Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Father Of Indian Cinema

--The Father of Indian Cinema

About a century back, on 4th April 1913 to be very precise, the citizens of Bombay were pleasantly surprised when they saw exotic cinema posters pasted all over Bombay which captured their imagination and which promised them a new entertainment at a low price. This is what the advertisement said: “ See 57,000 photographs for just two annas. The film is three quarters of an inch and two miles long”. The show was to be held on 3rd May 1913. On the day of the release, unprecedented crowds thronged the Coronation Theatre in Bombay. On seeing the swelling crowd, the proprietor of the Theatre started collecting two rupees instead of two annas as specified in the poster. There were four shows from morning to late in the evening, each show lasting for about 90 minutes. Each show was houseful and the movie ran continuously for 23 days, breaking all the previous records. The silent movie that was shown was ‘Raja Harischandra’ in Marathi, the first ever cinema made in India. Dhundiraj Govinda Phalke, affectionately called ‘Dadasaheb’, was the producer of the film. The next day, the newspapers in Bombay reported that ‘ it was a big wonder of the twentieth Century”.

Dadasaheb was born on 30th April 1870 in Triambakeshwar, a holy place about 20 miles from Nasik. His father was one Daji Shastri who had the title ‘Vedashastra Sampanna’ on account of his proficiency and erudition in the Vedas. He was a popular local priest conducting all religious ceremonies in his village. Even though he gave sound primary and secondary education in a local school to his son Dadasaheb, the latter was more interested in reading all Puranic and mythological stories and his mind was always absorbed in them. Further, the cultural festivals and other religious functions held in the village attracted Dadasaheb’s attention very much, sometimes even at the cost of his studies. In addition, Dadasaheb had artistic inclinations and evinced great interest in acting in dramas. As the village was not an ideal place for furthering his artistic talents, Dadasaheb was extremely happy when his father got an appointment as Professor of Sanskrit in the Wilson College, Bombay. When the family shifted to Bombay, Dadasaheb joined the J.J. School of Arts in the Painting Section. It is here that he gained skill as an artist. He encashed on this and sometime later joined the very famous Kala Bhavan of Baroda in their Photography Department. Here he picked up all the finer aspects of photography and became an expert in that art. In 1887 he secured a Government job in the Archaeological Department as a photographer, which gave him invaluable experience in photography. In 1902 he got married to one Saraswatibai, daughter of one Shankara Vasudev Karandikar. Saraswathi was a great lady who was a tower of strength to Dadasaheb through thick and thin.. As Dadasaheb was a nationalist and a freedom fighter, he resigned the British Government job in 1906 when the National Movement for Freedom started in the country, consequent to the partition of Bengal in 1905.

After quitting the job, Dadasaheb started a carving and printing business in Bombay under the name ‘Lakshmi Art Printing Works’ with the help of a few partners. In 1909 he went to Germany to buy equipment that could process and print three colors simultaneously.
With the new equipment, his business improved very much. However, within two years some difference of opinion arose among the partners and he had to leave the company in 1911 without getting a single paisa from the company. Thereafter he dragged on for sometime without any substantial work to do, totally dejected and depressed. In this depressed mind, one evening he went to see a foreign movie by name ‘The Life of Christ’ which was running in Girgaon, Bombay, in a tent cinema near the present Harkishan Das Hospital. On seeing the film, there was an intuitive feeling in him as to why such movies should not be produced in our own country to enable our countrymen to see our own glorious tradition and culture in such movies. He said that it must be done since we have any number of mythological and historical stories. If such movies are produced and exhibited to the general public, it will have a good effect on their lives. It further occurred to him that such movies could also be used to spread the message for the country’s independence from the British. For that purpose, he thought that the business should be purely in the hands of Indians. Somebody must take the lead and start it, he thought. Within a moment it flashed to him why somebody else? “I will do it” he said. This determination was the seed that was sown in his mind and which finally germinated as the huge Banyan tree of ‘Indian Cinema’.

During the next two years Dadasaheb saw almost all the movies running in the city and collected all data and necessary inputs to produce the cinema indigenously. It is said that an inner voice told him to go ahead with his plans. As the necessary photographic equipment required for launching the project was available only in London, he had to make a trip to London and this required sufficient finance. He sold all his personal belongings including the jewellery of his wife, raised some personal loan and went to London in February 1912. He stayed there for two months, made the necessary purchase and returned to Bombay in April 1912. On an experimental basis, he made a movie about a few hundred feet long with his wife and children in the cast and showed it to some financiers to establish his credibility and creditworthiness as a film maker. The financiers were satisfied and offered necessary financial help against his mortgaging all his remaining personal belongings and jewellery. The dream of Dadasaheb to produce an indigenous film almost became a reality.

The next problem was to select the theme for the movie. Dadasaheb, well versed in all the mythological stories, chose the story of ‘Raja Harishcandra’ as almost all the people knew the story. Moreover, the choice of a known theme was inevitable since it was a silent movie. Further, the story had a moral, which underlined the importance of truth as a virtue. The next step was the selection of the cast. The three major roles in the play are that of Raja Harischandra, his wife Taramati and their son Rohitashwa. While he decided to play the role of Harischandra himself and to allot the part of Rohitashwa to his son, difficulty arose in selecting a suitable lady for the role of Taramati. In those days, taking part in a film by ladies was considered a taboo and no society lady would come forward to act in a film. He therefore advertised in some Bombay newspapers for the role of Taramati. Only a few women from the red light districts of Bombay responded. However, Dadasaheb did not like this. A worried Dadasaheb was once sitting in an Irani shop drinking a cup of tea when suddenly his attention was drawn towards the boy who served him tea. He was a Maharashtrian youth by name Salunke. It occurred to Dadasaheb that Salunke, if properly made up as a woman, would be an ideal Taramati. Even though Salunke was initially reluctant to join films, when Dadasaheb tempted him with an offer of five times his salary, Salunke agreed to play the role of Taramati. An unexpected further problem arose when Salunke refused to shave off his moustache since his father was still alive. Anyhow, Dadasaheb accepted him and the film was shot. Salunke’s moustache slightly showed off at a few places in spite of the make-up. Dadasaheb had to work meticulously for nearly seven months on the picture ‘ Raja Harishchandra’, a picture nearly 3,700 feet, before it was ready for the release. Finally, when the film was premiered on 3rd May 1913 at the Coronation Theatre, Bombay, it was an unprecedented success. Many years later, the veteran film actor Ashok Kumar reminisced that ‘Raja Harishchandra’ was the first movie, which he had seen as a young boy in Calcutta.

Buoyed up by the tremendous success of ‘Raja Harischandra’, Dadasaheb was invited by several companies to produce pictures for them. He produced more than 50 movies in all and about 30 shorts, finally to be let down at the fag end of his film life by his own partners and friends. Disgusted, Dadasaheb retired from the film world when he was about 62.

When the Indian Cinema completed 25 years, some movie Moguls of Bombay Film Industry decided to hold the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of Indian Cinema in May 1939. Naturally Dadasaheb, the Father of Indian Cinema, who was 70 years by that time, was invited to be the Chief Guest. Some big shots in the film industry were strutting on the dais. The President of the function Satyamurthy and the Governor of Bombay appeared on the stage but the main celebrity was not to be seen at all. Dadasaheb sat among the audience on one side, unobtrusively, wearing a dhoti, shirt, cotton coat and cap .He was not even introduced to the Governor Sir Roger Lumley. Noticing this lapse, Sri Baburao Patel, well-known film journalist of Bombay and editor of the popular ‘Film India’, brought it to the notice of the organizers. Then there was some hectic activity. Prithviraj Kapoor, well-known theatre personality, led Dadasaheb to the dais holding his arm, with great respect and affection. But even there, Dadasaheb sat at the end of the row. As the function started, every speaker lauded Dadasaheb for his monumental achievements in the film industry as a pioneer. After all speeches were over, Prithvi Raj Kapoor got up , faced the mike and declared “ My friends of the film world, the great man whose praise you have been hearing all along, Father of Indian Cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke, is sitting there—Look!” and as he pointed to Dadasaheb sitting at the back of the dais with his head hanging down, there was a thunderous applause.

Even though he was felicitated at the Silver Jubilee Meet and presented with a purse of Rs. 5,000, the way he was treated by the fraternity at the Meet hurt him deeply. As days went by, he was haunted by abject poverty, with at times, even to arrange for two meals a day became a problem. When he was in this condition of mind at Nasik, a movie magazine interviewed him in connection with their proposed Supplement on ‘Dadasaheb Phalke’ and requested for his photograph. A deeply pained Phalke said “ Why do you want to keep my memory alive? Forgetting is the way of the world. Why not follow it”

With deteriorating health, Dadasaheb shifted to Poona and fell ill.. On one occasion he could not help writing a letter to V. Shantaram of Prabhat Pictures requesting him to lend him a paltry sum of Rs. Five. This touching letter has been published in one of the magazines of Poona. It is under such circumstances that Dadasaheb passed away at Nasik on 16th February 1944. This was the tragic end of the Father of Indian Cinema.

25 years after his death, the Government of India, with a view to perpetuating his memory, instituted the prestigious Film Award ‘ The Dadasaheb Phalke Award” for the most remarkable achievement in the world of cinema

“ Living Homer Cried For Bread
Seven Cities claimed Homer Dead”-- Anon

B.M.N. Murthy

Created: Wednesday, August 8, 2007


At April 4, 2013 at 11:25 AM , Blogger christche said...

miles to go before i sleep,
promises to keep..


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