Sabu Dastagir
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Sabu Dastagir

Sabu Dastagir
Sabu actor.jpg
Dastagir in the trailer for Cobra Woman (1944)
Selar Sabu

(1924-01-27)27 January 1924
Died2 December 1963(1963-12-02) (aged 39)
Chatsworth, Los Angeles, California, United States
Other namesSabu
Years active1937-1963
Marilyn Cooper (m. 1948)
Children2, including Paul Sabu

Sabu Dastagir (born Selar Sabu; 27 January 1924 - 2 December 1963) was an Indian film actor who later gained United States citizenship. He was credited under the name Sabu and is primarily known for his work in films during the 1930s-1940s in Britain and America.[1][2][3][4] He was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.

Early life

Born in 1924 in Karapur, Mysore, Kingdom of Mysore, then a Princely State of British India, and raised as a Muslim,[5] Sabu was the son of an Indian mahout (elephant rider). While most reference books list his full name as "Sabu Dastagir" (which was the name he used legally), research by journalist Philip Leibfried suggests that his full name was in fact Selar Sabu. His brother Shaik Dastagir (whose name Leibfried suggests was the source of confusion surrounding Sabu's full name) managed his career.[6] His brother was killed in 1960 in a robbery of his furniture store, a failing business jointly owned by the two men.


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. Director Michael Powell said that Sabu had a "wonderful grace" about him.[7] In 1942 Sabu played another role based on a Kipling story, namely Mowgli in Jungle Book directed by Zoltán Korda, which was shot entirely in California.[8] 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 Bombardment Squadron of the 307th Bomb Group in the Pacific, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his valor and bravery.[9]

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.[10]

He was considered for the role of Birju in Mehboob Khan's 1957 film Mother India which would have marked his debut in Hindi films but he was denied a work permit and the role ended up going to Sunil Dutt. Sabu never got to appear in a film made in his native country.[11]

In 1963, he made a comeback to Hollywood with a supporting role in Rampage opposite Robert Mitchum. He played another supporting role alongside Brian Keith in the Disney film A Tiger Walks. This would turn out to be his final role as he died three months before the film was released.

Personal life

On 19 October 1948, Sabu married little-known actress Marilyn Cooper (whose only film part, as Princess Tara in Song of India in 1949, was not credited), with whom he had two children. Their marriage lasted until his death.[]

Their son Paul Sabu established the rock band Sabu in the 1980s, and their daughter Jasmine Sabu was an animal trainer on various films; she died in 2001.

Sabu was the subject of a paternity suit that resulted in a published opinion by the California Court of Appeal, Dastagir v. Dastagir, 241 P.2d 656 (Cal. App. 1952). Sabu was sued by an infant girl born in 1948, through her mother, an unnamed, unmarried English actress, who claimed to have had an affair with Sabu, and that he was the infant's father. The suit was tried by a jury, which returned a nine to three verdict in favour of Sabu.[]


On 2 December 1963, Sabu died suddenly in Chatsworth, California, of a heart attack, a month before his 40th birthday.[12] He is interred at the Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery. His wife said in a television interview that two days before his death, during a routine medical check, his doctor told him: "If all my patients were as healthy as you, I would be out of a job".


Sabu in Hello Elephant (1952)
Year Title Role Notes
1937 Elephant Boy Toomai
1938 The Drum Prince Azim
1940 The Thief of Bagdad Abu
1942 Jungle Book Mowgli
Arabian Nights Ali Ben Ali
1943 White Savage Orano
1944 Cobra Woman Kado
1946 Tangier Pepe
1947 Black Narcissus The Young General
The End of the River Manoel
1948 Man-Eater of Kumaon Narain
1949 Song of India Ramdar
1951 Savage Drums Tipo Tairu
1952 Hello Elephant Sultan of Nagore
1954 The Treasure of Bengal Ainur
1956 Jaguar Juano
Jungle Hell Sabu the Jungle Boy
The Black Panther Short
1957 Sabu and the Magic Ring
1960 Mistress of the World Dr. Lin-Chor
1963 Rampage Talib
1964 A Tiger Walks Ram Singh (final film role)



  1. ^ "Meet Sabu, Mysore's elephant boy". Times of India.
  2. ^ "Remembering Sabu, the mahout from Mysore - Times of India".
  3. ^ "Sabu". IMDb.
  4. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Sabu (1924-1963) Biography". Screenonline.
  5. ^ "Quit India": The Image of the Indian Patriot on Commercial British Film and Television, 1956-1985, by Dror Izhar page 12.
  6. ^ Leibfried, Philip; Willits, Malcolm (2004). Alexander Korda's "The Thief of Bagdad", An Arabian Fantasy. Hollywood, Calif.: Hypostyle Hall Publishers. ISBN 0-9675253-1-4.
  7. ^ "Black Narcissus (The Criterion Collection) (2001) DVD commentary". Criterion. Retrieved 2013.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "People:Reservations". TIME, 19 March 1945.
  10. ^ Leibfried, Philip (October 1989). "Sabu". Films in Review.
  11. ^
  12. ^


  • Leibfried, Philip. Star of India: The Life and Films of Sabu. Oklahoma; BearManor Media, 2010.
  • Holmstrom, John. The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995, Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, p. 125-126.
  • Dye, David. Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914-1985. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1988, p. 207-208.

External links

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