Sohrab Modi (1897-1984)
Born in Bombay, Sohrab Modi was a stage actor of Parsee Stage. Theatre was his first love. In an attempt to take it to a wider public in the aftermath of talkie films, he set up Stage Film Company in 1935. Plays were filmed and shown- Khoon Ka Khoon (1935), an adaptation of Shakespear's Hamlet, marked Naseem Bano's entry into filmdom. He launched Minerva Movietone in 1936. His early films at Minerva dealt with contemporary social issues such as alcoholism in Meetha Zaher (1938) and the right of Hindu women to divorce in Talaq (1938). Though the films did well, what attracted Modi was the historic genre. Minerva Movietone was famous for the trilogy- Pukar (1939), Sikandar (1941) and Prithvi Vallabh (1943). Pukar was set in the court of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, where his much vaunted 'an eye for an eye' brand of justice was put to test when his queen accidentally kills a washerman. It was filmed in Mughal courts and palaces which added grandeur to the film. The film's heroine Naseem Bano, the first beauty queen of Bollywood, became an overnight star. Modi's greatest film was Sikander which immortalized Prithviraj Kapoor playing the title role. Sikander's lavish mounting, huge sets and production values equalled the best of Hollywood's then, particularly the spectacular battle scenes. Prithvi Vallabh was based on K.M.Munshi's novel of the same name. The film's major highlights were the confrontation between Modi and Durga Khote, the haughty queen Mrinal Vati who tries to humiliate him publicly, then falls in love with him. The transformation of a rational man into a tyrant was chillingly portrayed by Modi in Jailor (1938). Modi's other notable movies were Bharosa (1940), Parakh (1944) and Jhansi Ki Rani (1953). Sohrab Modi's last most famous movie was Mirza Ghalib (1954). Replete with the immortal poetry of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, the film records his foray into the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last of the Mughal Emperors. The film won President's Gold Medal in 1954. Dialogue delivery and rich voice set Sohrab Modi apart from others.
Sikandar (Sohrab Modi, 1941): The film is set in 326 B.C. when Alexander the Great aka Sikandar (Prithviraj Kapoor) having conquered Persia and the Kabul valley descends to the Indian border at Jhelum. The legendary encounter between Sikandar and King Porus (Sohrab Modi) forms the central plot of the film. Sikandar was the greatest success of Minerva Movietone, which specialised in historic spectacles. Its lavish mounting, huge sets and production values, particularly the spectacular battle scenes, equalled the greatest Hollywood movies of the genre. Its dramatic declamatory dialogues give both Prithviraj Kapoor and Sohrab Modi free reign to their histrionic excellence. It is Prithviraj's best known performance as the handsome, dashing Sikandar and the film highlights his enduring reputation for playing royalty, culminating in the role of Akbar in Mughal-E-Azam (1960).
Mirza Ghalib (Sohrab Modi, 1954): The film based on the life of the great Indian poet who lived during the reign of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last of the Mughal Emperors, won the President's Gold Medal for Best Feature Film of 1954. The film portrays once wealthy poet's trials and tribulations, his triumphs and ultimate descent to poverty, and then to prison; and his tragic ill-fated love with a beautiful courtesan, Chaudvin. The film beautifully captures the mood of the period, its hedonistic pursuits and the fading magnificence of the court of the last Mughal, where poets like Zauq, Momin, Tishna, Shafta and Ghalib assembled to recite their verse. Mirza Ghalib also saw Suraiya's finest dramatic performance as she made alive and vivid the role of Chaudvin. The film also highlights some of her finest singing.