Dadasaheb Phalke

Dadasaheb Phalke
Date of Birth: April 30th, 1870

Dhanraj Govind Phalke (April 30, 1870-February 16, 1944) is one of the early pioneers of Indian cinema. He is more commonly referred as “Dadasaheb Phalke“. Many critics considers him to be the “Father of Indian Cinema” (others consider Hiralal Sen to be the Father of Indian Cinema). Phalke was most interested in various visual arts and techniques. He was trained in fine arts and architecture. He also learnt photography, photolithography and ceramics.

Dadasaheb Phalke (1870-944) – Father of Indian Cinema


The Indian Film Industry is the biggest in the world. The number of films produced in Bollywood every year even surpasses the Hollywood numbers. We today introduce the Father of Indian Cinema Dada Saheb Phalke before you.

Dadasaheb Phalke

Dadasaheb Phalke

Dhundiraj Govind Phalke was born on 30th April, 1870 at Trimbakeshwar, 30 km from Nasik, India , where his father was an accomplished Sanskrit scholar. Even when he was a child, he showed interests in creative arts. He joined Sir J. J. School of Art, Bombay in 1885. After passing from J.J.School in 1890, Phalke went to the Kala Bhavan in Baroda, where he studied Sculpture, Engineering Drawing, Painting and Photography. Dadasaheb Phalke started his early career as a portrait photographer, magician, stage make up man and assistant to a German illusionist. He started Phalke’s Art Painting and Engraving work in 1908 and did photolithographic transfers of Ravi Varma’s Oleographs.  But his business collapsed due to differences between him and his partner. Ravi Varma was a very popular painter in 19th century and influenced the art form of in Indian cinema a lot. He had to leave his photography business in a small town photographer in Godhra after the death of his first wife and child in an outbreak of the bubonic plague. He soon met the German magician Carl Hertz, one of the 40 magicians employed by the Lumiere Brothers. Soon after, he had the opportunity to work with the Archeological Survey of India as a draftsman. However, restless with his job and its constraints, he turned to the business of printing. He specialized in lithography and oleography, and worked for painter Raja Ravi Varma. Phalke later started his own printing press, made his first trip abroad to Germany, to learn about the latest technology and machinery.

In 1910 when he saw “The Life of Christ” in a Bombay Theater, he got very much interested in Film making. Phalke realized the enormous impact of cinema over the population and remarked “India was unfit for a Home rule” if  film making could not gather support from government and business. But in 1910 he neither had the knowledge of film making nor he had enough money. He first sold jewelery of his wife partially and make a short film “The Birth of a Pea Plant“. For the film, he shot one frame everyday to show to plant growing. He showed the film to Yashwant Nadkarni, a photographic equipment dealer, who was truly amazed with his work and promised Phalke to help monitory in producing films.

Phalke produced dozens of silent movies. Most of the movies were based on the Epics and Puranas of India. He was the first one to show a path of bright film industry in India. His own studio was not too far from the Mumbai where he taught actors, wrote scripts, did cinematography and projections. He took six months to complete his first film. He did most of his shooting during the day and editing and lab work in the evenings. In 1913, India’s first silent movie “Raja Harischandra” was released by Dadasaheb Phalke. Raja Harishchandra  was first shown publicly on May 3, 1913 at Bombay’s Coronation Cinema The film was a huge success for him. The film was 3700 feet long and it was a complete Indian venture.  It had tiles both in Hindi and English.  The movie ran for an unprecedented 23 days. Around one year before, Ramchandra Gopal (known as Dadasaheb Torne) had released his film Pundalik in the same theater. However, the credit for making the first Indian feature film is still attributed to Dadasaheb Phalke . Acting among the women was not highly honored during that period when Phalke introduced a main felemale character in his movie Bhasmasur Mohini in 1913. He later established the “Hindustan Film Company” in 1917 and produced more silent films. He was a talented photographer and did various experiments with his films. His religious/mythological themes along with his superb direction attract numerous people towards cinema.  Some of his most successful films were Lanka Dahan (1917), Krishna Janma (1918), Sairandari (1920) and Shakuntala (1920).


In creating a distinctively Indian form of cinema – much different from the popular English style, Phalke had to face much difficulties. He was also influenced by the Western films but he also had to dominate the Indian Film Industry. He was unable to use the popular drama properly. As we discussed before, most of the ladies in Indian films were Anglo-Indians. However, they used to take an Indian name in the films such as – “Sulochona” – Ruby Meyers; “Sita Devi” – Renes Smith and so on. However, Phalke was able to reach numerous people irrespective of almost no advertising simply because of the nature and topics of his films.

When Phalke released “Lanka Dahan” in 1917 following his earlier success in the West End Cinema at Girgaun in Bombay, it was shown from 7 am in the morning till midnight. Lanka Dahan was the greatest success for Phalke and also a triumph for actor A. Salunke, who played both the goddess Sita and God Rama! In 1918, Phalke released Shree Krishna Janma which is still surviving partially in National Film Archive in Pune. Higher success are more resources helped Phalke to experiment with his film and camera.

Dhundraj-Govind-Phalke

Dhundraj-Govind-Phalke

In 1920 Phalke resigned from Hindustan company after having high level of complicity with his business partners. He announced retirement from cinema, and he wrote ‘Rangbhoomi‘, an acclaimed play. But lacking his imaginative genius, the Hindustan company ran into deep financial loss, and he was finally persuaded to return. However, Phalke felt constrained by the business, and, after directing a few films for the company, he withdrew.

With advancement of technology, Phalke fell victim to the emerging sound technology. Unable to cope with the talkies, the man who had fathered the Indian film industry became obsolete. His last silent movie “Setubandhan” was released in 1932, which later released by dubbing voice. During 1936-38, he produced his last film Gangavataran (1937), before retiring to Nashik.

It was 25 years later the Raja Harischandra was made when the Indian Film Industry was celebrating its Silver Jubilee, it failed to honor Dadasaheb Phalke. So, he died of a broken heart, shocked, embittered on 16th of February, 1944 in Nasik.


Later the government tried to amend the loss of Dadasaheb Phalke and a year later instituted a film award in his name, a award given by no less a personage than the president of India. Today, getting the Dadasaheb Phalke Award is a lifetime achievement for any actor indeed. Dadasaheb Phalke Film award is still the highest film award in India.  Initially the award carried 11000 INR in cash and a shawl and a plaque. Later in 1975, the award was increased to 40000 INR and carried a Swarna Kamal (Golden Lotus). In 1985, the amount was raised to 1 lakh in cash.

Director

  1. Gangavartan 1937
  2. Setubandhan 1932
  3. Sairandari 1920
  4. Shakuntala 1920
  5. Kalia Mardan 1919
  6. Birth Of Shree Krishna 1918
  7. Lanka Dahan 1917
  8. Raja Harishchandra 1913
  9. Satyavaran Savitri 1914
  10. Mohini Bhasmasur 1913

Resources:
  1. Dadasaheb Phalke on Wiki

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