Dadasaheb Phalke

Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, popularly known as Dadasaheb Phalke was an Indian producer-director-screenwriter, known as the Father of Indiancinema. His debut film, RajaHarishchandra, was the first Indian movie in 1913, and is now known as India’s first full-length feature film. He made 95 feature-length films and 27 short films in his career, spanning 19 years, until 1937, including his most noted works: MohiniBhasmasur (1913), SatyavanSavitri (1914), LankaDahan (1917), ShriKrishnaJanma (1918) and KaliyaMardan (1919).

The Dadasaheb Phalke Award, for lifetime contribution to cinema, was instituted in his honour by the Government of India in 1969. The award is one of the most prestigious awards in Indian cinema and is the highest official recognition for film personalities in the country. A postage stamp bearing his likeness was released by India Post to honour him in 1971. An honorary award from the Dadasaheb Phalke Academy Mumbai was introduced in the year 2001, for lifetime achievement in Indian cinema.

Early life and education

Dhundiraj Phalke was born on 30 April 1870 at Trimbak, Bombay Presidency into a Marathi-speaking Chitpavan Brahmin family. His father, Govind Sadashiv Phalke alias Dajishastri, was a Sanskrit scholar and worked as a Hindu priest conducting religious ceremonies and his mother, Dwarkabai, was a housewife. The couple had seven children, three sons and four daughters. Shivrampant, the eldest, was twelve years elder than Phalke and worked in Baroda. He briefly worked as the Dewan (Chief Administrator) of the princely state of Jawhar and died in 1921, at the age of 63. Phalke’s second brother, Raghunathrao, also worked as a priest and died at a young age of 21. Dajishastri taught Phalke to conduct religious rituals like yajna and dispensing of medicines. When he was appointed as a professor of Sanskrit in the Wilson College, Bombay, the family shifted its base to Bombay. Phalke completed his primary education in Trimbakeshwar and matriculation was done in Bombay.

Phalke joined the Sir J. J. School of Art, Bombay in 1885 and completed a one-year course in drawing.[7] At the beginning of 1886, he accompanied his elder brother, Shivrampant, to Baroda where he married a girl from Marathe family. Later, he joined Kala Bhavan, the Faculty of Fine Arts, at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda and completed a course in Oil painting and Watercolor painting in 1890. He also achieved proficiency in architecture and modelling. In the same year, Phalke bought a film camera and started experimenting with photography, processing, and printing. He was awarded a gold medal for creating a model of an ideal theatre at the 1892 Industrial Exhibition of Ahmedabad. While his work was much appreciated, one of his fans presented him a “costly” camera, used for still photography. In 1891, Phalke did a six-months course to learn the techniques of preparing half-tone blocks, photo-lithio, and three-colour ceramic photography. Principal Gajjar of Kala Bhavan sent Phalke to Ratlam to learn three-colour blockmaking, photolitho transfers, colotype and darkroom printing techniques under the guidance of Babulal Varuvalkar.


In 1893, Gajjar allowed Phalke to use the photo studio and laboratory of Kala Bhavan where he started his work under the name of “Shri Phalke’s Engraving and Photo Printing”. Despite his proficiency in various skills, he did not have a stable family life and had difficulties in making a living. Thus, in 1895, he decided to become a professional photographer and relocated to Godhra for doing business. His business did not do well in Godhra and he lost his wife and a child in the 1900 plague epidemic in the city. Phalke returned to Baroda and started photography business. It did not run well because of the myth spread across the city that the camera sucks up the energy from a person’s body which leads to their death. He faced similar resistance from the Prince of Baroda who refused to take photographs with the assumptions that it would shorten his life. Though, the Prince was later convinced by Phalke who went on to advocate the benefits of photography in his court, it did not help Phalke’s business. He started the business of painting the stage curtains for the drama companies. This got him some basic training in drama production and fetched him a few minor roles in the plays.

Phalke learned magic tricks from a German magician who was on a tour in Baroda that time. This helped him use trick photography in his filmmaking. At the end of 1901, Phalke began to hold the public performances of magic using professional name of Professor Kelpha with letters of his last name in reverse order. In 1902, Phalke remarried to Girija Karandikar, niece of proprietor of Kirloskar Natak Mandali. Girija was renamed as Saraswati after the marriage. In 1903, he got a job as a photographer and draftsman at the Archaeological Survey of India. However, not satisfied with the job, Phalke resigned in 1906 and set up a printing press at Lonavla under the name of “Phalke Engraving and Printing Works” with R. G. Bhandarkar as a partner.

The press majorly worked for making photo-litho transfers for Ravi Verma Press, owned by painter Raja Ravi Varma. Later, it also started the work of halftone blockmaking and printing and tri-colour printing. With the growing business, the press was shifted to Dadar, Bombay. Later in 1908, Purushottam Mavji replaced Bhandarkar as a partner and the press was renamed as “Laxmi Art Printing Works”. Phalke went to Germany in 1909 to buy the necessary colour printing machinery. Though the printing business grew exponentially, the partners had increasing differences about the running of the press. Soon, Phalke decided to abandon the partnership, without availing any monetary benefits.

Film debut with Raja Harishchandra

After coming back from London, Phalke started looking for a spacious place for shooting the films. Soon, the family shifted from Ismail Building, Charni Road to Mathura Bhavan Bungalow, Dadar. He constructed a small glass room at the compound of the bungalow and prepared a dark room and arrangements for processing the film. Imported filmmaking equipment reached Bombay in May 1912 and Phalke set it up within four days with the help of sketch provided. He also taught his family to perforate and develop the film. To test the working of camera and projector, Phalke filmed the boys and girls in the surroundings to the satisfactory results. To demonstrate the filmmaking techniques and get financier for the feature film, Phalke decided to make a short film. He planted some peas in a pot and placed a camera in front of it. He shot one frame a day for over a month producing a film just over one minute, of the seed growing, sprouting, and changing into a climber. The short film titled AnkurachiWadh (Growth of a Pea Plant) and showed selective individuals. Some of them, including Yashwantrao Nadkarni and Narayanrao Devhare, offered Phalke a loan.

Phalke decided to make a film based on the legends of Harishchandra and wrote the script for it. He published advertisements in various newspapers like Induprakash calling for the cast and crew required for the film. As no women were available to play female leads, male actors performed the female roles. Dattatraya Damodar Dabke played the lead role of King Harishchandra and Anna Salunke as Queen Taramati. Phalke’s elder son Bhalchandra was assigned the role, Rohitashva, son of Harishchandra and Taramati. Phalke was in-charge of the scriptment, direction, production design, make-up, editing, and film processing and Trymbak B. Telang handled the camera. The filming was completed in six months and 27 days producing a film of 3,700 feet (1,100 m), about four reels.

The film premiered at the Olympia Theatre, Bombay on 21 April 1913, and had its theatrical release on Saturday, 3 May 1913 at the Coronation Cinema, Girgaon, Bombay. It was a commercial success and laid the foundation for the film industry in the country. The film is often considered the first full-length Indian feature film with its status debated with historians considering Dadasaheb Torne’s silent film Shree Pundalik, released on 18 May 1912, the maiden Indian film. The Government of India recognises Raja Harischandra as the first Indian feature film. After the success of Raja Harishchandra, Phalke relocated to Nashik. For his next film, he selected the mythological love story of Nala, a king of Nishadha Kingdom, and Damayanti, a princess of the Vidarbha Kingdom. In spite of completing the pre-production, the filming could not start so he started working on Mohini Bhasmasur, based on a mythological story of Mohini, female avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, and Bhasmasura, an asura (demon). During the same time, a travelling drama company, Chittakarshak Natak Company, visited Nashik. Phalke requested its proprietor, Raghunathrao Gokhle, to allow two of their actresses to act in the film. Durgabai Kamat was cast as Parvati and her daughter Kamlabai Gokhale as Mohini and became first women to act in the Indian cinema. The film was 3,264 feet (995 m) long and was released on 2 January 1914 at the Olympia Theatre, Bombay. A short comedy film Pithache Panje (Paws of Flour) was released as a “side attraction” with the film. Phalke made his third film Satyavan Savitri based on the legends of Satyavan and Savitri. The film was 3,680 feet (1,120 m) long and was screened on 6 June 1914. Both the films were commercially successful like Raja Harishchandra.

Date-02 sept 2020

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