Monday, February 18, 2008

Dadasaheb Phalke (1870 — 1944)

By Kuldip Dhiman

DHUNDIRAJ GOVIND PHALKE came to films through a long circuitous path. Having studied art at J. J. School of art in 1885, and later at Kala Bhavana, Baroda, he devoted his time mainly to painting landscapes. In due course, architecture began to interest him, and before long he was learning photography. Not satisfied yet, he also learnt three-colour blockmaking, photolithography and ceramics.

Dadasaheb PhalkeDadasaheb Phalke, as he is affectionately called, was born in Trymbalkeshwar, Nasik. His father was an accomplished Sanskrit scholar. Phalke started his professional career as portrait photographer, went on to do stage makeup, and even assisted a German illusionist. An incurable drifter, he then started Phalke's Art Printing & Engraving Works at Lonavala in 1908, and later Laxmi Art Printing where he made photolitho transfers of Ravi Varma's oleographs. He, then, went to Germany to buy three-colour printing machines, and it appeared as if he had finally found his vocation in life. But that was not to be, for around 1910 he chanced upon to see the film The Life of Christ. The film made such an impact on his mind that he began to wonder if such films could be made in India with Indian themes. What began as an idle curiosity soon became an obsession, and he raised money and experimented with a few short films. Encouraged by what he made, he went to London in February 1912 to learn the art and craft of film-making. It was Cecil Hepworth of Walton Studios who trained him in the craft of film-making. Phalke bought a Willamson camera and returned India to set up Phalke Films on Dadar Main Road in Bombay. The money for this venture came from a loan against his insurance policy. His wife, Saraswati Phalke was an active partner in the venture. She not only managed the Studio but also looked after the technical aspects of film-making. Under this banner he made five films, beginning with Raja Harishchandra in 1913 The Company later moved to Nasik. He went to England again in 1914 to organise trade shows. He even had offers to stay on, but returned to India after buying the latest equipment. On his return he closed Phalke Films and established the Hindustan Cinema Films in 1918, and under this banner he made about 44 silent films, and one talkie titled Gangavataran. Phalke is generally credited with ushering in the motion pictures in India with the prodution of Raja Harishchandra

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