The First Indian Bollywood Movie – “Raja Harishchandra – A performance with 57,000 photographs. A picture two miles long. All for only three annas” by the Father of Indian Cinema Dadasaheb Phalke.
It all started with… Lights. Camera. Action !!
“A performance with 57,000 photographs. A picture two miles long. All for only three annas”
This was a promotional tagline of the movie having the honor of being India’s First Full-Length Feature Film – Raja Harishchandra.
This silent film, written, produced and directed by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke well known as Dadasaheb Phalke and, produced under the banner of ”Phalke’s Films”.
Story – Behind the Film:
Dadasaheb Phalke was a photographer from a small town, who finally ended up becoming the Father of Indian Cinema.
After changing a couple of early jobs, Dadasaheb finally started working for a printing business. His specialties were in lithography and oleograph, which also gave him the opportunity to work for a renowned painter Raja Ravi Varma. After a while, Dadasaheb resigned from the job and started his own Art Printing Press.
To learn latest Printing Processes, he took his first trip to Germany, there he learnt about the latest technology, machinery and art. But when he returned he knew that life in printing would not satisfy his vision. In about 1910, he fell ill and, for a time, lost his eyesight. When Dadaasaheb got back his vision and incident took place which changed life of Indian Cinema.
Dadasaheb got highly influenced by a silent French film, ”The Life of Christ” which he saw in Bombay. Therefore, He visualized a similar genre movie, based on Hindu Mythology.
At his previous work with Raja Ravi Varma, he was inspired by painter’s art representation of the story of Raja Harishchandra. He wrote the script on the same tale.
He started his cinematic journey by visiting London, where he studied art and technicalities about film making. While returning from British Capital, he brought basic equipments required for film making like raw film reels, camera, perforator and printing machine. In May 1912, the machinery from London reached the Mumbai Port.
Meanwhile, Dadasaheb had prepared a dark room and arrangements for processing the film, at his home. A small glass studio construction began in his compound.
Now, the prime hurdle was money. To lure the investors, Dadasaheb filmed a 75 seconds short film named “Birth of a Pea Plant”. This clip showed the growth of seed since sowing, to sprouting and eventually changing into a climber. The presentation worked really well and Dadasaheb had investors for his project. To secure the brought loan, he pledged his Life Insurance Policies and his wife’s jewellery as collateral.
We can surely say that Indian Cinema is Unique. It has Something for Everyone.
Film – The Making:
The making of film began with a zest. Every member of Phalke Family contributed towards the production of the film.
A huge credit goes to Dadasaheb’s wife, Saraswatibai who was the backbone behind his work. The woman handled the production and technical department, and also cooked for the crew of 500 people, on daily basis.
The outdoor shoots were filmed in a village near Pune. While, the indoor shoot of the movie took place in Mathura Bhawan, a bunglow located at Dadar. The same street of Dadar, which witnessed the production of the India’s First Film, is consequently named Dada Saheb Phalke Road.
Since it was a silent movie, the title plates that were inserted in between the scenes were in English and in Hindi.
It took 6 months and 27 days to complete the movie. The final product was a 40 minutes masterpiece with a reel of 3700 feet long.
The movie which was made in mere 4 reels, now set the motion of the Indian Cinema on run.
Film – The Plot:
The story for the movie was written by Ranchhodbai Udayram.
The movie recalls the tale of a legendary Indian monarch named King Harishchandra. According to ancient Puranas and Mahabharata, King Harishchandra was a noble ruler well known for making good on his words and never lying. Therefore, the majesty set an all-time-high-bar for being an ideal man throughout history.
The movie portrays the parable of the King Harishchandra when he completed his promise to Sage Vishwamitra by abandoning his family and kingdom, and accepting sainthood. When the Almighty sees Harishchandra’s dedication towards spirituality and value for morals, the Creator returns the King all of his fame and bless him to rise again.
Film – The Cast:
Raja Harischandra – Dattatraya Damodar Dabke, renowned Marathi Stage actor.
Taramati, Harischandra’s wife – Anna Hari Salunke, famous cinematographer.
Rohtash, son of Harischandra – Bhalachandra D. Phalke, Dadasaheb’s own son.
And The rest of the cast:
Ganpat G. Shinde
Vishnu Hari Aundhkar
Nath T. Telang
During British conservative society era, women were restricted from performing in films or theaters. Dadasaheb tried his best to cast a woman for the character of Raja Harishchandra’s wife Queen Taramati, eventually was left disappointed.
After many unsuccessful attempts to cast a woman, Dadasaheb finally roped a male cook to portray the female character of Queen Taramati in the movie.
Anna Hari Salunke also known as Annasaheb Salunkhe, a male actor who performed female roles in early Indian Cinema. He got the credit as the first actor to perform a female lead in a movie Bizarre, but true.
Mr.Salunke also became the first actor in Indian Cinema to play a Double Role. He played both, male and female lead in 1917 production Lanka Dahan.
Release of the Film:
On 21st April 1913, the movie was premiered at Olympia Theatre, Grant Road, Mumbai. This premiere was a close invitation for famous personalities and also the editor’s of media houses.
Later, on 3rd May 1913 Dadasaheb’s vision was released at Mumbai’s Coronation Cinema, Girgaon for a general audience. The tickets were highly priced for a upper-class audience.
Initially, Dadasaheb had made only a single copy of the film during its release. But looking at the audience gathering around cinema hall, more copies were developed.
The movie ran for 23 days in a cinema hall. The epic made from the budget of Rs.20, 000 became a commercial success. This film was premiered in London, in 1914.
Controversial Victory :
What is Film Industry without controversy? A myth.
On 18th May 1912, Shree Pundalik, premiered at Coronation Cinematograph where it ran for two weeks. This silent film, produced and directed by Dadasaheb Torne alias Rama Chandra Gopal. This 22-minute film was first feature-length Indian film.
So where is the controversy?
The film was mere a photographic recording of a popular Marathi play.
The camera person, named Johnson, a British National.
and The negatives of the film sent to London for processing.
Many historians argue that Dadasaheb Torne is ‘the Father of Indian Cinema’, as his work, released almost a year before Dadasaheb’s 1913 hit. But since, Raja Harishchandra is completely produced only by Indians. Hence, the honor of being called India’s First Full-Length Film is held by Raja Harishchandra.
Indian Cinema, where Culture meets the Colour, and every movie is a Musical.
From over-the-top Action to Dramas filled with heartfelt conversation.
This aspect of Indian Cinema has helped it in becoming the World’s Largest Producers of Film. Well, largest producers in Quantity at least.