Dadasaheb Phalke

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Dada Saheb

Dhanraj Govind Phalke 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”.

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Dada Saheb
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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.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, Carl Hertz, one of the 40 magicians employed by the Lumiere Brothers.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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It had tiles both in Hindi and English. The movie ran for an unprecedented 23 days.

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Acting among the women was not highly honored during that period when Phalke introduced a main female character in his movie Bhasmasur Mohini in 1913.

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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).

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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.

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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!

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The government 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.

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