Movie Lover wrote on May 5 2009 1:36PM
Dadasaheb Phalke was born as Dhundiraj Govind Phalke in Trymbakeshwar, near Nasik on 30 April 1870. He studied drawing at J.J. School of Arts, Bombay and also pursued art studies at Kalabhavan, Baroda. He married his first wife in 1885, who died in 1900. He married Saraswatabai later and had a daughter by the name, Mandakini. He started his Career as a Portrait photographer and scene painter around 1900. In 1903, he was appointed as Draughtsman and photographer with Government of India's Archaelogical Department. He started his own business, Phalke Engraving and Printing Works in 1905. However, when he saw Life of Christ in Bombay in 1920, he was inspired to make films and left his business. He made a short film, Growth of a Pea Plant, in 1911. Around this time, he suffered from temporary blindness. It is believed, that Phalke's immersion in intense viewing and experimentation led to ill health and temporary blindness. There is a revelatory, metaphorical aspect to the loss and recovery of sight in a man who declared that he would bring images of revered Indian deities to the screen, just as Christ's image had been presented in the West.
Earlier, as photographer and printer, Phalke was involved in the mass production of the famous religious paintings of Raja Ravi Varma. Phalke's work therefore wove into the early history of cultural self-representation through new media technologies, a period intimately related to the creation of a mass market in indigenous imagery and identity.
Later, he travelled to London to buy filmmaking equipment, and met Cecil Hepworth and returned to build a studio in Bombay, and made the first feature film and also first Indian film, Raja Harishchandra, which released in April 1913. Till 1917, despite problems related to finance and the import of equipment because of the onset of war, Phalke managed to continue with production. For financial reasons, "Phalke's Films" merged into the Hindustan Film Company in 1917. Except for the period 1919–22, Phalke continued to work with this company till 1932, when it was wound up. His daughter played the role of boy Krishna in Kaliya Mardan, 1918. In the short period, 1919-22, he had retired to Benares but was recalled to direct again. After some time, he also attempted to set up business selling enamel boards before being recalled for making his last film as director, Gangavataran, 1934 (completed 1936). Thereafter he conceived of various schemes, such as setting up a production unit for short films for the Prabhat company, but nothing came out of these ideas, and the last few years of his life were spent in relative obscurity. He passed away in Nasik, on 16 February 1944.
Phalke had many qualifications to boast of, that of painter, printer, engraver, photographer, drama teacher, and magician. He had explained that his decision to make several Hindu mythological films was not only due to his religious-minded audiences, but also because films on these subjects allowed him "to bring in mystery and miracles" in the movies. The mythological aspect of the works he had pursued was especially suited to fulfil the early fascination with the cinema as magical toy. Hence one can find extensive use of dissolves and superimpositions to bring forth miraculous happenings in the handful of Phalke's films that have survived.
In his career, theatre played an equally important role. At the time Phalke's first films were released in Bombay, it was said that the cinema was displacing traditional entertainments, such as the theatre and circus, because of its astounding popularity. When Phalke took his films to Poona in 1913, they were screened at a theatre which normally exhibited performances of Tamasha, a western Indian dramatic form.
Theatre also left its mark on the new entertainment in different ways. In Raja Harischandra, the priest as comic character—a staple of the western Indian stage—was used. Also, it was because of the development of the theatrical tradition that Phalke was able get the women performers he sought for his female roles—even prostitutes had refused to associate themselves with films. A lay-off in a theatrical company helped him secure the services of Durgabhai Gokhale and her daughter, Kamalabhai, the first women actresses of the Indian cinema.
In his working life as director, Phalke made approx 122 feature films and shorts.