New Delhi, 2002
Price: Rs 250 (Paperback)
Think Mother India and the image most of us will conjure up is that of mud-soaked Nargis in Mehboob Khan's 1957 magnum opus. Not knowing that the film was deliberately named so - to wipe out the memories of another Mother India, a book by Catherine Mayo. Written in 1927, this sensational if not always accurate book had painted a poor picture of India and shaped western minds on the subject for long.
This is one of the interesting snippets that brought forth in Chatterjee's analysis of one of India's best-known films. The films, which attained iconic status almost as soon as it was released, has since spawned a number of writings on it. Few however match up to this one.
The book, part of British Film Institute's acclaimed series, has to have the right amount of information and analysis to make for interesting reading for both the interested reader and the expert alike. The narrative structure is discussed, especially the symbolism in this imagery-laden film. Other aspects - the vital place mythology undoubtedly has in the film combines, oftentimes uneasily, with the quasi realism of some shots, most of all, Mehboob's own vision for the film are examined.
What adds to the pleasure is the brief moments where the crew recollects moments of filming, from the now famous Sunil Dutt rescuing Nargis from a fire on the sets to the lesser-known incidents like the flooding of 500 acres of farmland, or the shooting of actual flood scenes. So finally we get the acclaimed BFI series on international cinema in India.