Book Review: Mehboob Khan

By Joginder Tuteja, Bollywood Hungama News Network

Say 'Mehboob Khan' and one is immediately reminded of Mother India. The man whose film had almost won an Oscar for itself close to half a century back, Mehboob Khan has always been referred to a legend. But how many hardcore movie buffs, let aside the regular Hindi movie audience, really know the vast repertoire of work that Mehboob Khan possessed?

If asked to name a few films that were made by the man who had run away from his home in Gujarat with dreams of becoming an actor, only to turn into an acclaimed director over the next couple of decades, one may just come up with an Aurat or an Anokhi Ada or an Anmol Ghadi! How about a path breaking Amar, Aan or Andaaz? How about a historical Humayun? Or a norm-defying Ek Hi Raasta? Or about 20 odd other films which he made between 1935 and 1962? Chances are high that it would be difficult to have these films at your fingertips.

This is where the book comes in handy as for the students of cinema from the era gone by; it works as a reference handbook and provides insight into the life of a filmmaker who mixed commerce with message.

As narrated in the book, unlike so many other people associated with the world of films, Mehboob Khan didn't really have a kind of lifestyle or virtues that would make for a spicy copy. Neither was he a pretentious filmmaker nor laidback to project a relaxed persona. Instead, he comes across as a man who was rooted to the art of filmmaking and was constantly looking at pushing the envelope. Of course, failures did hurt him as well that made him go back to the formula but till his last film Son Of India, he attempted to tell something new to his audience.

Now this was quite an achievement for a man who once came to Mumbai to be an actor, only to find himself being a part of a casket for his debut scene! As an extra who played one of the 40 thieves in Ali Baba Aur Chalis Chor, he was hidden in a casket throughout the take, an incident that continued to amuse Mehboob Khan over the years.

The book explores Mehboob Khan's gradual transition from an actor to a director. Though Khan did come close to playing a leading role after being an extra for majority of outings, luck didn't favor him and the role went to a different actor. Not to fret upon the lost opportunity, Khan decided to hold the camera and went on to become India's leading filmmakers. His Aurat (which was later remade into Mother India) got him all around appreciation which made him a director of very good repute.

Later, he even came up with his own production company and continued to taste success as before. One may remember the golden words 'Muddai Lakh Bura Chahe To Kya Hota Hai, Wahi Hota Hai Jo Manzur-E-Khuda Hota Hai' that used to loom large at the beginning of every Mehboob Khan film? Well, the trademark lines, which were recently heard in Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om, had the voice of Rafique Ghaznavi who was a new composer hired by Mehboob Khan!

As Mehboob Khan's career progressed, he started roping in actors who were to become legends in years to come. While he introduced a 14 year old Nargis in Taqdeer [who went on to deliver her career's best performance with Khan's own Mother India], he also created a casting coup of sorts by bringing together Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar with her in Andaz. In fact, Dilip Kumar was later slated to play Nargis' wayward son in Mother India but the role went to Sunil Dutt instead. There were even talks of an Indian born actor from Hollywood - Saboo - being roped in for the role but destiny had its own plans. Nargis and Dutt came together and soon found themselves tying the knot!

While the book does come up with quite a few anecdotes around the films that Mehboob Khan made and his approach while dealing with actors, the most enjoyable is the one that narrates an interesting incident between Khan and composer Naushad. While the music of Anmol Ghadi was being made, Khan used to constantly give his suggestions to the composer with specific details about beats and rhythm. While Naushad didn't quite appreciate the fact, he waited for the right moment and teased Khan about taking a shot differently while being on the sets. Khan got the point and never interfered again with Naushad's work!

Noted film critic and journalist Rauf Ahmed takes it on himself to make the lovers of Indian cinema aware about Mehboob Khan - the man who not many realized in the era gone by that one day he would be elevated to the status of being a legend. Of course exploring a subject like this doesn't have a wide audience. It comes with its own limitations since more often than not a filmmaker always has lesser fan following than an actor and though one may still love to catch hold of a biography of a Dev Anand or a Dilip Kumar, there would always be a restricted audience for a Mehboob Khan.

Still, Rauf's effort is commendable since in a 100 page write-up, he reintroduces the man who was said to be one of the very few modern Indian filmmakers of the era gone by who dared to experiment and more often than not succeeded.

Price: Rs. 195/=

Rating: ***

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