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Revisiting Mehboob Khan’s last film, Son Of India

On the legendary filmmaker's 110th birth anniversary, we revisit his last film which starred his son, Sajid Khan.

Sonal Pandya

Director Mehboob Khan's Mother India (1957) was undoubtedly his most famous film. The director, who started working in the 1930s, made the landmark film, which is hailed as one of Indian cinema’s best and was the first film from India to be nominated for an Academy award. Mehboob Khan's filmography also boasts of such films as Watan (1938), Roti (1942), Anmol Ghadi (1946), Andaz (1949) and Aan (1952).

The last film of his career, before his death in 1964, was Son Of India (1962), which naturally brought on comparisons with the Oscar-nominated Mother India. In the booklet of the film, Mehboob Khan sees the film carrying on from where Mother India left off.

Mehboob Khan

For the synopsis, Mehboob Khan states, “Every mother is judged by the merits of her children and every country is known by the culture of her people. Mother India, too, has been proud of her good son — and has shed tears over her bad ones. Very often a boy grows up amongst the weak, the misled or thoroughly wicked people — and yet, in him shines out the true culture of his country. Truly is he a son of his Motherland. Gopal was such a son (sic).”

Sajid Khan

Mehboob Khan's adopted son, Sajid Khan, played the lead role of Gopal. He is a precocious child who says lines like “Hindustan ka har bachcha Hindustan ka president bann sakta hai [Every child can become president of India]” to a young child turned thief. The story of Son Of India is more than a little confusing and hard to follow.

Sajid Khan is given the responsibility of shouldering the whole film, but it proved too big a task for the little actor. The film also starred Kamaljeet (aka Shashi Rekhi, who later married Waheeda Rehman in 1974), Kum Kum, Jayant, Kanhaiyalal and Tun Tun. Son Of India also introduced two actresses, Simi Garewal and Bakhtawar Singh, who were integral to plot.

Simi Garewal

Little Gopal sets out to find his father who left his mother and him when he was young. Kamaljeet’s character Kishore was an opportunistic man who married Kum Kum’s Kamala only for her money. He later regrets it and is unable to pay his debt to the villainous JB (Jayant). Circumstances force the little family apart and they meet again, years later, virtually as strangers.

Kum Kum and Kamaljeet

However, the many twists and turns and prolonged separation of the core family gets a bit too melodramatic after a while. Audiences of the 1960s must have had the same opinion because the film failed at the box office.

Listening to the film’s songs again, which are composed by Naushad, the musical pieces are the film’s saving grace as they have Mehboob Khan's touch. ‘Mujhe Huzoor Tum Se’, sung by Geeta Dutt, is set in a lavish club, while the elaborate dance spectacle ‘Aaj Chhedo Mohabbat Ki’ sung by Lata Mangeshkar shows off Kum Kum’s emoting ability.

The most famous song from the film, however, is ‘Nanna Munna Rahi Hoon’, which features Gopal roaming through the countryside with his trusty Alsatian, Roma. Sung by Shanti Mathur, the song was penned by Shakeel Badayuni and composed by Naushad.

Mehboob Khan, who might have been trying to recapture some of the magic of Mother India, also wrote in the film’s booklet about his faith in the country. He stated, “This is the story of a boy’s faith in a bullet and his challenge to Death. This is the story of a man who loses faith in God and then regains it. This is the story of a woman whose love regains everything — by sacrificing all that love values most. This story is for those fathers and mothers who care for the India of Tomorrow — and for every son and daughter who is Tomorrow’s India (sic).”