The Kakankote State Forest, now part of the Kabini area of the Nagarhole National Park, was well known as the staging site of the famous Mysore Khedda – a method of capturing wild elephants. The unique feature of a Kakankote Khedda was the river drive which was first designed and carried out by G.P. Sanderson in honour of The Grand Duke of Russia during his visit to Mysore in 1891. In the river drive the elephants were driven across the Kabini river into the stockade and this proved to be a popular spectacle with a special visitor’s gallery being set up to allow people to witness the grand finale of a Mysore Khedda. The Mysore Khedda, with its river drive continued to attract a host of celebrities till its ultimate demise in 1971.

While the list of celebrities who attended the khedda is well known, what seems to have been forgotten is that the Mysore Khedda also threw up the first Indian star in Hollywood. In 1935 Robert Flaherty arrived in Mysore to make a film called ‘Elephant Boy’ based on a story by Rudyard Kipling called ‘Toomai of the Elephants’ from his bestselling book ‘Jungle Book’. The film was produced by the legendary producer Sir Alexander Korda.


Poster of the ‘Elephant Boy’ — Photograph: Unknown


The part of Toomai was played by a boy called Sabu. He was born in the Karapura village on the banks of the Kabini where there was a large elephant camp. The Kabini area was the hunting ground of the Maharaja of Mysore and a Royal hunting lodge was situated there ( now known as the Kabini River Lodge ). 

Sabu was the son of a mahout and was raised among the elephants in the camp. His mother died early and legend has it that a female elephant rocked his cradle. His father died soon after and he was subsequently raised by the Mysore State.


Sabu the elephant boy — Photograph: Classic Movies on YouTube


The movie was shot in the forests along the banks of the Kabini and included a Khedda, which was specially staged for the movie shoot. After location shooting, Sabu accompanied the unit to London to complete the film at the Korda’s studio. After a while Sabu moved to Hollywood where he stared in various movies such as The Jungle Book, The Drum and The Thief of Baghdad. He returned to Mysore for a visit, driving a Cadillac, in 1952.

Sabu Dastagir, to give his full name, died in 1963 aged 39, of a heart attack at his Chatsworth CA home. He was survived by his wife the former actress Marilyn Cooper, his son, Paul (singer, songwriter, producer, and guitarist) and his daughter, Jasmine. His funeral service was conducted at the Chapel of the Hills, Forest Lawn Memorial-Park Hollywood Hills. He was last seen in the Warner Bros. film ‘Rampage’.