The ‘godly’ actor (1918-1993)

SHAHU Modak was Hindi and Marathi cinema’s go-to actor from 1932 to 1986, for playing mythological characters like Krishna, Dyaneshwar and Vishnu.
In 1932, Bhalji Pendharkar planned a film on the childhood of Krishna. Those days, there being no playback singers, only actors who could sing were cast. He wanted a boy who looked good, could sing and fell in the age group of 12-13 years. Though Modak had all the qualities to play Krishna, being Christians by faith it was felt his family would not allow him to play a Hindu God.
However, Pendharkar along with Nanasaheb Sarpotdar, and Dadasaheb Torne went to Ahmednagar to meet the well-educated and open minded Modak family. The visitors had loved his musical performance of Deenanath Mangeshkar, and
asked if he would act in a film? Though the women of thehouse opposed it, his father agreed, since Shahu’s studies
would also not be affected.
Thus came the film Shyam Sundar (1932), where he played Lord Krishna, in Marathi and Hindi. All the eight songs sung by him became very popular. It was the first talkie to complete a silver jubilee.
Thereafter, Shahu played the role of Lord Krishna in about 29 films like Nand Ke Lala (1934), Shri Krishnarjun Yuddha (1945), Bhagwan Shri Krishna (1950) and his last, Krishna-Krishna (1986), and became famous as cineworld’s Krishna. Soon there was a long queue of producers. His second film was Ayodhyecha- Raja, in Marathi, (titled Awara Shahzada in Hindi), in which he became the first Indian talkie actor to do a double role as a prince and pauper.
He was admired for his title role of Sant Dyaneshwar (1940), social theme films like Dulhan, Talaash, Bulbul-e-Punjab etc., and historical films like Razia Sultan too. Others include Chakradhari (1954), Mee Tulas Tuzjhya Aangani (1955), Sudamache Pohe (1958), Zala Mahar Pandharinath (1970), Hari Darshan(1972), Maya Bazar, Utavala Narad, Sant Tukaram, Goswami Tulsidas(1964) and Rangalya Ratri Asha (1962).
In Manoos (1939) he portrayed the lead role as a policeman ‘Ganpat’ who saves a prostitute Maina from a police raid and falls in love with her. Directed by V.Shantaram, it was amazing how a bold subject was tried almost 80 years ago. Even Charlie Chaplin had seen that film.
His film Pahili Mangalagaur (1942) was bolder and even included a kissing scene. Lata Mangeshkar played Modak’s sister-in-law. In a film Sati Ahalya, his character had to rape a woman. But after three reels his wife protested, and the film was never released.
Modak met his future spiritual partner and wife Pratibha, a Marwari Jain sadhvi (nun) of nine years. Swami Vivekananda was hist guru, and at one such lecture he gave, they met and soon married not for procreation but for a spiritual relationship.
Shahu also had a great interest in astrology. As a person, he was very calm and peaceful, spoke softly and never got irritated. He used to consider himself as a world citizen and humanity, his religion. He never discussed movies but restricted to chatting about deep spirituality. It’s said he never used the studio toilets, as he found it improper to sit on a dirty commode while wearing the dhoti used for playing a God like Krishna. He only took small sips of water throughout the day. His wife, in a book titled Shahu Modak, Pravas….EkDevmansacha, provides an insight on the varied facets of this highly gifted personality.
When he turned 75 on 25 April 1993, he had predicted that he would leave the world within 18 days. And he passed away after 15 days on 11 May, 1993, but his memorable roles will always be remembered by
film lovers.

– A.Radhakrishnan is a Pune based freelance writer, poet and short story writer.