.

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Kismet (1943)

My mother’s grandfather was one of those domineering patriarchs who governed everything his family did, including the films they saw. The films deemed worthy of watching were very limited; Hollywood, by virtue of producing films with a Biblical theme, managed to get some (like Quo Vadis, The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur) past his strict censorship, but Hindi cinema didn’t have a chance. Kismet holds the distinction of being the only Hindi film he allowed his family to see. Considering it’s quite a formulaic potboiler (with an anti-hero and a girl who gets pregnant without being married), I was surprised at his choice—but then, it may have had something to do with the fact that Kismet was a huge hit that ran for 3 years in a theatre in Calcutta, where my mum’s family lived. Great-granddad must’ve thought anything that sustained so must have some merit.

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