Film Mother India

The 1957 film Mother India directed by Mehboob raised issues like illiteracy that are still here with us. 

Mother India is about land.  Jillo Maa wanted to give Shamu (Raj Kumar), her only son a wonderful wedding.  She didn’t have money so she went to Sukhilala the moneylender, played by Kanhaiyalal.  He gave her 500 rupees, using 20 acres of her land as collateral.  Sukhilala took three parts of the crop as interest for the loan.  She remained with one part.

It turns out that they had agreed on three parts for her and one part for the money lender.  She lost the case, because Sukhilala showed the Village Council the document with her thumb.  She couldn’t read and write.

“I believe in the spoken word not what is written,” she said.  “Didn’t I say one part of the crop will be yours and three ours?”  She died leaving her son Shamu and his wife Radha (Nargis) and their sons to service the loan.

Nature made things worse.  It was either prolonged drought or vicious floods.  Shamu lost his arms working a rocky piece of land which was not part of the loan.  He couldn’t bear to see his helplessness and left his family never to return.  Radha lost her third son because floods had washed all they could eat.

Birju (Sunil Dutt) one of her sons grew up watching her mother give three parts of the crop to Sukhilala.  He refused when he was an adult.  He remembered how the money lender took everything when weather conditions prevented his mother from delivering the crop.  He took the buffalos, pots and even his mother’s bangles.  Birju could never forgive him for the bangles. 

 Birju demanded to see Sukhilala’s books because he couldn’t understand how his mother was still paying the interest after 20 years.  She hadn’t started repaying the capital 500 rupees.  The money lender brought the books but Birju couldn’t read.  He asked his mother.  She couldn’t read either.  Nobody in the village could read except Sukhilala the money lender.  Birju killed him in the end.

“I’ve learnt your knowledge.  With this knowledge you took three parts of our crop as interest and gave us poverty.  With this knowledge you took away our fields, our oxen.  You took away our father and tied black threads in my mother’s wrists.  One acre of land, for a kilogram of rice,” said Birju before he killed him.

The inability to read and write robs people of their humanity, because they can lose their property like in the film Mother India.


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