Remembering Sabu Dastagirr the first Indian actor to make it big in the Hollywood on his 54th death anniversary.

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Sabu Dastagir (27 January 1924–2 December 1963), born Selar Shaik Sabu or Sabu Francis, was an Indian film actor who later gained United States citizenship. He was normally credited only by his first name, Sabu, and is primarily known for his work in films during the 1930s–1940s in Britain and America. He was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

When he was 13, Sabu was discovered by documentary film-maker Robert Flaherty, who cast him in the role of an elephant driver in the 1937 British film Elephant Boy. This was adapted from “Toomai of the Elephants”, a story by Rudyard Kipling. In 1938 producer Alexander Korda commissioned A. E. W. Mason to write The Drum as a starring vehicle for the young actor.

Sabu is perhaps best known for his role as Abu in the 1940 British film The Thief of Bagdad, starring . Director Michael Powell said that Sabu had a “wonderful grace” about him. In 1942 Sabu played another role based on a Kipling story, namely Mowgli in Jungle Book directed by Zoltán Korda where he plays a feral child whose animals are in danger by human villagers. He starred alongside Maria Montez and Jon Hall in three films for Universal Pictures: Arabian Nights (1942), White Savage (1943) and Cobra Woman (1944).

After becoming an American citizen in 1944, Sabu joined the United States Army Air Forces and served as a tail gunner and ball turret gunner on B-24 Liberators. He flew several dozen missions with the 370th Bomb Squadron of the 307th Bomb Group in the Pacific, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his valor and bravery.

His career declined after World War II as he was unable to secure equivalent roles in Hollywood that British films had offered. He occasionally did gain significant parts, such as his supporting role in the British film Black Narcissus (1947). Through most of the 1950s he starred in largely unsuccessful European films. In 1952, he starred in the Harringay Circus with an elephant act.

His last completed film, A Tiger Walks, was released in March 1964, three months after his death.

Celebrating Cinema

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