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In the thirties and forties, the Indian actor known as Sabu (born Selar Shaik) captured the hearts of moviegoers in Britain and the United States as a completely new kind of big-screen icon. Sabu was a maharaja’s elephant driver when he was discovered by documentary trailblazer Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North), who cast him as the lead in Elephant Boy, a Kipling adaptation Flaherty directed with ZoltÃ¡n Korda (The Four Feathers) that would prove to be enormously popular. Sabu went on to headline a series of fantasies and adventures, transcending the exoticism projected onto him by commanding the screen with effortless grace and humor. This series collects three of the lavish productions Sabu starred in for the British film titans the Korda brothers: Elephant Boy, the colonialist battle adventure The Drum, and the timeless Jungle Book.
Robert Flaherty and ZoltÃ¡n Korda shared best director honors at the Venice Film Festival for collaborating on this charming translation of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book story “Toomai of the Elephants.” A harmonious mix of the two filmmakers’ styles—Flaherty’s adeptness at ethnographic documentary meeting Korda’s taste for grand adventure—Elephant Boy also served as the breakthrough showcase for the thirteen-year-old Sabu, whose beaming performance as a young mahout leading the British on an expedition made him a major international star.
ZoltÃ¡n Korda’s charged adaptation of a novel by The Four Feathers author A. E. W. Mason features Sabu in his second film role, as the teenage Prince Azim, forced into hiding when his father, the ruler of a peaceful kingdom in northwest India, is assassinated by his ruthless brother. Protected by a friendly British officer (The League of Gentlemen’s Roger Livesey) and his wife (Great Expectations’ Valerie Hobson), and befriended by the regiment’s drummer boy, Prince Azim ends up fighting with the colonialists against his dastardly uncle. This rousing adventure is elevated by Sabu’s exuberant performance and spectacular Technicolor cinematography by Georges PÃ©rinal and Osmond Borradaile (The Four Feathers).
This Korda brothers film is the quintessential version of Rudyard Kipling’s classic collection of fables. Sabu stars as Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves who can communicate with all the beasts of the jungle, friend or foe, and who gradually reacclimates to civilization with the help of his long lost mother and a beautiful village girl. Deftly integrating real animals into its fanciful narrative, Jungle Book is a shimmering Technicolor visual feast, and was nominated for four Oscars, including for cinematography, art direction, special effects, and music.