Wednesday, July 8, 2015

325. Bharat Mata/Mother India (1957)

Running Time: 172 minutes
Directed By: Mehboob Khan
Written By: Mehboob Khan, Wajahat Mirza, S. Ali Raza
Main Cast: Nargis, Sunil Dutt, Rajendra Kumar, Raaj Kumar, Kanhaiyalal


Continuing on with watching all the long stuff, we come to Mother India. For the record, I still have four films that are OVER three hours and then everything else is officially UNDER three hours. This one was long enough that I decided to knock it out now, before I got stuck with it at the tail end. However, being stuck with Mother India wouldn't have been a bad thing.

The whole movie is told in flashback, as an old lady being urged to inaugurate a new irrigation canal, looks back over her life. The old lady is Radha (Nargis) and we flash all the way back to her wedding day, decked out in jewels and silks, she prepares to marry Shamu (Raaj Kumar). The wedding is funded by Radha's new mother-in-law, who borrows the money from a the film's villain, a cunning money lender, Sukhilala (Kanhaiyalal), who tacks on enough interest to ensure the family will be paying him back for decades to come. The marriage proves a success, as Radha and Shamu love each other dearly, singing songs as they work in the fields side by side. However, when a couple of kids start to pop out, the family faces financial difficulties, nearly starving to death. When Radha suggests that they plow the barren land, Shamu reminds her that the land is covered with rocky terrain and soil that would surely kill any ox that tried to cultivate it. They try anyway and when Shamu's ox tries to movie a boulder, with help from Shamu, the yolk breaks and Shamu's arms are trapped and eventually amputated. Not able to bear with the shame of no longer being able to provide for his family, Shamu runs away, leaving Radha to raise her two sons alone. Flash forward many years and the boys are grown up and the financial difficulties ares till present, but to a lesser degree. Radha's youngest, Birju (Dutt), however, is a menace to the village, terrorizing the girls and still swearing revenge against the money lender, who still collects interest from the family. At the halfway mark, the film turns from being about the family's peril as a whole, to Radha's difficulties dealing with Birju.

What a great film! And what a terrific downer of a movie, to boot. I mean, for real, Khan didn't let his foot off the depression accelerator the whole time and there was about a half an hour spurt where terrible thing after terrible thing just kept happening: grandma dies, there's a great flood that ruins the land, dad loses his arms and runs away - damn, Mehboob, let me catch my breath before you sock me in the gut again!

I had to track this one down via the internet and honestly, with these movies that I end up having to watch off of YouTube, I don't expect much. Usually the rarities are the worst ones. The way I used to figure it, is if they were any good, they'd be on DVD somewhere. However, with Mother India and other recent ones that I've had to hunt for (Tampopo, Rocco and His Brothers, The Fourth Man, Turkish Delight), it's proving that Criterion needs to get on the ball and get some of these terrific films out there, for easier access. THE BOOK notes that if you're a newcomer into discovering cinema of the world, you should start your trek through India with Mother India and I really couldn't agree more. I'm finding with this and even The Brave Hearted Will Take the Bride, which I watched years ago for THE BOOK, that I really need to see more Bollywood cinema. And I swear it has nothing to do with the songs. Usually the stories are easily accessible and from my experiences they are epics that don't feel like epics. This was almost three hours, but I really didn't even begin to feel the running time until we got within twenty minutes of the whole thing being over - meaning the pacing was pretty much spot on.

I'll leave you with two questions: Why are there so many Indian actors with one word names? And if you have Bollywood recommendations, please leave them in the comments section.

RATING: 8/10  Yeah, I went there. I just feel like anything less than an '8' just wouldn't be fair and this comes along with a high recommendation from me.


July 8, 2015  10:56am


  1. I watched this one a few years back. I guess I was lucky, my local library had a copy of this so I checked it out. I was shocked at how much I was compelled by this movie. I thought it was pretty great, and mostly flew by. This was a great discovery for me and I am glad that you liked it.

    1. Seems this one was all around accepted as good stuff! Thanks for stopping by Larry!

  2. Oh well done.. well survived.. and a top score.
    Well, we have been here before with similar Indian cinema epics, and how thay are a bit prone to really lay on the misery.. and the length. Magnificent.. at times.. but a bit grueling as well. I liked your comment .."What a great film! And what a terrific downer of a movie, to boot.".. summed it up quite well.
    It is difficult to take in just how HUGE this film is - still - in India, and what a place it holds in the national image.

    1. Definite success with me and another long one in the books.


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