Little Bits of History

Films Around the World

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 3, 2014
Dadasaheb Phalke

Dadasaheb Phalke

May 3, 1913: Raja Harishchandra is released. This was the first full-length (40 minutes) Indian feature film. The movie tells the story of Harishchandra, the 36th king of the Solar Dynasty, Surya Maharishi Gothram. His legendary life is often used as a benchmark for evaluating an ideal existence. He was famous for both piety and justice and his name is Sanskrit for “having golden splendor”. He was said to have never broken a promise and never to have told a lie – both qualities tested repeatedly during his exemplary life. The Western or Christian equivalence would be the biblical story of Job.

The movie was written, produced, and directed by Dadasaheb Phalke. The film itself was a silent movie and so language was not an issue. Intertitles were given in both English and Hindi. The cast and staff were Marathi and it is therefore considered a Marathi film even without that language spoken. Only one print of the film was made and it was shown at the Coronation Cinematograph. Even with the limited venue, it was a commercial success and paved the way for other Indian films. The film took seven months and 21 days to complete and there were 3700 feet of film on four reels. It was screened a few days prior to this opening date when the public was finally treated to this epic film treat.

The film has an all-male cast as no females were available for playing the female roles. Women would not take part, even though Phalke offered roles to nautch girls (traditional dancing girls). Phalke was forced to look for a delicate looking man to play the role of the Queen in the film and chose “Anna Salunke” to play the role. Salunke went on to play both male and female leads in other Phalke films. The lead was played by Dattatraya Damodar Dabke who acted in only three more movies before becoming a cinematographer himself. Mrs. Phalke helped enormously with the production. It was she who cooked all the food for the cast and crew (more than 500 people) as well as being the laundry woman who kept clothes and costumes clean. She also helped with the posters and production of the film itself.

Phalke was born into a Brahmin family in 1870 and began his career as a photographer in a small town, Godhra. His first wife and child died during an outbreak of bubonic plague. He was forced to leave the small town which then opened many opportunities for the young man. He began a printing business specializing in lithography and oleograph and traveled abroad. He went to Germany to learn about the newest technologies. After a dispute with business partners, he turned to film. He was a successful silent film maker and made several feature length films after this debut. However, he was not able to move with the times and when the talkies came out, he opted to retire instead. He died only a few years later in 1944 at the age of 74.

When you see a silent movie, you understand everything that’s going on from the images because the images are so strong. – Monica Bellucci

Actually, I met a lot of directors and most of them have that fantasy to make a silent movie because for directors it’s the purest way to tell a story. It’s about creating images that tell a story and you don’t need dialogue for that. – Michel Hazanavicius

I’ve always been a follower of silent movies. I see film as a visual medium with a musical accompaniment, and dialogue is a raft that goes on with it. – George Lucas

As an actor I’m part of a long line of character people you can take back to the silent movies. There’s always the little guy who’s the sidekick to the tall, good-looking guy who gets the girl. – Curtis Armstrong

Also on this day: “I Feel Good” – In 1933 James Brown was born.
Secret Annex – In 1960, the Anne Frank House was opened.
Take Me Out to the Ballpark – In 1877, Labatt Memorial Park opened.
Where Poppies Grow – In 1915, John McCrae wrote a poem.

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