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Shahu Modak 25th death anniversay: 5 notable films and stories surrounding them

The yesteryear icon's life is full of interesting and fascinating incidents. 

Shahu Modak as Sant Dnyaneshwar

Keyur Seta

There are numerous actors who have done memorable movies in their career, but you won’t find many actors whose notable films have an interesting human interest story. Actor Shahu Modak’s life was full of fascinating incidents that happened during the shoots of his various films.

With a career spanning almost 100 films, Modak was known for playing mythological and historical characters. On his 25th death anniversary today (he died on 11 May 1993), we revisit five of his notable films and the stories attached to them.

Shyaam Sunder (1932)

Shahu Modak was a specialist in playing Lord Krishna. In fact, he holds the record of playing Krishna as many as 29 times. It all started from his debut film — Shyaam Sunder. Directed by Bhalji Pendharkar, the film borrows its tale from the epic Vishnu Purana. The film had eight songs and all were sung by Modak, who was just 12 then. In those days, actors sang songs too.

In an interview with us, his wife Pratibha Shahu Modak said the women of Modak’s family were strongly opposed to the idea of the kid Shahu joining films. But they were eventually convinced. Modak’s family had converted to Christianity. So, the makers weren’t sure if they would approve their child playing a Hindu God. However, their fears were misplaced.

Shahu Modak through the eyes of his spiritual partner and wife Pratibha Modak

Aaut Ghatkecha Raja (1933) 

This one was Shahu Modak’s next after his successful debut. It’s a landmark film since it was the first time an Indian actor played a double role. Based on Mark Twain’s classic novel, The Prince And The Pauper, the film is about a prince and a beggar who switch roles. The two ghazals from the film, again sung by him, ‘Pyar Se Mujhko Bulaya Kisine’ and ‘Bedard Zamana’ also became hits along with the film. After tasting success in his first two outings, Modak was flooded with film offers.

Once Kundan Lal Saigal aka KL Saigal heard Modak’s voice and was highly impressed. He urged Modak to sing another ghazal for him.

Manoos (1939) 

V Shantaram’s Manoos remains one of the best films from Shahu Modak’s career and also one of his best acts. He played the character of a constable and became known as ‘Ganpat Hawaldar Buckle No. 255’ much after the film was released. Manoos told a bold and brave story of a police constable falling in love with a prostitute, almost 80 years ago. The film shows a heartbroken lover moving on with life positively.

During an exclusive interaction with us, Pratibha revealed that the film was Shantaram’s response to Devdas (1936), which was about a dejected lover who ultimately dies a sad death. She also said that the story of a cop falling in love with a prostitute was considered too bold then, but there was no controversy.

Sant Dnyaneshwar (1940) 

Production house Prabhat Films were looking for an actor to play saint Dnyaneshwar. When Shahu Modak was tested as the saint complete with the get-up, everyone on the sets was convinced that he was the best choice for the role. The choice paid rich dividends as Sant Dnyaneshwar got instant success. It ran for 36 weeks in Mumbai and Pune. The craze for the film was such that in many modest homes, Modak’s stills and idols started making an appearance.

Dnyaneshwar’s life ends after he attains samadhi. In Modak’s biography, his wife Pratibha has quoted him saying that after shooting the samadhi scene, he became so devoted to Dnyaneshwar that he vowed to give up non-vegetarian food.

Modak also starred in a Hindi film on the saint titled, Sant Gyaneshwar (1940).

Phali Maglaghur (1942)

Shahu Modak and Snehaprabha Pradhan

This RS Junnarkar film became yet another successful venture starring Shahu Modak. This one also became famous for a wrong reason. It was a rare film of the time to have a kissing scene between Modak and Snehprabha Pradhan. Although it was a trick scene, it looked real and the audience was shocked. More than the kissing scene, they were perturbed to see a man playing Sant Dnyaneshwar indulging in an 'obscene' act. It was a classic case of a reel character affecting one's real life.

This is one of the two films in which singing legend Lata Mangeshkar acted. She played Modak’s sister-in-law and sung a song too. Her other acting venture was VS Khandekar’s Mandir (1948), which also starred Modak in the lead.

Balram Shrikrishna (1968)

This was one of Shahu Modak’s many roles as Lord Krishna. It featured the lesser-known tale of the conflict between Krishna and his brother Balram. It was related to the marriage of their sister Subhadra. Balram wanted her to marry Duryodhana, while Krishna wanted Arjuna to be her husband. Krishna’s wish ultimately comes true. Well-known actors Dara Singh and Jayshree Gadkar played Balram and Subhadra, respectively.

Modak was 12 years old when he played Krishna for the first time in his debut film. He was 50 when he played Krishna in Balram Shri Krishna and continued even after that. This was also possible because Krishna’s life was eventful even in his old age.