Sunday, April 30, 2017

Mehboob, India's DeMille - Bunny Reuben

Mehboob Khan of Mehboob Studios, maker of 'Mother India', 'Aan', 'Aurat', 'Andaz' and many other huge hits, was a towering personality in the Indian film industry from the 1930s to 60s. How big, I could not fathom until I read the biography written by Bunny Reuben. 'Mother India' was India's first nomination to the Oscars and Cecil De Mille himself had words of praise for Mehboob Khan's work.

Now who is this talented young man? He was a nobody, who came to Mumbai from a small village near Baroda with three rupees in his pocket, worked for free doing all sorts of menial jobs at the studio, seized opportunity when he got a chance to play an extra and got into direction. His quick grasp of things, his business sense saw the poor, uneducated boy from Gujarat scale the kind of heights rarely seen in Hindi cinema. Extremely hard working and highly religious, he would not stop his namaz for anything in the world - be it a meeting in Hollywood or in London. The maker of grand spectacular movies, the master of emotions, rose to dizzying heights and was perhaps the only superstar director India had. The loudest cheers came on when his name appeared in the titles.

Mehboob Khan's first film was a script he wrote himself 'Judgement of Allah' where he showed his flair for direction. 'Aurat' was the original 'Mother India' and it was while making this movie that he married Sardar Akhthar, the heroine of the movie, as his second wife. He first cast Nargis in his movie 'Taqdeer' (did he also give Nimmi and Saira Banu breaks?). In fact he also gave Raaj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar and Sunil Dutt a huge lease of life with Mother India. He promoted Dilip Kumar before he struck out on his own. His legendary friendships, numerous affairs and an equal number of soured relationships made him an enigma, But he made classics like 'Humayun', 'Andaz', 'Aan', and topped it all off with 'Mother India'. The roller coaster life of all the people involved in his life, the heroes, the heroines, the music directors is well depicted. If one things comes across clearly it is the insecurity of the industry.

Mehboob Khan discovered Nargis who was a school girl when he first saw her. He also gave stars like Surendranath and several others a break. With his limited English and education he had friends at all levels - Nehru was a friend of his. Eccentric, temperamental, creative, ambitious, workaholic Mehboob Khan finally left his studio in Bandra to the medium he loved - films. Mehboob Khan's weakness for women and his temperamental behavior with his close associates, his unforgiving nature which kept his flock together - those who leave are forgotten - compromised him. At the same time he also had a generous heart and a highly creative mind.

The 'Mother India' story was fascinating. How the idea developed from 'The Good Earth' and how the movie survived the many attempts to change its name, cast and even its script is in itself a wonderful story. How Mehboob zeroed down to Nargis, went to Raj Kapoor to ask him to let Nargis (who was by then in the RK camp and in a full blown relationship with RK) act in the movie was another great twist. How Nargis uses the movie to purge herself of her uncertainty in the fire scene where she almost died and was saved by Sunil Dutt, whom she eventually married is another. Fabulous stuff. Another haunting image is that of Mehboob asking Ashok Kumar who played 'Humayun' to get off his horse and kneel down in prayer because it is namaz time even as horses and elephants were advancing towards him. I'd love to see that scene.

The 386 page is a fine, easy and well organised read and that's what good writing is about. The story unfolds  logically and enough care has been taken to enhance the experience for the reader by appropriate placing of photographs. Not a word deviates from the main topic and we understand layer upon layer of this complex character, the complex and cut throat world of cinema, the deep insecurities that drive the people in the industry. I could finish reading the book in 4-5 hours, that's how well it is written.

I am now fully enthused and want to watch the movies mentioned above. I am also glad I now know of this wonderful and talented character, Mehboob, about whom I knew little before this 1985 book.

No comments: