Book Review: The Legends of Indian Cinema - Sohrab Modi

By Joginder Tuteja, Bollywood Hungama News Network

In the series of 'The Legend Of Indian Cinema', there have been six releases so far. While the ones on Shammi Kapoor and Mehboob did make an interesting read, the ones on PC Barua and Sivaji Ganesan were just OK. As for the book written on Guru Dutt (from which one had most expectations to begin with), the less said about it better. Hence, one looks forward to how interesting does the author Amrit Gangar make the sixth in the series which is done on Sohrab Modi.

Though the cinema followers of the current generation have definitely heard the name Sohrab Modi, more or less they aren't too clued into his work during a cinematic journey which lasted close to 50 years (1934 - 1983). Yes, the word 'historical' comes to the mind immediately since Modi has always been known as a man who made Jhansi Ki Rani. However, what is really ironic is that though Jhansi Ki Rani has made him a known name today, the film by itself was a box office failure while there were countless other social films which he made decades back.

What really surprises is to know that Modi, who made quite a few historical movies in his time, actually hated history classes in his childhood. However, it was only later when he started making movies and on exploring history further did he realize the immense importance of history in making one's future. In addition, he may well have been a politician if he hadn't entered into the world of movies. That's because after his matriculation, when he was contemplating a career path to choose, his school principal had commented - "Sohrab, looking at the quality of your voice, I think you should either be a politician or an actor."

As is pretty obvious, Modi choose the later and the rest, as they say, is history!

Talking about his voice, any student of cinema would vouch for the fact that Modi's USP was his voice. Whether it is his debut film Khoon Ka Khoon (which was based on 'Hamlet') or Pukar or Sikandar or Prithvi Vallabh, his voice always loomed large. In his younger days, Modi had earned quite some reputation of being a Shakespearean actor and along with his brother's theatrical company; he used to travel throughout India while enthralling audience all over due to his towering presence and depth in voice.

Another great facet of Modi was his relentless approach when it came to sheer grandeur in his films. Amrit Gangar takes a reader through number of Modi's films which boasted of great sets, huge canvas and sheer lavish approach when it came to providing big screen entertainment. Films like Pukar, Sikandar (starring none other than Prithviraj Kapoor in the lead role), Jhansi Ki Rani and Mirza Ghalib amongst others were huge in canvas and can easily be counted amongst the best in Indian cinema. In fact, for Jhansi Ki Rani, the technicians roped in were the same who had worked on Gone With The Wind!

Talking about historical films, not many are aware that Sohrab Modi was one of the first filmmakers to have actually embarked on a journey to make a film on Ashoka! Decades back Modi had all but begun shooting for Ashoka. In fact, he also had the publicity material for the film published and circulated with an amazing caption accompanying the film's poster that read - "Wielding of the sword made Ashoka the conqueror but breaking of the sword made Ashoka the great."

However, the film never went beyond that stage. Reason? During his meeting with the distributors, one of them asked him about the hero who would be playing the title role of Ashoka. Hurt by the question since it indicated that distributors were seemingly loosing faith in him as a producer/director and instead concerned about the actor in the film, he shelved the project pronto. Sad, since the dream of making a film on Ashoka went away with his death!

This was one of the stray instances when Sohrab Modi took anything personal because as narrated by Gangar, Modi was a peace loving person who never had any enemies. Content with his world of cinema, he lived his passion every day and night while working on films. Known for seldom getting angry, there were only a few instances of him loosing temper. One such instance was in a film called Bharosa. One of the critical scenes in the film required the lead actor Mazhar Khan to execute a six minute long scene. Since he couldn't get the scene right even after 22 takes, Khan removed his make-up and thought of seeking permission from Modi to resume shooting after a month. This was when Modi didn't mince any word and ultimately ensured that Khan got the scene right on the very same day!

A perfectionist on all counts, Modi ensured that each and every area was well researched when it came to films made by him, This is why for Sikandar, he went to the extent of discovering the actual weight of the historical figure of Sikandar. For this, he even made his actors strip down to their undergarments and stand on the weighing scale to ensure that the consistent weight was maintained!

Author Amrit Gangar does well in doing a painstaking research on Sohrab Modi and comes up with a good account of the journey of the producer/director/actor. Though there isn't much touched upon the personal life of Modi (wish there was a little more detail on this count), it is compensated by innumerous anecdotes which make their presence felt from the beginning till the end of the book.

Price: Rs. 195/=

Rating: ***

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