Sabaka (1954) 



Director:  Frank Ferrin. 

Starring:  Nino Marcel (Gunga Ram), Boris Karloff (Gen. Pollegar), Lou Krugman (Maharajah of Bakore), Reginald Denny (Sir Cedric), June Foray (Marku Ponjoy, High Priestess of Sabaka), Victor Jory (Ashok), Jay Novello (Damji), Lisa Howard (Indria), Peter Coe (Taru), Paul Marion (Kumar), Vito Scotti (Rama), Louis Merrill (Koobah), Jeanne Bates (Durga), K.K. Sinha (Fire Dancer).



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Gunga Ram is a mahout, a trainer and driver of elephants, who works for the Maharajah of Bakore. 

The Maharajah of Bakore dismisses the services of mahout Koobah. In a vain attempt to keep his job, Koobah tells the Maharajah that he is a worshipper of the fire demon Sabaka and that harm usually comes to those who harm fire worshippers.  This only serves to make the Maharajah angry as he resents being threatened.  Koobah returns to his village. 

Indian peasant Taru, his wife and baby, returning to their home, find two men about to set fire to his home.  He tells his wife to take the baby and run to safety with Gunga.  Taru then unsuccessfully tries to stop two fire demon worshippers.  The fire not only burns his house but sets fire to the surrounding area.  Taru's wife laced her baby in the hollow of a tree so that she could make a speedier run to get Gunga.  When Gunga hears of her situation, he takes his elephant and rescues the baby. 

Gen. Pollegar meets with the Maharajah.  The Maharajah tells the General to apprehend the fire demon worshippers.  Gen. Pollegar, who doesn't like the favored Gunga, complains about Gunga's "pet" tiger, saying he cannot guarantee against a villager being harmed by the tiger.  The Maharajah tells Gunga that he has to turn his tiger loose in the jungle.  Gunga is upset, but he complies: "I hear and I obey." 

Gunga visits his sister Indria and his brother-in-law Kumar.  They tell Gunga that sister is going to have a baby.  But Ashok, an enforcer for the fire demon cult, has overheard Kumar speaking negatively of the cult.  Ashok has Kumar tied to a stake and then burns him alive.  The High Priestess of Sabaka removes the over ambitious Ashok from his position permanently by asking him to sit down near a cobra, unnoticed by the man.  The snake bites Ashok and he dies.   Ashok's replacement then sets fire to Kumar's home with his wife tied up inside. 

Gunga is devastated at the loss of his family.   He asks villager Damji, who was there at the arson and murder, why he did not tell the truth to the military when they investigated the murders.  The reason is that Damji is afraid.  Gunga finally convinces Damji that he will not tell anyone if Damji cooperates with him to find the murderer.

Damji agrees to look for the murderer during the celebration of the Navaratri (Dasara) festival and he actually spots the man.  Gunga with two of his friends grab both the accused and the suspected High Priestess.  Since they dare not disturb the festivities (under threat of punishment from the authorities for any disturbance of the festival), the three young men take the two suspects and lock them up on their own. 

After the festival is over, Gunga tells the Maharajah that "I have captured the murderer."  But the Maharajah and the General are extremely skeptical, telling him that he has no real evidence.  (Gunga has promised not to reveal Damji's role in this.)  The Maharajah interviews the two accused, who say they are merely entertainers who have no contact with any fire demon.  For false imprisonment, the Maharajah punishes Gunga by making him work in the kitchen.  He also tells Gunga that his elephant will be turned over to another mahout.  Gunga is devastated.

Working in the kitchen gives Gunga greater access to the Maharajah and he asks for permission to drive his elephant temporarily until he can teach the new trainer all about the temperamental elephant.  Gunga says he is afraid that the animal will kill any driver other than himself.  The Maharajah agrees, he says for the sake of the elephant, not for Gunga's. 

One day it dawns on Gunga that Koobah, the dismissed mahout, might be able to help him learn more about the Sabaka cult.  While seeking out Koobah, he runs into a Sabaka ceremony being led by the High Priestess and the murderer.  The murderer knocks Sabaka out and brings him to the High Priestess. She tells her loyal assistant to drop the now tied-up Gunga into the middle of the jungle.  In the jungle, Gunga is confronted by a tiger.  He manages to cut his ropes off using the sharp edge of a large rock and tries to flee.  Cornered by the tiger, Gunga finally realizes that it is his old pet tiger.  Gunga then takes the tiger with him back to the ceremony.  When the murderer tries to stop Gunga, the tiger kills the fiend.  Gunga then uses the confusion to denounce the High Priestess and turn the crowd against her.  The villagers take the woman into custody and Gunga sets fire to the fire demon idol. 

At a parade, Gunga and the Maharajah ride together on top of an elephant, much to the displeasure of General Pollegar. 


The movie is o.k.  It's a pleasant enough adventure story.  On the positive side, it does have a lot of scenes of Indian life in Mysore, including many from the Dasara festival.  It also gives the historical enthusiast time to ponder the role of the maharajah and the princely states in the politics of India.  The maharajah is a powerful king over the Indian peasants and that is shown in the movie.  The Indian caste system is also mentioned, even though briefly.  The British are represented very briefly by the character Sir Cedric who doesn't say much.

On the negative side, the picture quality is poor.  (But what the hay, I only spent $5.00 for the DVD and expected poor quality.)    

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


This movie gives the viewer a chance to think about the system of princely states in India under British rule.  In 1947 when independence was granted to India there were some 600+ princely states. Each state was rules by a majaraja or marjarajah (which means "king").  The female equivalent is Maharani.  If the ruler was a Muslim, the king was known as the nawab. 

The movie was made with the cooperation of the Majaraja of Mysore (now called Mysuru).  Mysore is the second largest city in the state of Karnataka.  Annually during September and October, Mysore celebrates the ten day Navaratri (Dasara) festival that honors the Goddess Chamundeshwari who vanquished the demon king Mahishasura in a tend day struggle.  During the festival, the palace is illuminated and all kinds of cultural programs are presented.  One of the ceremonies is the one that blesses the animals used by humans in living. 

Britain directly controlled 2/3s of India, while the rest was under the various kings of princely states (who in turn were very subject to British power and influence). 

1399-1950  the Wodeyar dynasty ruled Mysore.  

At 38 years, Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV was the longest ruler. He became the 24th ruler of Mysore in 1895.  (From 1895 to 1902, his mother was Regent.)  He died in 1940.

Jayachamaraja Wodeyar (1919-1974) became the 25th and last ruler of the Mysore royal family.


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