Mehboob Khan - Director

Nationality: Indian. Born: Mehboob Khan Ramzan Khan in Bilmora, in the Gandevi Taluka of Baroda State, India, 1909. Family: Married 1925, one son. Career: Extra at Imperial Film Studio, Bombay, from 1927; actor of "bit" parts for subsidiary, Sagar Movietone, from 1931; directed first film, for Sagar Film Co., 1935; established Mehboob Productions, 1943; built Mehboob Studios, 1952. Died: Of a heart attack, on hearing of Nehru's death, 27 May 1964.

Films as Director:


Judgement of Allah ( Alhilal ) (+ sc)


Deccan Queen ; Manmohan




Hum Tum Aur Woh ( We Three ); Watan


Ek Hi Rasta ( The Only Way )


Alibaba ; Aurat ( Woman )


Bahen ( Sister )


Roti ( Bread )


Najma (+ pr); Taqdeer (+ pr)


Humayun (+ pr)


Anmol Ghadi ( Priceless Watch ) (+ pr)


Elan (+ pr)


Anokhi Ada ( A Special Charm ) (+ pr)


Andaz ( Style ) (+ pr)


Aan ( Pride ) (+ pr)


Amar (+ pr)


Bharat Mata ( Mother India ) (+ pr)


Son of India (+ pr)

Other Films:


Alibaba and Forty Thieves (Misra) (role as thief)


Maurya Patan ( Fall of Mauryas ) (Choudhury) (role)


Mewad No Mawali ( Rogues of Rajasthan ) (Vakil) (role)


Dilawar (Torney) (role); Abul Hasan (Ghosh) (role)


Romantic Prince ( Meri Jaan ) (Ghosh)


Premi Pagal ( Mad Cap ) (Mir) (role); Bulbule Baghdad (Vakil) (role)


Grihalaxmi (Badami) (role); Nautch Girl ( Dancing Girl ) (Desai) (role); Sati Anjana (Rathod) (role)


Awaz (Sarhady) (pr); Paisa Hi Paisa (Mehrish) (pr)


On MEHBOOB: books—

Barnouw, Erik, and S. Krishnaswany, Indian Film , New York, 1965.

Willemen, Paul, and Behroze Ghandy, Indian Cinema , London, 1982.

Pfleiderer, Beatrice, and Lothar Lutze, The Hindi Film: Agent and Re-Agent of Cultural Change , New Delhi, 1985.

Ramachandran, T.M., 70 Years of Indian Cinema (1913–1983) , Bombay, 1985.

On MEHBOOB: articles—

Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Autumn 1960.

Ray, Satyajit, "Under Western Eyes," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1982.

Tesson, Charles, "Le rêve indien," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1985.

Thomas, R., "Indian Cinema: Pleasures and Popularity," in Screen (London), May/August 1985.

* * *

The urbane director K.A. Abbas once referred to Khan Mehboob as the "great rustic" of the Hindi cinema. Indeed, a certain mythology developed around Mehboob—that of the man with popular roots. This image owed much to stories about his origins (the small-town boy who worked his way up through the Bombay studios), and to certain films which dwelt on the travails of the poor and the destitute, such as Aurat (Woman) and Roti (Bread). In fact, however, Mehboob's output as director was quite varied. After he founded his own company, Mehboob Productions, in 1943, he made historical works (Humayun) and fantasy spectaculars (Aan/Pride). Even films such as Anmol Ghadi (Priceless Watch) and Anokhi Ada (A Special Charm) , which appeared to address the class divide, were variations of the triangular love story, the favoured convention of the Hindi cinema.

In these films social representation becomes incidental to the basic plot because the narrative spaces of a simple rural life or of urban destitution are constructed in an idealised rather than in a realistic way. The lighting style of such scenes show them as composed of smooth studio surfaces, and there is an indifference to the more squalid details of characterisation. The emphasis lies in the fullness of melodramatic sentiments—of loss and of romantic longing—which occasion the use of lushly orchestrated songs. All this is a pleasurable closing off of the cinema and its audience from social references, a tendency in Mehboob's work best represented by his venture into the swashbuckling colour film Aan. Elements of this romantic mode are observable even in Mehboob's "social" films. In Aurat and its later colour version, Mother India , rural life is often conveyed as a series of spectacularly choreographed scenes of harvesting, festivals, and the romantic engagement of its characters. Andaz (Style) , on the other hand, invites the audience to soak in the luxuries of the modern, upper-class settings in which its characters live.

In this sense, Mehboob was not simply a popularly rooted "rustic" artist, but engaged in creations of high artifice and escapism. However, these elements were often integrated with quite powerful constructions of meaning. Aurat , for example, achieves an almost anthropological view of gender roles. This is accomplished not by the accuracy of its observations about rural life, but by using the grim struggles of rural life as a way of drawing out the role performed by Indian women. This provides the basis for the film's main interest, the melodrama of the unrelieved suffering of a woman (Sardar Akhtar) on behalf of her sons (Surendra and Yakub). The subsequent version of this film, Mother India , is an interesting contrast. The focus is still on the suffering of the mother (Nargis); but this capacity to suffer is transformed into a distinctly mythical power which moves beyond her immediate family to inspire the whole village community. In both films the woman is the bearer of a patriarchal inheritance for her son, but Mother India may have represented a new, mythicised role model for women, one whose power often co-exists uneasily with its conservative functions.

Perhaps most interesting is Andaz , a drama, at least implicitly, of illicit desire. The story is about Nina (Nargis) who, while faithful to her absent fiancé (Raj Kapoor), relates vivaciously to an attractive young man (Dilip Kumar). The heroine is shown to be a naive innocent who cannot perceive that relaxed social relations between men and women can lead to misunderstanding, and this generates the tragic events that follow. Yet the narration moves beyond, or perhaps deeper into, its own fascination with the settings and mores of its upper class characters, introducing an interesting, fantastical ambiguity. Nina's denials that she is attracted to a man other than her husband are put into doubt for the audience through scenes depicting the hallucinations and dreams that assail the heroine. In this way the "rustic" Mehboob was surprisingly well equipped to convey certain strikingly modern problems of sexuality and desire.

—Ravi Vasudevan

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