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IS Johar in Arabia: 98th birth anniversary special

On what would have been his 98th birthday today (he was born on 16 February 1920), we revisit the actor-comedian’s role in David Lean's cinematic masterpiece in the desert, Lawrence Of Arabia (1962).

Sonal Pandya

David Lean's Lawrence Of Arabia (1962) is unanimously considered as one of the most enduring historical films on the big screen.

Led by the dashing blue-eyed British actor Peter O'Toole, the film won seven Academy Awards including the Best Film and Best Director trophies.

Lawrence Of Arabia regularly tops periodic lists of the greatest films ever made and sits at number three on the British Film Institute's Top 100 British films.

Set across several countries in Africa and the Middle East, the film had a diverse ensemble cast, albeit an entirely male one.

Director Lean cast several actors from different film industries, from Egypt to India to Pakistan. Indian actor and comedian IS Johar played Gasim, a significant character that the protagonist, Lawrence, rescues from the desert.

The famous rescue scene was shot in grueling conditions under the hot sun in Jafr, Jordan when Lawrence heroically turns back for Gasim in the Nefud desert against all odds and advice.

Gasim is actually mentioned in TE Lawrence's fabled memoirs of travels across the world. It is true that Lawrence rescued Gasim in the film. But Gasim's execution at the hands of his rescuer has been exaggerated for cinematic purposes. The film had Lawrence shoot Gasim soon after he rescues him.

According to his journals, Lawrence had shot a man, named Hamed, during a conflict between the Syrians and the Moroccans. However, in the film Gasim, part of Sherif Ali's tribe, is punished for murdering a man from another tribe when the two tribes are on their way to Aqaba to take on the Turks.

Reportedly, Lean had also offered Dilip Kumar the role of Sherif Ali in the film. Egyptian actor Omar Sharif ended up taking it, marking his first English-language role that introduced him to the world.

Pakistani actor Zia Mohyeddin played Tafas, a guide who journeys with Lawrence to meet Prince Feisal early in the film.

A still from the film featuring Johar and Omar Sharif

Johar received the opportunity to act in other international projects like North West Frontier (1959) early on in his career. He was even nominated for the Best Supporting Actor BAFTA Award for his work in Harry Black (1958).

Later, after he had ventured into filmmaking himself, Johar appeared in the American television series Maya (1967) and in Death On The Nile (1978) with Peter Ustinov playing Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot.