A titan in the history of cinematography in India, Faredoon A Irani shows what is arguably the most iconic Indian film of all time - Mehboob Khan’s magnum opus Mother India (1957). Over a career spanning over forty years, Irani was one of the key figures behind making Mehboob Khan one of the premier directors of the country.
Irani was brought up in Bombay where his father owned a departmental store in Byculla. His wish was to send his son to England to study engineering. But the young Faredoon was more interested in cinema, often spending his days at the Palace cinema. An enterprising young man, he succeeded in getting an apprenticeship at Imperial Film Company after his matriculation. Helping him in this endeavor was another Faredoon Irani, the father of Aruna Irani.
He worked in the camera department for three years until finally getting a chance in 1930 to operate the camera on his own. It was for a four-reel film directed by Nanubhai Vakil called Daan Leela for Sagar Movietone. The first feature film he shot was the Gujarati film Narsinh Mehta (1932) directed by Nanubhai Vakil. His work in Bulbul-e-Baghdad (1932) earned him great praise. He worked with Sarvottam Badami on films like Grihalaxmi (1934), Vair Ka Badla/Vengeance Is Mine (1935), Dr. Madhurika (1935), Grama Kanya (1936) and Kokila (1937).
In 1935 came a turning point in his career when he met a young actor called Mehboob Khan at Sagar Movietone. Mehboob Khan was looking to finance his own film at that time. He was successful and together they shot Al Hilal/The Judgement of Allah in 1935. This gave birth to a partnership of 30 years until Mehboob Khan’s death in 1965. Their work consisted of classics like Manmohan (1936) which was set up to rival Devdas (1935), Ek Hi Raasta (1939), the precursor of Mother India in Aurat (1940), Bahen (1941), the satirical Roti (1942), Humayun (1945), Anmol Ghadi (1946), the Raj Kapoor-Dilip Kumar-Nargis classic Andaz (1949), Aan (1952) and of course, Mother India (1957). His work in Mother India fetched him his first Filmfare Award for Best Cinematography. He also shot India’s first Technicolor film in Aan which was a megahit in India and earned great acclaim when it was released in England.
The death of Mehboob Khan affected him greatly and he reduced his work in cinema after that. His work was still top-notch though, as seen in Palki (1967), Aadmi (1968), Duniya (1968), Gambler (1971) and Do Phool (1974). For his work in K A Narayan’s Duniya, he received his second Filmfare Award. His last known film was Hum Tere Ashiq Hain (1979). On 2 August 1953, he chaired the meeting of cinematographers that led to the formation of the Western India Cinematographers’ Association. Faredoon A Irani’s work will always be remembered for setting up the idioms of cinematography that dominated much of the 40s and ’50s.