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Sikandar (1941)

APS MALHOTRA
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Starring Prithviraj Kapoor, Sohrab Modi, K.N. Singh, Vanmala

Towering personality Prithviraj Kapoor as Sikandar and a poster of the film.
Towering personality Prithviraj Kapoor as Sikandar and a poster of the film.

I f there is to be an equivalent of a ‘statesman' in the world of Hindi movies, it will undoubtedly be Sohrab Modi, the man blessed with tremendous foresight, phenomenal perseverance and remarkable courage, who stood on the forefront when foundation of film making was being laid in India. Not only was he a talented artist, with loads of histrionic ability, honed in Parsi theatre, he was also an able administrator, who, after establishing the production house Minerva Movietone in 1936, used the resources at his disposal to wage war against evils bedevilling the society through films like “Meetha Zaher” and “Talaq”.

But the man craved for a larger canvass, as a director, and as an actor, which propelled him to embark on an ambitious journey, wherein he did a trilogy based on the historical genre – “Pukar” (1939), “Sikandar” (1941) and “Prithvi Vallabh” (1943).

Undoubtedly, Modi's dream of making Sikander would have remained unfulfilled had he not roped in another ‘statesman', Prithiviraj Kapoor, to play the lead role of Alexander The Great at a stage when the Greek Emperor after conquering large swathes of land through Iran, Egypt, Kabul and Qandhar reaches the banks of Jhelum in 326 B.C.

Kapoor was par excellence in the role, probably one of the best in his illustrious career. The light eyed Pathan, from what is now Pakistan, exuded the charisma and strength of character that is the hall mark of an Emperor. His body language, the modulation of his voice, the style of his dialogue delivery are truly remarkable bringing forth the determination that would have characterised Alexander as he embarked on his mission to conquer the world.

Way ahead

The film scores in the field of art direction and costume designing, both way ahead of the times. Indeed, if one were to compare several films of similar genre made in later decades, then only can one truly appreciate the superiority of Sikander. In fact, the dress that Kapoor wears as Alexander – a knee length robe with a body scabbard and head gear – adds to his aura. It must be said to Kapoor's credit that no actor in the annals of Hindi films has ever carried such a costume with such élan, grace and ease as he did, with the exception of perhaps Dharmendra in “Dharam-Veer”.

Cinematography by Y.D. Sarpotdar is another strong point, as several scenes were shot outdoors, including battles scenes, which involved a large ground crew and horses trundling through the rough terrain. The story, by Sudarshan, is drawn from books of history and captures the interesting confrontation between Alexander and King Porus (Modi). Alexander, thinking that Porus like several other kings, who got intimidated by the reputation and size of his marauding forces laid down arms without giving a fight- would follow suit, enters his court in disguise, as an ambassador. But he finds that Porus is the epitome of bravery and propriety, as he lets him off, even after recognising him. The scene in which Modi and Kapoor come face to face is interesting. Similar magic is weaved when a defeated Porus is brought to Alexander's court and the two indulge in a philosophical deliberation about the ethics of battle and war.

The film has several songs set to music by Rafiq Ghaznavi and Mir Sahib that carry the stamp of the day. Other actors who had prominent role in the film include Shakir, as Alexander's guru, Aristotle and Vanamala, as Rukshana, an Iranian girl, who is Alexander's love interest and even follows him to India. She becomes a sister to Porus by tying rakhi on his wrist with an objective to secure Alexander's life in battle, if such a situation were to arise. K.N. Singh as King Ambhi, who deserts forces of solidarity to sleep with the enemy, and Zahur Raja as Amar, Porus's son, who attains martyrdom on the battlefield, also star in the film.

The film, due to its underlying theme of nationalism at a time when India was still some years away from freedom, proved a hit among the masses, wherein it was later banned from some theatres.

APS MALHOTRA

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