Published On: Sat, May 28th, 2016

Remembering Mehboob Khan, the legendary filmmaker, on his 52th death anniversary today.

Mehboob Khan, Shammi Kapoor and Raj Kapoor at the Silver Jubillee function of the film 'Junglee' (1961).

Mehboob Khan, Shammi Kapoor and Raj Kapoor at the Silver Jubillee function of the film ‘Junglee’ (1961).

It’s difficult to imagine that a cult film like Mother India, the first ever Indian film to come close to winning an Oscar, was made by a man who had no formal education and no grounding in filmmaking. But then, that was Mehboob Khan, the man who came to be identified as the Cecil B. DeMille of Indian cinema, with his uncanny penchant for achieving the impossible.

Mehboob Khan’s body of work goes far beyond the oft- acclaimed epic Mother India. It comprises an Andaz too, made in 1949, which was revolutionary in its theme and treatment. And many others like Aan and Najma set him apart as a dynamic filmmaker. 

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A man of humble beginnings and little formal education, Mehboob Khan became one of India’s greatest Filmmakers. Like many other filmmakers of his time, Mehboob’s craft was learnt in the Film Theatre, the common motif in his films usually being the oppressed poor pitted against the oppressive rich.

Born Ramjan Khan in Bilimoria, Gujarat, he ran away from home to Bombay and spent his earlier youth scrounging work in the studios. He started his career with the Imperial Film Company as a bit player in Alibaba and the Forty Thieves (1927). He then joined Sagar Movietone and played supporting characters in several films before getting his first break as a director there with Judgement of Allah (1935) depicting Roman – Arab confrontation. Manmohan (1936), inspired by Barua’s Devdas(1935) and Jagirdar (1937) consolidated his position but with Ek hi Raasta (1939), Mehboob gave his first inclination of his social concerns and political leanings. The film is about a war veteran who having seen much death and destruction goes through a period of uneasy adjustment.

After the World War II, Mehboob Khan with his entire production unit joined the newly formed company National Studios for whom he directed three of his most important films – Aurat (1940), Bahen (1941) and Roti (1942).

He then left National to set up his own Mehboob Productions. Mehboob Productions came out with a regular output of films such as Anmol Ghadi (1946) and the cult classic Andaaz (1949). The triangle to beat all triangles, Andaaz remains startlingly modern even by today’s standards even though it propagates traditionalism. Mehboob followed Andaaz with the spectacle Aan (1952), his first film in colour. Aan even had a release in London and was much appreciated. This was followed by Amar (1954)

Mehboob Khan returned to familiar territory remaking his earlier hit Aurat as Mother India (1957). Mother India was his magnum opus and is the ultimate tribute to Indian Womanhood! It became the first Indian Film to be nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film Category and at the 1958 Academy Awards lost out to another masterpiece Federico Fellini’s Nights of Caberia by a solitary vote at the third poll.

About the Author

Syed Ammar Alavi

- is Lahore (Pakistan) based journalist & writer with 25-year experience in print, wire and broadcast forms of journalism. His major fields of interest are politics, film,tv,sports, climate change and technology