India's first adults-only film had 16 year-old star, was slammed for 'immoral', bold plot, still ran houseful for weeks

The first adults-only film in India was released in 1950 and had a 16-year-old in the lead

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India's first adults-only film had 16 year-old star, was slammed for 'immoral', bold plot, still ran houseful for weeks

The Indian Cinematograph Act (1918) was the piece of legislation that governed the content of films in India after the World War I. As talkies emerged in the 1930s and cinema diversified with more genres and realism, the powers that be felt there was a need to amend this act. And hence, an amendment was made in 1949, allowing for certification of films for certain age categories. This led to one 1950 Bollywood film becoming India’s first A-rated (or adults-only) film. And controversy erupted!

India’s first A-rated film was...

In 1949, filmmaker KB Lall announced his family comedy drama Hanste Aansoo. The film starred 16-year-old young star Madhubala in the lead, alongside Motilal, Gope, and Manorama in supporting roles. The film was eventually released the following year. It became the first Indian film to get the A certification. The authorities argued that the film dealt with issues like domestic abuse, featured a married woman working in a factory, and had double meaning jokes.

The controversy around Hanste Aansoo

Hanste Aansoo was the story of Usha (Madhubala), who is physically abused by her husband Kumar (Motilal). As a result, she leaves his home and battles for women’s rights on her own. It was quite a bold subject for its time. The film also showed Usha working in a factory. In a time when women were expected to be ‘devoted’ and subservient, the film rattled the conservative middle class. Many audience members labelled the film immoral for how it depicted women and said it attacked family values.

Hanste Aansoo’s box office success

The controversy helped Hanste Aansoo get some purchase at the box office. It was further helped by the release and success of Mahal, which transformed Madhubala into a star at just 16. A popular release, the film ran to packed houses for several weeks. However, soon word of mouth dried up and so did the collections at the ticket window. In the end, while the film was a success, it was a moderate one. Many trade journalists said that some role for this was played by the film’s adults-only certification, which kept the family audiences at bay.

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