SACF South Asian Cinema in UK


Alexander Korda (1893 –1956)

3 Korda Brothers

Alexander KordaHungarian-British Movie Mogul who launched the careers of Anglo-Indian actress Merle Oberon and Sabu, an 11-year old son of a mahout (elephant driver) from Mysore in south India, was the eldest of three Korda brothers (Alexander, Zoltan and Vincent), who hailed from a Jewish family of Hungary.

Korda entered cinema in the early 1900s. Exhibiting enterprise and self-confidence, he moved towards Budapest and directed, photographed, produced and edited a film that he himself had written. To widen his film-making experience, he also visited Europe and Hollywood. He migrated to England in 1931 to work for Paramount and his brothers also followed suit.

British cinema was not in good shape then and American films dominated the world. After making films for Paramount, Korda established his own London Film Productions in 1932 with the iconic image and sound of London’s Big Ben as its logo.

In his company’s film, Wedding Rehearsal(1933), Korda gave a break to Merle Oberon, who became his wife in 1941. The same year, he also produced and directed an entertaining period film, The Private Life of Henry VIII(1933) whose success, had a powerful long-term impact. Most importantly, Korda was able to save Britain’s floundering film industry and raise the international profile of British cinema. In 1934, United Artists signed a special distribution contract with him and also made him a co-owner of the company.

Korda followed The Private Life of Henry VIII with some costly successes and some expensive failures. In 1936, he founded the largest film studio in Europe at Denham in Buckinghamshire. At Denham, he produced his highly successful film, Elephant Boy (1937) with a new star from India, Sabu. Two other Korda films linked to the British Empire that starred Sabu were: The Drum (1938) and The Four Feathers (1939). He recruited so many London lascars (east Indian sailors) for his films, that the Oriental Film Artistes' Union was set up in 1938 to protect their interests.

Korda’s The Thief of Bagdad (1940) starring Sabu the lovable thief Abu, proved an international hit. In 1942, he was also knighted for his active support to the British war effort.

Before his death in 1956, he was uncredited co-producer with Laurence Olivier of Richard III(1955).

His remains lie buried in Golders Green Crematorium.

The above findings are part of the research which ensued in the project - A Hidden Heritage: Indo-British Film Collaboration (1930-1951)