Raja Harischandra (1913)

April 2013 has a special significance: this month marks 100 years of Indian cinema. The country’s first indigenously produced full-length feature film, Raja Harischandra, made by the legendary Dhundiraj Govind ‘Dadasaheb’ Phalke, was shown to a select audience at Bombay’s Olympia Theatre, on 21st April, 1913.
(Note: There is some controversy about this; some film historians believe that Shree Pundalik, 1912, was the first full-length feature film).

But. Celebrating the centennial of Raja Harischandra seemed good enough reason to dedicate this month to Indian cinema. Not just Hindi cinema, as I have been prone to do, but Indian regional cinema. I am painfully aware that the only regional language cinema I’ve reviewed so far has been Bengali, so this is a good place to make a start. April 2013 on Dusted Off is going to be when I set about exploring more of cinema from across the country.

I thought it appropriate to begin with Raja Harischandra itself.

Dhundiraj Govind 'Dadasaheb' Phalke

This won’t be as much of a review as the kind I usually do, because the film itself doesn’t exist in its entirety any more. As far back as the 60s (or so I’ve been able to gather), only the first reel and part of the fourth (which was the last) reel of the film had remained. What can be viewed today—and what I watched—was the first reel, and one scene towards the end of the film.

Raja Harischandra, for those who’re familiar with Indian mythology, is the story of a very upright and truthful king of Ayodhya—the eponymous Harischandra (or, as it’s more commonly transcribed, Harishchandra). Harishchandra’s staunch adherence to his principles is the focus of the story: how, because he refuses to let his circumstances drive him to dishonesty or untruth, he loses his kingdom, is separated from his wife and son, and ends up with his dead son in his arms.

Harishchandra in Distress, by Raja Ravi Varma

As a moral tale, Raja Harischandra was well-known and popular in India.

The story of Phalke and Raja Harischandra is fascinating, too [frankly, I find it more so than that of the king]. It’s said that Phalke, having watched an imported film—Life of Christ—in 1910, was fired with zeal to make a film too. Phalke travelled to London and made arrangements to import the equipment for filming and production.

Back in Bombay, while waiting for the shipment to arrive, he set about getting things ready. He created a dark room and a studio. He also trained his wife Saraswatibai [who seems to have been a very devoted and supportive spouse] to perforate film, develop it, and even load a camera.

Phalke at work, editing

Dadasaheb Phalke was faced with another challenge: financing the venture. Financiers were wary of investing in something that had never been done before, so Phalke chose the best way to convince them: in 1911, he created a short instructional film, a time-lapse one that showed a pea plant growing from seed to a full-fledged vine. The brief film, Birth of a Pea Plant, achieved what it had set out to do: it impressed the financiers sufficiently for them to fund Phalke’s film.

Phalke had already decided that the film had best be based on a theme that was religious and popular enough to draw crowds. He was torn between two stories: that of Krishna, and that of Harischandra. Harischandra won (though Phalke went on, in 1919, to make Kaliya Mardan—starring his little daughter Mandakini as Krishna).

Mandakini Phalke as Krishna in Kaliya Mardan

Getting costumes and a place to film (the latter a bungalow on what is now Mumbai’s Dadasaheb Phalke Road, in Dadar) seems to have been relatively easy. What was tough was finding actors, especially to play the female roles. Theatre itself had been looked down upon by ‘respectable folk’, so even female roles onstage were typically played by male actors in drag. It was out of the question to imagine a lady acting in the film.

For the extras, there was no problem about using men dressed as women. But for the lead female role, that of Harischandra’s wife Taramati, Phalke decided he had to hire a woman.

Male actors acting as women in Raja Harischandra

He therefore resorted to advertisements in the newspapers— which, sadly, drew only a small bunch of pretty ugly prostitutes. Phalke sent them packing, but was eventually reduced to scouring the red light areas of Bombay, trying to find a beautiful woman who would agree. He drew a blank [one potential actress’s mother said that she’d let her daughter act if Phalke agreed to marry the girl!]

In a moment of serendipity, Phalke came across a somewhat effeminate young man, working in a restaurant [some sources say he was a waiter, others that he was a cook] on Grant Road. Krishna Hari, alias Anna Salunke, agreed to take on the part of Taramati. It took a lot of persuasion from Phalke to get Salunke to shave off his moustache [!! What could Salunke have been thinking about, to even imagine he could retain his mooch?], but at least it meant one less thing to worry about for Dadasaheb Phalke.

Anna Salunke as Taramati

Shooting and production had its own hiccups, but Raja Harischandra was finally completed, all four reels of it, over a period of 6 months and 27 days. After that preliminary screening on 21st April 1913, it was commercially released on 3rd May the same year, and created a sensation. The following year, in 1914, Raja Harischandra was also released in London.

So what do the 11-odd minutes left of the film look like? (Note: Another disclaimer. Some film historians believe that this reel is actually not of the 1913 film, but of a 1917 version).

It begins in Raja Harischandra’s palace grounds. Harischandra (Dattatraya Damodar ‘DD’ Dabke) and his queen Taramati (Anna Salunke, looking well-shaved and pretty feminine) are proudly looking on as their only son, Rohitas (Phalke’s son, Bhalchandra) shoots an arrow from his bow. A maid fetches whatever little Rohitas has shot down [it looks like a rather spherical and dark coconut to me, but I could be mistaken. In fact, I’m almost certain I’m mistaken].

Rohitas shows off his skill at archery

While they’re cooing over Rohitas’s archery, a group of the king’s subjects arrives, begging Harischandra to come hunting with them.

They set off purposefully into the countryside.

Harischandra goes off hunting...

(An interesting anecdote here; the outdoor shooting was at a place called Wangani. When the cast turned up, dressed oddly and bearing spears and swords, the local villagers rushed off to alert the authorities—the patil and the faujdar. The members of the cast—Phalke had not arrived yet—tried to explain that they were here for the shooting of a film, but that must have sounded like double Dutch to the country folk. The result being that the entire lot was arrested, and released only after Dadasaheb Phalke arrived, showed the faujdar and patil what shooting and cinema was all about, and reassured them that all was above board).

Anyway, back to the film. Raja Harischandra and his gang of hunters are pottering about among the trees when Harischandra’s sharp ears detect the sounds of women crying. The king cups his ear, listening intently. Then he tries the other ear. In the background, his entourage—none of whom seem to have heard what the king’s hearing—are chattering away and creating such a ruckus that it drowns out all other sound.

...and hears the wails of women

Harischandra tells them to shut up, and having ascertained that there actually seem to be some ladies in distress in the vicinity, sets off to investigate.

In the meantime, this rather baffling intertitle appears:

An intertitle from the film

(Raja Harischandra had intertitles in both English and Hindi, and the Hindi version too is a little puzzling).

- and its Hindi equivalent

Who are the ‘trigunashaktis’, or the ‘three powers’?
(Note: Google helped. On this page, I found a mention of trigunashakti: As combined three forces, Ma  Durga has Sattwaki, Rajoshi and Tamashi natures called ‘Triguna Shakti’.” For someone who’s not terribly clued into the finer aspects of Hindu mythology—like me—that’s clear as mud, but it covers the ground, so anyway).

The three young women that emerge from the fire in front of Vishwamitra (PG Sane) start waving their arms about and apparently yelling. From the previous intertitle, I assume they’re none too happy that Vishwamitra has gained control over them, and are trying desperately to escape, or at least to make their displeasure felt and heard. [Unfortunately, these three are pretty bad actors, and the rhythmic way in which they swing their arms make them look as if they’re doing some weird sort of dance rather than writhing in agony].

The trigunashakti appears before Vishwamitra

Into this tableau comes Harischandra, who—without pausing to see whom he’s come up against—shoots an arrow at the fire from which the trigunashakti has arisen. It goes out, the three shaktis vanish, and Vishwamitra stands up, in a towering rage. He’s furious at Harischandra for thwarting him thus. Harischandra tries to make amends, and offers to give Vishwamitra his kingdom in return.

Harischandra offers his kingdom to Vishwamitra

Vishwamitra accepts [what is it with politics that attracts all these god men?!]. We next see him at Harischandra’s palace, having accepted the crown at the hands of the king. The king, Taramati and Rohitas, having been ordered by Vishwamitra to give him dakshina (presumably, this will restore Harischandra’s kingdom to him) are leaving the palace.

Vishwamitra orders Harischandraa & Co. to get the dakshina

Their attendants stand around and sob, while Vishwamitra, adding insult to injury, tells the royal couple and their son that they can’t even go out into the world dressed in all this finery. Harischandra has given up his throne and all his worldly belongings; they must also give up these grand clothes. He flings some rough cotton clothing at them…and poor Harischandra, Taramati and Rohitas go out into the big, bad world, deeply mourned by all their ex-staff (whom Vishwamitra immediately chastises for being so weepy).

A weepy departure from the palace

At this point, the first reel presumably ends. The story of how Harischandra gets separated from wife and son and ends up working as assistant at a cremation ground, while Taramati ends up as a maid and Rohitas ends up dead, is missing. The last, tiny bit of the extant film consists of the scene where a grieving Taramati arrives with her son’s dead body and asks the assistant to cremate the corpse.

Taramati meets her husband on a sad occasion

There’s a poignant frame when husband and wife recognise each other (the years gone by have been harsh) and embrace. But Harischandra will not, even for his own son’s body, compromise: one gold coin has to be paid for a cremation, and Taramati must give that. Confused and desperate, Taramati sets off to find a gold coin…

Harischandra sends Taramati off

…and ends up falling into a trap that Vishwamitra [who’s still not satisfied with having wrecked their lives] has set. He has had the prince of Kashi killed while on a hunt, and has left the corpse in Taramati’s path. Taramati, like countless other Hindi film protagonists to come, instead of raising the alarm or hightailing it, sits down and touches the corpse, picks up the prince’s scattered jewellery, and generally makes sure she’s well and truly caught red-handed when the Kashi ruler’s soldiers arrive and arrest her.

Taramati is framed for murder

At which point, what’s available of Raja Harischandra ends.

Some thoughts on this film:

No, I won’t do a ‘What I liked’ and ‘What I didn’t like’ for this film, because, since I’ve been able to watch only about a fourth of it, that would be unfair. I’ll content myself with listing some things that made me smile (and some that made me laugh), some that impressed me, and some that intrigued  me.

Among the things that impressed me was the obvious care taken over the costumes and the make-up. If I hadn’t known that the female parts were all played by men, I’d have been taken in. It’s not just Salunke as Taramati; it’s also the men who act as her maids and ladies-in-waiting: mostly, they look, move and act convincingly feminine.

The acting (and this didn’t surprise me) is theatrical. One reason, I guess, is that the acting technique seemed to basically be a carry-forward from contemporary theatre. Another reason I could think of was that Phalke used a mostly static camera (it pans a little in the scene in the countryside, but that’s it). He didn’t do things like close-ups of actor’s faces, which would have allowed a wider range of emotions to be shown more effectively. Thus the exaggerated gestures.

There’s also the fact that Phalke had to work with several people who had never even acted before, so besides directing them, he actually had to give them lessons in acting.

Phalke directing actors

Lastly, the intertitles. While the intertitles in English are nothing exceptional, the equivalent in Hindi intrigued me, because they showed how Hindi was used at the time, and how it’s changed ever since. The language used is primarily fairly Sanskritised Hindi, but that doesn’t stop occasional Urdu words (like waqt or zabardasti), being included. What’s more, a number of conjunctions are written as part of the preceding word—something I’ve never seen done before I watched this film.

An intertitle from Raja Harischandra

Whatever it is, good, bad or indifferent, Raja Harischandra is a landmark film. It gave me gooseflesh to watch these 11 minutes: I kept thinking, “This was happening a hundred years ago! How did they manage that special effect? And that?” and so on. An impressive feat, for a man who started off just a photographer, but became producer, director, script-writer, acting coach, costume designer (he is supposed to have based the costumes on Raja Ravi Varma’s painting of Harischandra), editor, and more.

If only for its historicity, do watch Raja Harischandra. It is available on Youtube, here. A different, nearly hour-long film (available here) includes Raja Harischandra, along with clips from some of Dadasaheb Phalke’s other films, such as Sant Tukaram and Kaliya Mardan—plus footage of Phalke at work, whether directing or editing or scripting.

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66 thoughts on “Raja Harischandra (1913)

  1. I love the symmetry of inaugarating the brand-spanking new (the very spiffy new website look) by celebrating the old – nicely done! It was certainly an interesting choice for a debut film, and reading your review reminded me of Harsishchandra’s importance in Maati Maay. It’s comforting to know that your reviews always meet his standard of honesty too!

    • Thank you, Stuart! (And, I will be even more honest: the symmetry of old-and-new was completely unintentional). I’d been meaning to review Raja Harischandra ever since I discovered it on Youtube, and thought that this would be the perfect month to do it in.
      Now, do me a favour and please tell me what the Maati Maay connection is all about!

    • And I really appreciate all the research you did to do this write-up on ‘Raja Harishchandra’. Great job!

    • Thank you, Hansda! The other two images in the header are from Manoos (1939, Marathi) – that’s the woman (Shanta Hublikar) on the right; and from Parasakthi (1952; Tamil) – with Sivaji Ganesan.
      I have heard of Harischandrachi Factory, but unfortunately just didn’t have the time to watch it before I reviewed Raja Harischandra. I’ve read rave reviews about it, though. Amusing, that Phalke’s staff had to go about telling their friends and relatives that they worked in a factory belonging to a certain Harishchandra, just so that they wouldn’t be looked down upon for working in – horrors! – cinema. :-)

      • Ha ha… And look at the irony. India, today, produces the most number of films in the world! :-) Who would believe that Phalke’s cast and crew had to lie that they were working in a certain Harishchandra’s factory when they were actually making a film called Raja Harishchandra?

        • Today, most people would probably boast about working in cinema! (Interestingly, the music director Naushad, in an interview, recalled that when his parents found a bride for him, they said, “We’ve told the girl’s parents that you are a darzi. Don’t let on that you work in cinema, otherwise you’ll never get married!”)

  2. Oh I love the new look Madhu. I find the font a bit small, as my eyesight is a bit weak, but the header is fabulous.

    I remember being fascinated by the first ever movie clip by the Lumiere brothers, even if it was just simple shot of people walking out of a factory. I can imagine how you felt watching this piece of history.

    I will look forward to your reviews of some good regional films as well :)

    • Thanks so much, Ava! Yes, the font’s a wee bit on the weak side, no? Unfortunately, this theme doesn’t seem to allow me to fiddle around with font sizes and leaves it to my readers to increase the font size on their browsers for themselves. Sorry about that. :-(

      You’ve actually seen that clip by the Lumiere Brothers? That must be quite fascinating, just as a piece of history. The oldest ‘film’ I have ever seen is The Broker’s Athletic Typewriter, from 1905:

        • Thank you, Ava! I’ve just had a look at the video on Youtube, and it’s really fascinating – so well-preserved, too. Makes me even sadder to think that a film like Raja Harischandra, which was made 20 years later, is in such sad shape and with most of its reels missing too.

          For those who’d like to watch, here is the link to the first part of a seven-part series about the Lumiere Brothers’ first films:

  3. Congratulations on the new look, DO! Could you just make the font a bit darker, or maybe it is my cataract, but it looks dim to me.
    I had found these clips on Youtube some time back and saw them, but I see now all the little things that I didn’t see – you are definitely a keen viewer, and I love all the info that you have gathered, as well as all the comments (the coconut, for one, and the one about Taramati making sure she is caught red-handed with the Prince’s jewelry!) And yes, only you would have noticed the peculiarities in the style of writing adopted in those times.
    And lastly, how did you happen to pick up a shot of Sivaji Ganesan in one of his early roles? Are you planning to do some early Tamil films as well? I think that shot is from Parasakthi, but I could be wrong.

    • Thank you, Lalitha! Unfortunately, this new theme – it’s a WordPress theme, not something I can fiddle around with much – just about lets me decide what colour I’d like the links in (what you currently see in red). So I can’t make the font any darker. What you could do is increase the font size on your browser (if you’re using Firefox, for instance, go to View>Zoom); I’ve seen it instantly makes the text much easier to read.

      I really wanted to watch Parasakhi; in fact, it had been on my wishlist back when I used to subscribe to 70mm and rent DVDs from them. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to lay my hands on the film, though I did find some scenes from it on Youtube. That’s where I got the still from.

      And yes, I will be reviewing a Tamil film too. I’m rather looking forward to it, because I don’t remember having watched any Tamil films before. And this one is in one of my favourite genres. :-)

  4. A fabulous new look! So bright, so clear! Love it! Which Theme is this?
    What a nice way to commemorate the 100th birthday of Indian cinema! I liked the way you have reviewed the film. Your minute inspection of different aspects of the film is very endearing! I thought this film was all but lost to prosperity just like Alam Ara!
    Isn’t it interesting that V. Shantaram should take this story again for the first Marathi talkie Ayodhyecha Raja (1932). I think this film is available in all its entirety.
    I find the story of Raja Harishchandra very interesting! Not in the sense about what it is supposed to preach, but what it tells about the society at that time. The social evils and what was demed right and what was deemed wrong. Reading between the lines is very interesting.

    :-D @ “what is it with politics that attracts all these god men?!” We hear only of the people who do, but there are many who don’t! But very intersting isn’t it? Irrespective of religion, some god or godly men, have always wanted worldly powers. Maybe they think that religion if it has to guide people, it should be done by power. Very complex to be discussed here.

    You other side comments were hilarious as well. Loved the one about Salunke wanting to keep his moustache. Lovely anecdotes! It made a good read!
    Thanks Madhu for this entertaining wirte-up!

    • Thank you, Harvey! Glad you like the look (the theme is ‘Forever’) and the post.

      Raja Harischandra seems to have been mostly lost pretty early on. The longer clip that I’ve linked to, right at the end of the post, seems to have been made in the 60s (or late 50s), since it refers to Raja Harischandra as having been made 50 years earlier – but even that mentions that only the first reel and part of the fourth are preserved with the National Film Archives. Sad! But at least something is better than nothing… not like Alam Ara.

      I used to know the story of Raja Harishchandra pretty well once upon a time, because I had a children’s storybook of it. Not Amar Chitra Katha, but a regular book. Now I’ve forgotten the minute details, so your comment about “Reading between the lines is very interesting.” is a bit of an intel lob. ;-)

      I guess religious power – and I agree, this is irrespective of religion – can be heady, just like any other type of power. And a taste of that can tempt people to reach for even greater power. Political, for instance. And, of course, what you mention – about being able to influence people through the combination of religion and politics.

  5. Loved the way you have arranged the header. One from every direction, isn’t it? Lovely.
    Thank you Lalitha for identifying Parasakhti. I adore Madhabi Mukherjee in that pose. Shanta Hublikar looks great in that pose from Manoos/Aadmi. Meena Kumari in Pakeezah in the song thade rahiyo builds a bridge to my post today on my blog!

    • Thank you! As soon as I saw your post today on Meena Kumari, I thought, “That’s a coincidence!” because I was just going to publish this new theme and header. Incidentally, there’s a bridge to Richard’s blog, too – the current header on Dances on the Footpath has a frame from just approximately when I took this screenshot of Thare rahiyo.

  6. It’ll take me some time to get used to this new look (I’m slow :-)) – and yes, the font size is sth that I need to adjust on the browser I suppose – but otherwise, it’s nice to have a new look on the blog. :-) And the comments section looks much clearer too.

    I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Raja Harishchandra ever since I first read it in school at the age of 6 or 7. But here it looks like it’s much more than just the story that’s the key attraction – just seeing how a film needed to be made 100 years ago, from the technical aspects to the social aspects (not even getting actors/actresses) is all so fascinating!

    And it’s amazing that you’ve got so many pieces of trivia about the film here too. Loved them all. In fact for me, that makes the whole experience of reading this blogpost so much more pleasurable.

    And LOL at Salunke hoping to play the part of Taramati AND retain his moustache. :-)

    • You’re telling me about being slow to adjust, Raja. The friend who designed my main website has been telling me – for over a year now – to revamp this blog, largely because the comments threads on the previous theme were getting just too unwieldy. It’s taken me so long to heed his advice, simply because once I’m comfortable with something, I hate to change it. But this too will grow on me. :-)

      Much more than the film itself, the technicalities of it were what fascinated. Apparently, even the catering was done by Phalke’s wife, Saraswatibai (with the help of Anna Salunke!). Some sources say she cooked for 500 people singlehandedly daily, others 40. I’m inclined to believe the latter. Tough job, even if it was for 40 people rather than 500, and even if she had Salunke to help!

  7. Let me first say that I was (for a moment only) completely zapped when clicking on your post from my blog brought me here. I think I was completely disoriented! Didn’t I click on Madhu’s blog? was my immediate reaction before my single functioning brain cell realised you had revamped your site. Phew!

    First thought: Great header [You even have Sivaji Ganesan from Parasakthi! :) ] Looks nice and bright! Second thought: the font is too light and too small. :(

    Third thought: Good to see a review of Raja Harischandra; as always, so much background information. It’s actually more interesting than the film itself. I remember being shown bits and pieces of the film at a NFDC screening, but I don’t think I saw even as much as you did. Isn’t it a shame that we do not preserve our film heritage? :(

    I have been planning to review a Marathi film called Harischandryacha Factory for months now, but it kept getting put aside. Perhaps you can do that next. It tells the background of how Dadasaheb Phalke managed to actually make this film. Have you seen it?

    [And then I ran out of thoughts. Three is my quota for a day, or it is too much of a strain on aforementioned single brain cell.]

    • Thanks, Anu. Yes, I know the font looks a little too small and light, but that (sadly) doesn’t seem to be in my hands – WordPress can be obstinate at times. As I’ve suggested to Ava and Lalitha, try zooming in with your browser – it improves the readability quite a bit.

      “Isn’t it a shame that we do not preserve our film heritage? :(

      Yes, it’s shameful. And (as I discovered when I set about trying to find old regional language films with English subtitles) we don’t even seem to want to disseminate regional films to other parts of the country. :-(

      No, I haven’t seen Harishchandrachi Factory, though I do want to – must be fascinating. I wouldn’t review it, though, since this blog is restricted to pre-70s films.

  8. Lovely new beginning, Dusted Off. Yes, do see ‘Harishchandrachi Factory’. It’s a good watch, and fascinating to see how it all happened.

  9. Love the new look Madhu :) And I second the Harishchandrachi Factory recommendations, it is very funny too (as is Kaliya Mardan—have you seen that yet?).

    • Thanks, Greta!

      No, I haven’t seen Kaliya Mardan, though the longer clip I’ve linked to (the nearly hour-long film about Dadasaheb Phalke) does have a few clips from the film. It looked pretty amusing.:-)

  10. Madhu ji,
    Congratulations on the New Look.
    I liked the clean,specious ,simple and uncluttered look very much.
    It may take some time for us to get used to it and go about your Blog easily.
    Well done !
    -Arunkumar Deshmukh

  11. Started following just a few weeks ago. Love the content, but love the style and the level of understanding even more. Wish I knew who’s writing each post. Very curious! And the new look….awesome! Who would’ve thought, I would actually enjoy reading about old movie stuff! Well, Shammi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna, yes, but older than that, never thought! Love it!

    • Thanks a ton, Shashi! If I’ve been able to convert you into liking old cinema… well, that’s a huge compliment. Thanks so much. :-)

      By the way, all the posts here (except for very occasional guest posts, which I always credit to the writers) are written by just one person – Dustedoff, aka Madhulika Liddle. You can read more about me on the ‘About’ page.

      • You could add a little bit more about you – like what made you love the old cinema, was your family involved in your passion of old films, and did you grow up watching them. etc. You seem to enjoy both Indian ( Hate the term “Bollywood”, now synonymously being used to refer to Hindi movies) and English. How did that come about! I am not saying Indian people should/would not enjoy English films, I love them myself (As a teenager, I had already stopped watching Hindi movies that came after like 1975, when they tended to be just violent, meaningless trash. Good movies were coming few and far between. After that, I left India and lost touch until recently).
        Your critical analysis on each film is awesome – only comes from watching like a ton of movies. How many movies do think you have seen so far? I am sure you are a good writer (books) as well, based on what I’ve read so far in your blog. Way to go girl!

        • You could add a little bit more about you

          That’s a good suggestion! Thank you, I’ll do that.

          As for how many films I’ve watched… I began making a spreadsheet of all the old Hindi ones (pre-70s) a few years back, containing details of each of those films – synopses, cast, main crew, songs, trivia, and so on. Right now it’s on 320. My spreadsheet also contains a list (no other details) of all the other Hindi films – including post-1970 ones – that I’ve seen, and the total’s nearly 800. English films would probably be several hundred too, since I’ve watched loads of them over the years. International or regional cinema, not so much – maybe just a couple of dozen, sadly. :-(

  12. Even though I knew you were going to do something special this month, changing the look wasn’t one of them :-)
    And what a ‘look’!!! My favourite two women are there in the two films among my favourite. That pose of Madhabi Mukherji is just terrific, not forgetting Meena Kumari’s fabulous dance and pose of course.
    Thank you Lalitha for identifying Sivaji Ganesan because I was wondering why Kishore Kumar was looking so different.
    I thought the last picture was of Nimmi, and knowing your ardent admiration
    for her’Iwasn’t surprised’ ;-)

    Coming to the film. I watched it as soon as I saw the link in my email from Edu. But wow! You caught a lot. The two things you mentioned that I noticed were the Hindi writing, and the ‘coconut’. Yes, I too felt very emotional watching it and thinking – that’s how it all started.
    It’s very painful to think about Alam Ara.

    And all that information!!! Wonderful research DO. Loved it along with all that trivia.
    Well done!!! And Thanks! :-)

    • Nimmi? ‘ardent admiration’??! :-D

      So glad you liked the post and those bits of trivia about the film and its making, pacifist. I thought the story behind Phalke’s work was even more fascinating than the film itself.

      Thank you so much!

  13. Thank you for throwing light on the roots of Indian Cinima. I really appreciate you for the wonderful new look. Iam slightly disappointed for Telugu image not finding place on the header. I always wonder why north Indians tend to think Tamil films only represent south Indian films. But the fact is Telugu film industry is the largest producer of films after Hindhi films . Some times it out done Hindhi films. There are five phalke awardees from Telugu industry . Padma vibhushan Akkineni nageswara N T Rama rao S V Ranga rao some of the great actors known all over India. Andhra pradesh has more theatres than any other state in India . Our producers made films in hindhi and somany other Indian languages

    All this is only to create intrest in our regional Cinima

    • “Iam slightly disappointed for Telugu image not finding place on the header. I always wonder why north Indians tend to think Tamil films only represent south Indian films.

      Epstein, my friend, you are reading much more into this than was intended. ;-) – and you might get a surprise soon.

      To be very honest, when designing the header, I was looking for stills that were dramatic. I didn’t want to clutter up the header with too many stills, so I wanted a maximum of 3-4 images. The ones from Pakeezah and Charulata had been mentally ticked for many, many months, so basically I could choose two more. It just happened by chance that Manoos and Parasakthi came my way.

      Also, I’ll admit that even though I am North Indian, I do not think of South Indian films as being represented only by Tamil films. In fact, since I have watched only two South Indian films – both Malayalam, recommended by Anu – I can’t say with any authority that I prefer films made in one language over the other.

      That, actually, is part of the reason for this special month – I want to know more about regional Indian cinema, and I’m hoping I’ll get recommendations!

  14. Love the new look , the amazing header -Overall a very classy and chic look. Also loved the wonderfully informative and hilarious review. I especially like your comments :)

  15. I like the new look, it is quite stylish. As for Raja Harischandra, I have seen bits and pieces of it. I have read a great deal about Dadasaheb Phalke and his films, so I am familiar with most of what you have written but what I did not know and found amusing was the crew being arrested. Now this was when film making was unknown in the country but way back in my childhood too, I had some funny experiences, at least now they seem funny, at that time it didn’t. Children today are quite savvy about everything, back in our childhood children were quite innocent, so one day I remember I was returning from school with my friends and one of them wanted to know where my father had gone,I told her that he has gone for outdoor shooting. She was shocked, she wondered what kind of work my father did” Shooting?” she said. I then had to explain to her. I remember I was quite upset, I wondered why my father didn’t have a simple office job like everybody else— Shilpi

    • Hehe. I love that anecdote, Shilpi! Thank you for sharing it with us. I find it hard to imagine what it would have been like to be growing up with a parent so well-respected in the film industry… must have been fun, but difficult too, I guess.

      • Well Madhu let me put it this way, life was perfect. I have no complaints, when I felt he should have an office job, I was just about six years old, too young to understand anything. Actually I also got irritated that my father did not have an office address that he could put in my school diary, everbody else’s father had. Now I feel like laughing when I think of that. However my brother did get to write the Bimal Productions address, for a short while, as my father was employed there, for as long as Bimal Roy was alive, he drew a salary– Shilpi.

        • Actually I also got irritated that my father did not have an office address that he could put in my school diary, everbody else’s father had.

          That is so sweet! :-) Almost like something Bimal Roy would put in a film when showing a child. I remember, when I was a child (till about when I was 9), my father, who was in the IPS, was posted in Madhya Pradesh – then the heart of dacoit country. Every few weeks, he would go away on a tour, heading out into the Chambal Ravines – and we were not to tell anyone. My school friends used to be very puzzled when I would say that Papa wasn’t home, because to them a police officer was typically someone who sat at a desk in a police station and filled up FIRs! (Very Hindi film-like).

          • This reminds of my father’s experiences in the Chambal valley while shooting for Mujhe Jeene Do. I am sure your father has a chest full of anecdotes about his posting. Should be interesting, at least in hindsight, at that time I am sure for all of you it must have been quite scary thinking how he is doing there? I remember my mum was worried sick for dad.

  16. Like the new style, glad its only in looks and not in writing style ;)

    The Punjabi film most familiar to me from the 1950s is “Do Lachhian” simply because the music/songs and singing is so amazing (Rafi, Shamshad begum, AND Lata).
    Apparently it was a flourishing industry before Partition, based in Calcutta!!! and Lahore, but for some reason never really took off after that blow. I am sure I have seen more but I can’t remember their titles. If I come up with any worthwhile memory, will let you know.

    • The writing style would never change, Bawa! That’s too much a part of me. :-)

      Thank you for the recommendation – I’d been looking for help on Punjabi films, because (even though not too many seem to have been subtitled) that’s one language I’m somewhat familiar with. And if I don’t understand something, I can always get my husband to help, since he does know Punjabi! Will look forward to any more that you recall.

      • There was a good one with Balraj Sahni in it from the 60s, but I cannot recall the name.
        Trivia: Did I ever tell you that one of my grandfather (dadaji’s) earliest entrepreneur ventures consisted of having a couple of camels, loaded with a projector and some films, and taking it around the Punjab village hinterlands to screen them? He had a partner, but apparently, unfortunately, there was a severe dust storm (nehri) one day, and the camels ran off along with the equipment. I guess someone found them, but it was not my grandad! That was the end of that. This must have been in the early 30s I think.

        He also worked in a cinema many years later, collecting money at the door, locking the door once everyone was in (no safety laws in the those days), and then going up to run the projector. One man-manager, so the theatre owner made a lot of profit. My father helped him out after school, but being too short, had to stand on a crate to run and change the reels. This must have been starting in 38-39, and the cinema was Manju cinema in Ludhiana.

        My father still remembers mixing up the reels of one Sabu film, and no one could make head or tail of what was going on. And he said people would throw money to the screen if there was a courtesan dancing scene.

        • Bawa, thank you so much. I simply loved those anecdotes! I can just imagine the camels running off with the equipment, or your father standing on a crate, or people throwing money when a mujra came on. That’s the stuff cinema is made of – or was made of, I should say. I guess audiences have become less childlike in their enjoyment of films, at least in the larger cities…

          Was the Balraj Sahni starrer Nanak Naam Jahaaz Hai? When I was doing some research and trying to find landmark films of different languages, that was one name that kept cropping up.

          • No, Nanak Naam Jahaz Hai created enormous waves, being the first film to take on the so far untouchable topic of Sikh gurus/religion on screen. Its music is lovely – won the National Award that year- shabads sung beautifully by Rafi and Asha in brand new tunes.
            I think the movie I mean (also a national award winner) is Satluj de Kande. Music was by the same composer as for Do Lachhian. Balraj Sahni is always good to watch. Think I saw it on DD.
            Yes, my grandfather tried his hand at a lot of different things trying to make more money than what the land would give, but he was always unlucky (or too far ahead of his times!!) The Manju cinema came about after the family had shifted to Ludhiana (that’s another story involving my Dad!)

            • Yes, my grandfather tried his hand at a lot of different things trying to make more money than what the land would give, but he was always unlucky (or too far ahead of his times!!)

              Ah, that sounds very familiar! My great-grandfather was somewhat along the same lines – he tried everything from poultry farming (which turned out to be a pretty successful venture) to a small-scale soap factory (which didn’t). Thankfully, he seems to have been mostly successful at his ventures, so it did benefit the family in the long run…

              I found this song from Satluj de Kande on Youtube. Lovely:

              I do want to see this film now. Will have to check Induna…

              • I remember the songs mostly! Hope you find it, songs were lovely.

                We have to get together to swop grandfather stories :). Mine also opened an electrical shop because electricity was announced for a certain date to come, but there was a long delay- years- and so he had an electrical goods shop in a city with no electricity! Dad said he was given all the bills etc. printed for the shop to write on the reverse for studying when there was a rationing/shortage due to WWII.

  17. Hi Madhu, Congratulations for the concise and observant review of ‘Raja Harishchandra’. The behind-the-scene anecdotes that you have mentioned and many more are shown in the wonderful Marathi movie: ” Harishchandrachi Factory”. I am sure that you will enjoy it immensely when you watch it :-)

    As far as the Hindi inter-titles go (“What’s more, a number of conjunctions are written as part of the preceding word—something I’ve never seen done before”), they are clearly based on Marathi Grammar as Mr. Phalake was a Maharashtrian! In Marathi they are called as “Vibhakti Pratyay” and are always attached to the preceding noun. In fact, when we learn to write Hindi sentences, this is the mistake (?!) that all Marathi speaking people do as in Hindi you are supposed to write them separately.

    BTW, like the new look of the blog immensely….

    • Anjali, thanks so much for the explanation of why the conjunctions in the Hindi intertitles formed part of the previous word in Raja Harischandra. I had been puzzling over that, and wondering if it was just a reflection of how Hindi has changed. (Incidentally, when I was watching the much-later Rattan, I came across this dialogue: “Gulabjamunein kitni achhi thheen, hain na?” Nowadays, one would never say that – in fact, I guess most people would think that was downright incorrect).

  18. Madhu,
    My compliments on the new look DO. Very pleasing to the eyes and very elegant. The font is not a problem for new machines which allow zooming by just swiping by fingers.

    Wonderfully researched and written article. It make us sad that so much of our precious legacy we have lost. Whatever is available is also in such a poor shape. When we see a Hollywood film of 1930s, the contrast with Hindi films in terms of quality of print is so glaring.

    Looking forward to your series.

    • Thank you, AK! Glad you liked this.

      Yes, it’s terrible, the way we’ve neglected our cinema. Just watching the beautiful condition of the Lumiere films – which are actually a good deal older than Raja Harischandra – made me wince at the relatively bad print quality of the latter.

  19. 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! In 1918, Phalke released Shree Krishna Janma which is still surviving partially in National Film Archive in Pune. Higher success are more resources helped Phalke to experiment with his film and camera.

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