Sohrab Modi

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Sohrab Merwanji Modi
Sohrab Modi.jpg
Modi in 1931
Born(1897-11-02)2 November 1897
Died28 January 1984(1984-01-28) (aged 86)
Nationality Indian
OrganizationMinerva Movietone
Notable work
Pukar, Sikandar, Prithvi Vallabh, Jhansi Ki Rani, Mirza Ghalib, Jailor, Nausherwan-E-Adil (1957 film)
(m. 1946;his death 1984)
Awards Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1980

Sohrab Merwanji Modi (2 November 1897 28 January 1984) was an Indian stage and film actor, director and producer. [1] His films include Khoon Ka Khoon (1935), a version of Shakespeare's Hamlet , Sikandar , Pukar, Prithvi Vallabh , Jhansi ki Rani , Mirza Ghalib , Jailor and Nausherwan-E-Adil (1957). His films always carried a message of strong commitment to social and national issues. [2]


Early life

Sohrab Modi in film Sikandar (1941). Sikandar, 1941, Sohrab Modi.jpg
Sohrab Modi in film Sikandar (1941).

Sohrab Merwanji Modi was born 2 November 1897 in Bombay. [2] After finishing school, he became travelling exhibitor in Gwalior with his brother Keki Modi. At 16 he used project films in Gwalior's Town Hall and at 26 set up his Arya Subhodh Theatrical Company. [3]

Sohrab began as a Parsi theatre actor with some experience in silent films. He earned quite a reputation as a Shakespearean actor, travelling throughout India with his brother's theatrical company and enjoying the tremendous sense of fulfillment every time the curtain came down and the audience applauded. However, with the advent of the sound film in 1931, theatre was declining. To rescue this dying art, Modi set up the Stage Film Company in 1935. His first two films were filmed versions of plays. Khoon Ka Khoon (1935) was an adaptation of Hamlet and marked Naseem Bano's acting debut. The second, Said-e-Havas (1936) was based on Shakespeare's King John . Both films failed at the box office. [2]

Personal life

Sohrab Modi was born into a Parsi family on 2 November 1897. His father was an Indian civil servant. He spent his childhood in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh where he developed a liking for Hindi and Urdu languages. [4]

Sohrab Modi was married to Mehtab Modi, [2] an actress born into an aristocratic Muslim family from Gujarat, who began her career in his movie Parakh (1944). They married on her birthday on 28 April 1946. They had a son, Mehelli, from this marriage [5] who settled in the UK in 1967, where he would later found the British arthouse DVD label Second Run. [6] Mehtab had a son, Ismail from her first marriage, who lived with them. [5] [4]

There is an incident about Sohrab Modi's visit to Kolkata. Here he met with the Holy Mother Sarada Devi. Sohrab went to her for diksha but was denied permission. He reportedly asked to holy mother, "Maiji kuchh kijiye jisse khuda pehchana jaye". The incident of their meeting was not less than surprising. During her last days, none was permitted to come near the Holy Mother. But the day Sohrab had come for diksha, Maa Sarada could feel that someone has came for diksha from her saintly powers without anyone telling about him to the holy mother. She asked to send Sohrab to her and gave her many lessons which would be later helpful in his life.


He launched Minerva Movietone in 1936. [4] 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 became famous for its trilogy of historical spectaculars that were to follow – Pukar (1939), Sikandar (1941) and Prithvi Vallabh (1943), wherein Modi made the most of his gift for grandiloquence to evoke historical grandeur.

Pukar (1939) was set in the court of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir and is based on an incident, perhaps fictional, that highlights Jehangir's fair sense of justice. Many of the key scenes were filmed on location, at the magnificent courts and palaces from the Mughal era, which gave the film an authenticity that studio built sets could never achieve. The charisma of its stars, Chandra Mohan and Naseem Bano, and Kamaal Amrohi's oration, with its literary flourish and innate grace, ensured the film's popularity. [4]

Arguably Modi's greatest film was Sikander (1941), which immortalized Prithviraj Kapoor playing the title role. This epic film was set in 326 BC when Alexander the Great, having conquered Persia and the Kabul Valley, descends on the Indian border at Jhelum and encounters Porus (Modi), who stops the advance with his troops. Sikander's lavish mounting, huge sets, and production values equalled Hollywood's best, particularly in its rousing and spectacular battle scenes. The movie was rated by a British writer as "well up to the standard of that old masterpiece The Birth of a Nation ." Its dramatic, declamatory dialogue gave both Prithviraj Kapoor and Sohrab Modi free rein to their histrionic proclivities.

The release of the film coincided with World War II at its peak and in India the political atmosphere was tense following Gandhiji's call to Civil Disobedience. Sikander further aroused patriotic feelings and national sentiment. Thus, though Sikander was approved by the Bombay censor board, it was later banned from some of the theatres serving army cantonments. However, its appeal to nationalism was so great and direct, it remained popular for years. It was revived in Delhi in 1961 during the Indian March into Goa.

Prithvi Vallabh was based on K.M. Munshi's novel of the same name. The film's major highlights were the confrontations between Modi and Durga Khote, the haughty queen Mrinalvati, who tries to humiliate him publicly but then falls in love with him. [4]

Although Modi went beyond Parsee theatre with such themes as illicit passion ( Jailor (1938), remade in 1958) and incest (Bharosa (1940)), his formal approach still remained tied to the theatre. He re-created the look and sound of Parsee theatre by using frontal compositions and staging the narrative in spatial layers with copious use of Urdu dialogue.

In 1946, after his relationship with Naseem had run its course (though she continued to work with him in Sheesh Mahal (1950) and Nausherwan-e-Adil (1957)), he married Mehtab, an actress 20 years his junior whom he had directed in Parakh (1944). Sohrab Modi was 48 years old at that time. [2] [4]

In 1950, when Sohrab Modi's Sheesh Mahal was being screened at Minerva Theatre in Bombay, the actor was present at the hall. Mr. Modi noticed a man sitting in the front row with closed eyes. Upset with such a reaction, he asked an attendant to let the viewer out and to return his money. The employee came back to say that the person was blind but had come just to hear Sohrab Modi's lines.

For Jhansi Ki Rani, India's first technicolour film, Modi had technicians flown in from Hollywood. Mehtab starred as the young queen of Jhansi who took up arms against the British during the Mutiny of 1857 with Modi playing the role of the Rajguru, her chief advisor. The film was notable for its authenticity in creating the right period and delineating historical events, its spectacular battle scenes and Mehtab's stirring performance though she was far too old for the role. She achieves stirring dignity in the role as she vows to protect Jhansi from all enemies both within and outside. The ball sequence in Jhansi's palace was superbly shot and Modi's characters held great emotional appeal. The film failed to connect with the audience and was a costly misfire for Modi as a box office crash. [2]

Modi however bounced back with Mirza Ghalib (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 beautifully captured 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, Shefta and Ghalib assembled to recite their verse. Mirza Ghalib also saw Suraiya's finest dramatic performance as she embodied the role of the married Ghalib's lover, a courtesan. Ghalib also saw some of her finest singing – "Aah ko Chaihiye Ek Umar," "Nuktacheen Hai Gham-e-Dil," "Dil-e-Nadaan Tujhe Hua Kya Hai," "Yeh Na Thi Humari Kismet,". Her singing is to date regarded as the definitive portrayal of Ghalib. In fact India's then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru paid her the ultimate compliment by telling her she had brought Mirza Ghalib to life. ("Tumne Mirza Ghalib ki Rooh ko Zinda Kar Diya"). [2]

Though Nausherwan-e-Adil and Samay Bada Balwan (1969) had their moments it is said that Modi's later films did not reach the heights of his earlier work. [2] In Jailor (1958) Modi gave a chilling portrayal of a rational man turned into a tyrant. His last few hits included Kundan(1955) , Raj Hath (1956) and Meri Biwi Mere Bachche (1960).

Death and later life

Even after he stopped making films, Sohrab Modi never actually gave up the idea of making one. Even as late as 1982 (when he was 85 years old) and was hardly able to move around, he had the muhurat of 'Guru-dakshina'. As per his wife, people took advantage of his weakness for making a film and they lost a lot of money by way of advance payments etc., since two days after the 'muhurat', Sohrab Modi fell sick and then never recovered. His wife also said in a 1986 interview that Sohrab Modi was obsessed with filmmaking and, in fact, had no other interests. [5]

Sohrab Modi received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award in 1980. He was the tenth recipient of the award. He suffered from cancer of the bone marrow and succumbed to the disease on 28 January 1984 at the age of 86. [2]


Sohrab Modi on a 2013 stamp of India Sohrab Modi 2013 stamp of India.jpg
Sohrab Modi on a 2013 stamp of India


As director

As actor

Khoon Ka Khoon 1935Hamlet
Said-e-Havas 1936Kazal Beg (Hubert)
Jailor 1938Jailor
Meetha Zahar 1938
Pukar [5] 1939Sardar Sangram Singh
Sikandar [4] 1941King Porus
Prithvi Vallabh [4] 1943Munja
Sheesh Mahal 1950Thakur Jaspal Singh
Jhansi Ki Rani 1952Raj Guru
Kundan 1955Kundan
Raj Hath 1956Raja Babu
Nausherwan-E-Adil alias Farz Aur Mohabbat1957Sultan-e-Iran Nausherwan-e-Adil
Yahudi [2] 1958Ezra, the Jew
Jailor 1958Dilip
Pehli Raat1959
Woh Koi Aur Hoga1967
Noor Jahan1967Kazi
Jwala 1971
Ek Nari Ek Brahmachari 1971Raisaheb Surajbhan Chaudhary
Razia Sultan 1983Vazir-e-Azam

Related Research Articles

<i>Pukar</i> (1939 film) 1939 Indian film

Pukar is a 1939 Urdu film produced and directed by Sohrab Modi at the production house, Minerva Movietone. The film is about Mughal emperor Jehangir's legendary justice and his inner conflict when his wife kills an innocent citizen by mistake.

Nigar Sultana (actress)

Nigar Sultana was an Indian actress who worked in Hindi films. She appeared in Aag (1948), Patanga (1949), Sheesh Mahal (1950), Mirza Ghalib (1954), Yahudi (1958), Do Kaliyaan (1968), etc. but she is most notably remembered for playing the role of "Bahar begum" in the historical epic film Mughal-e-Azam (1960). She was the wife of filmmaker K. Asif. She died in May 2000, in Mumbai, India.

<i>Prithvi Vallabh</i> 1943 Indian film

Prithvi Vallabh is a historical drama Bollywood film directed by Sohrab Modi. Made under the Minerva Movietone banner it was released in 1943. The story is an adaptation of K. M. Munshi's book Prithivivallabh written in 1920. It had music by Rafiq Ghaznavi and Saraswati Devi with lyrics by Pandit Sudershan who also wrote the screenplay and dialogues. The film starred Sohrab Modi, Durga Khote, Sankatha Prasad, Kajjan, Meena Shorey, Sadiq Ali, K. N. Singh and Al Nasir.

Naseem Banu

Naseem Banu was an Indian film actress. She was referred to as Naseem and known as "Beauty Queen" and the "first female superstar" of Indian Cinema. Starting her acting career in the mid-1930s she continued to act till mid-1950s. Her first film was Khoon Ka Khoon (Hamlet) (1935) with Sohrab Modi under whose Minerva Movietone banner she acted for several years. Her high-point came with Modi's Pukar (1939) in which she played the role of Empress Nur Jahan. According to composer Naushad she got the sobriquet Pari-Chehra Naseem through the publicity advertisements of her films. She was the mother of actress Saira Banu and mother-in-law to the actor Dilip Kumar.

<i>Khoon Ka Khoon</i> 1935 Hindi/Urdu film by Sohrab Modi

Khoon Ka Khoon also called Hamlet is the first Hindi/Urdu 1935 sound film adaptation of the Shakespearen play Hamlet. Directed by Sohrab Modi under his Stage Film Company banner, it is cited as one of the earliest talkie versions of this play. Credited as "the man who brought Shakespeare to the Indian screen", it was Modi's debut feature film as a director. The story and script were by Mehdi Hassan Ahsan from his Urdu adaptation of Shakespeare's "Hamlet". Starring Sohrab Modi, Khoon Ka Khoon was also the debut in films of Naseem Banu who played Ophelia. The other star cast included Shamshadbai, Ghulam Hussain, Obali Mai, Fazal Karim and Eruch Tarapore.

<i>Nausherwan-E-Adil</i> 1957 Indian film

Nausherwan-E-Adil also called Farz Aur Mohabbat, is a 1957 Indian costume action drama Hindi/Urdu film directed by Sohrab Modi. Produced by Minerva Movietone, it had music composed by C. Ramchandra with lyrics by Parwaiz Shamshi. The story, screenplay and dialogue writer was Shams Lucknowi. The cinematographer was Lateef Bhandare. The cast included Sohrab Modi, Naseem Banu, Mala Sinha, Raaj Kumar, Bipin Gupta and Shammi.

<i>Jailor</i> (1938 film) 1938 Indian film

Jailor is a 1938 Hindustani psychosocial melodrama film produced and directed by Sohrab Modi. Produced by Minerva Movietone, the story and lyrics were written by Kamal Amrohi and Ameer Haider with screenplay by J. K. Nanda. The film had music direction by Mir Sahib, while the cinematographer was Y. D. Sarpotdar. The film starred Sohrab Modi, Leela Chitnis, Sadiq Ali, Eruch Tarapore, Abu Bakar, Baby Kamala and Kusum Deshpande.

Jailor is a 1958 Hindi psychosocial melodrama film produced and directed by Sohrab Modi. The film was a remake of Modi's earlier Jailor (1938). The production company was Minerva Movietone, with story and dialogue written by Kamal Amrohi. The additional dialogue was by O. P. Dutta and screenplay by J. K. Nanda. Music for the film was composed by Madan Mohan with lyrics by Rajendra Krishan. Sohrab Modi cast himself once again in the title role of the Jailor. The film co-starred Kamini Kaushal, Geeta Bali, Abhi Bhattacharya, Daisy Irani, Nana Palsikar, Eruch Tarapore and Pratima Devi.

Talaq (Divorce) is a 1938 Urdu/Hindi social melodrama film directed by Sohrab Modi for Minerva Movietone. The story was written by Anand Kumar and Gajanan Jagirdar with dialogue and lyrics by Anand Kumar. Music was composed by Mir Saheb. Following the debacle of his earlier films based on Shakesperian tragedies like Khoon Ka Khoon (1935) and Said-e-Havas, Modi shifted to making social contemporary dramas like Talaq, Jailor and Meetha Zahar (1938). The film had Naseem Banu in the lead role with Prem Adib, Gajanan Jagirdar, Navin Yagnik, Sheela, and Abu Baker as co-stars.

<i>Meetha Zahar</i> 1938 Indian film

Meetha Zahar is a 1938 Indian Hindi/Urdu-language social drama film directed by Sohrab Modi for his Minerva Movietone productions. The screenplay was by Gajanan Jagirdar with dialogue by Munshi Abdul Baqi and director of photography by Y. S. Sarpotdar The music was by B. S. Hoogan with lyrics by Irshad Ahmed. The cast included Naseem Banu, Sohrab Modi, Jagirdar, Sadiq Ali, Eruch Tarapore, Sadat Ali, Sheela and Fakir Mohammed.

<i>Sheesh Mahal</i> (1950 film) 1950 Indian film

Sheesh Mahal is a 1950 social Urdu/Hindi film produced and directed by Sohrab Modi for Minerva Movietone. The story writer was the late Khan-Bahadur Hakim Ahmad Shuja, MBE, a famous Urdu poet and writer. The screenplay and dialogue were by Munshi Abdul Baqui and Shams Lucknawi. The music direction was by Vasant Desai and the lyricists were Aajiz, Shams Lucknowi and Nazim Panipati. The film starred Sohrab Modi, Naseem Banu, Mubarak, Pran, Nigar Sultana, Pushpa Hans, Jawahar Kaul and Leela Mishra.

<i>Bharosa</i> (1940 film) 1940 Indian film

Bharosa (Trust) is a 1940 Hindi/Urdu social melodrama film produced and directed by Sohrab Modi. Made under the Minerva Movietone banner, the story and lyrics were by Lalchand Bismil, with cinematography by Y. D. Sarpotdar. The music was composed by G. P. Kapoor, and the cast included Chandra Mohan, Sardar Akhtar, Mazhar Khan, Sheela, Maya Devi and Eruch Tarapore.

<i>Jhansi Ki Rani</i> (1953 film) 1953 film by Sohrab Modi

Jhansi Ki Rani is a 1953 Indian Hindi-language historical drama film produced and directed by Sohrab Modi for his Minerva Movietone production banner. It is credited as the first Technicolor film made in India and starred Modi's wife, Mehtab in the title role, with Modi in the important role of her mentor, Rajguru. The film was dubbed in English as The Tiger and the Flame, which released in 1956 with the same star cast. The cast besides Mehtab and Sohrab Modi included Mubarak, Ulhas, Sapru, Ram Singh, Baby Shikha, Marconi and Shakila.

Mehtab (actress)

Mehtab (1913–1997) was an Indian actress of Hindi/Urdu films who worked from 1928 to 1969. She was born in Sachin, Gujarat, to a Muslim family and named Najma. Her father, Nawab Sidi Ibrahim Mohammad Yakut Khan III, was the Nawab of Sachin, near Surat in the state of Gujarat. Starting her career in the late 1920s with small roles in films like Second Wife (1928), Indira B. A. (1929) and Jayant (1929), she went on to do character roles before acting in the lead opposite Ashraf Khan in Veer Kunal (1932). After almost a decade of doing mainly action-oriented roles, she came into prominence with the Kidar Sharma-directed Chitralekha (1941).

<i>Ek Din Ka Sultan</i> 1945 Indian film

Ek Din Ka Sultan is a 1945 Hindi/Urdu historical drama film produced and directed by Sohrab Modi with story by Agha Jani Kashmiri. The production company was Minerva Movietone with cinematography by Y. D. Sarpotdar. The music was composed by Rafiq Ghaznavi, Shanti Kumar Desai and D. Gadkar with lyrics by Wali Saheb. The stars featuring in the film were Mehtab, Wasti, Pratima Devi, Ghulam Hussain and Ghory.

<i>Samay Bada Balwan</i> 1969 Indian film

Samay Bada Balwan is a 1969 Hindi social moral drama film produced and directed by Sohrab Modi. Modi had sold his studio a year earlier but tried to revive the Minerva Movietone banner by producing this film. The music director was Usha Khanna with lyrics written by D. N. Madhok. This was the only film in which Modi used Usha Khanna as a music composer. Mehtab acted together again with Modi in Samay Bada Balwan in a supporting role as Modi's wife. This was to be the last acting role of her career. The film starred Sohrab Modi, Mehtab, Aruna Irani, Sailesh Kumar, Shahida, David, and Helen.

Atma Tarang is a 1937 Hindi social drama film directed by Sohrab Modi. This film and Khan Bahadur, made the same year, were the first films produced under Modi's newly established banner, Minerva Movietone (1936). The music was composed by Habib Khan, with art direction by Rusi K. Banker. The film starred the singer-actor Feroz Dastur in the role of Mohan, with Sohrab Modi, Prabha, and Vasant Pahelwan. C. Ramchandra, the famous music composer was a harmonium accompanist for Minerva Movietone music directors like Habib Khan and Bindu Khan. He also acted in a small role in Atma Tarang and in the earlier Said-e-Havas (1936).

<i>Hamlet</i> (1954 film) 1954 Indian film

Hamlet is a 1954 Hindi tragedy drama film, produced and directed by Kishore Sahu. The film was a free adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy, with Sahu playing Hamlet as well as writing the screenplay, while the dialogues were by Amanat Hilal and B. D. Verma. It was produced under the "Hindustan Chitra" banner, a production company started by Sahu in 1944. It was Ramesh Naidu's debut film as a music composer. The film starred Mala Sinha, Kishore Sahu, Venus Banerji, Kamaljeet and Jankidas.

Meena Shorey

Meena Shorey was a Pakistani film actress who worked first in Indian cinema and later Pakistani cinema. She appeared Hindi/Urdu and Punjabi films. Credited in films by her mononym, Meena, her real name was Khurshid Jehan. She started her acting career playing a character role, as Ambhi, Raja of Taxila's sister in Sohrab Modi's Sikandar (1941). Married to her third husband, Roop K. Shorey, by the mid-1940s, she found fame when she acted in her husband's film Ek Thi Larki (1949), opposite actor Motilal. The story was written by I. S. Johar, who also starred in the film. The "foot-tapping" music composed by Vinod became a "huge hit", with Meena becoming an "icon" for the "new liberated" young women. Meena was acclaimed as the "Lara Lappa Girl", from the song of same title in the film. She was one of the first women to be recognised in Indian cinema as a "comedienne of calibre".


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