Google on Monday celebrated the 148th birth anniversary of legendary film-maker Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, or Dadasaheb Phalke — who first uttered ‘Lights, Camera, Action… in 1912 — and created history when Indias first feature film, “Raja Harishchandra”, was released on May 3, 1913,
Designed by guest artist Aleesha Nandhra, the Doodle depicts a young, ‘hands-on’ Phalke in the centre examining the quality of a black-and-white negative (now almost defunct as most films are shot digitally) before editing, shooting with a camera, barking instructions through a megaphone, directing an actor in full costume for a scene and — in the absence of art directors in those cradling days of Indian cinema — personally guiding an artist how to make a prop for a shot.
“Today’s Doodle shows a young Dadasaheb in action as he went about directing the first few gems in the history of Indian cinema,” Google said in its tribute post.
“The son of a scholar, Phalke developed a keen interest in the arts and studies at various points, photography, lithography, architecture, engineering and even magic,” Goodle said.
However, despite being credited with bringing cinema to India, Phalke’s descendents rue that a posthumous Bharat Ratna eludes both Dadasaheb and his wife Saraswati, India’s first film technician.
Born on April 30, 1870 at the temple town of Tryambakeshwar in Nashik, Phalke graduated from Bombay’s Sir J. J. School of Arts in 1890, then went to M.S. University, Baroda for higher studies in engineering, drawing, painting, sculpture and photography.
Initially, he worked as a photographer in Godhra, but abandoned it after a bubonic plague which claimed his wife and son. He then became a magician, a draftsman with Archaeological Survey of India, later as printer specialising in advanced lithography and oleography, set up his own printing press and traveled to Germany for advanced knowledge in the field.
Following a dispute with his printing partners, Phalke left the business and once watched the film, ‘The Life of Christ’ (1910) – – which awakened the film-maker in his soul and he traveled to London to learn filmmaking under Cecil Hepworth.
He resolved to bring cinema to India and after a series of struggles, Phalke finally unveiled the first Indian feature film in Marathi, ‘Raja Harishchandra’ in May 3, 1913, a black-and-white silent film, which hit the nation’s collective conscience.
Emboldened by the response to his venture, Phalke set up his own film company, Hindustan Films, and over the next nearly 25 years, went on to make another 95 films and 27 short films.
During the early days of struggle as a filmmaker, his (second) wife Saraswati stood behind him like a rock, said one of his grandsons, Chandrashekhar Pusalkar.
“Saraswati managed her family of nine children, held white bedsheets for hours in the blazing sun as a light reflector, mixed film developing chemicals, perforated the raw film sheets at night in the light of a candle, cooked food for the entire film unit comprising 60-70 people and generally was his Woman Friday,” Pusalkar said.
But after a particularly bad patch in the 1930s, Phalke wrote to his son for help, saying he had “no money even to buy poison”, said another grandson Kiran Phalke.
Over the years, Phalke made well-known silent, B&W films like ‘Mohini Bhasmasur’ (1913), ‘Satyavan Savitri’ (1914), ‘Lanka Dahan’ (1917), ‘Shri Krishna Janma’ (1918), ‘Kaliya Mardan’ (1919), ‘Buddhadev’ (1923), ‘Setu Bandhan’ (1932) and ‘Gangavataran’ (1937), among others.
However, the era of silent films was setting with talkies becoming the norm, starting with the historic, ‘Alam Ara’ (March 14, 1931), and Phalke quietly withdrew from the arc lights as the cacophony of sound and music reverberated the once-silent cinema halls.
Today, the country’s topmost film industry award is named after him, but the country’s top award has not been conferred on him, say his family, which has been pursuing the matter since over a decade.
Rendered virtually homeless by late-1930s, Phalke was honoured with a purse of a princely sum of Rs 5,000 by the legendary V. Shantaram to mark the Silver Jubilee of Indian Cinema. At the function, Phalke sat quietly in a far corner and remained unnoticed till Shantaram asked him to be escorted to the stage.
Belying his family’s fears, he spent the money to make his own home in Nashik which sheltered him till his death on Feb. 16, 1944, aged 73.