By Hindustan Times
Fifty-four years ago, she was not even married forget giving birth to the three children she eventually had. But Mehboob Khan’s immortal celluloid classic catapulted actress Nargis into the role of Mother India – an image that survives her even 28 years after her death.
Some critics consider Mother India as India's Gone with the Wind. The film was a colour remake of director Mehboob Khan's less successful 1940 film Aurat. The cinematic brilliance of the film can be gauged by the fact that it was first Indian Film to be nominated for an Academy Award and has remained in continuous distribution ever since its original release in 1957.
While Mother India traced the bittersweet lives of an Indian peasant family as it struggles to survive in a rural community coming to terms with a country newly freed of British colonial rule, the film also provided melodrama on the sets when Sunil Dutt famously saved Nargis during the fire sequence. In the film the character portrayed by Nargis was trapped inside a raging fire while her son, Sunil Dutt, tried saving her. But the blaze got out of control and Dutt quickly grabbed a blanket and managed to rescue Nargis after wrapping her with the blanket. The heroic act resulted painful burns for Dutt but also managed to win for him the heart of Nargis. They were married within a year.
As far as the film is concerned, besides its tight emotional script was notable for the manner in which Nargis enacted the character from a young bride with painted eyebrows to a matriarchal figure who doesn't seem to even run a comb through her hair. Her unique ability to portray strength of purpose (at a time when most heroines were marshmallow-soft) made her perfect for the role.
Mother India was Nargis' big chance to prove she could deliver hits outside the Raj Kapoor ambit- and she did this with aplomb. It was one of the first films she signed after working exclusively with Kapoor for half a decade. Incidentally, Mehboob Khan, the director of Mother India had introduced Nargis as heroine with Taqdeer (1943). Nargis’ performance won her the prestigious Karlovy Vary Festival's Best Actress Award. For Raaj Kumar, Sunil Dutt and Rajendra Kumar Mother India was their first major success. Other strong performances in the film came from child actor Master Sajid playing Birju as a boy and Kanhaiyalal as the immorally malicious moneylender.