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HARISHCHANDRACHI FACTORY, a film on Phalke - Rare glimpse

December 1, 2009 2:53:47 PM IST
Shoma A. Chatterji, TWF, Bollywood Trade News Network
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HARISHCHANDRACHI FACTORY, India's official entry to the 82nd Academy Awards, is a fictionalized account of legendary Dadasaheb Phalke's life. It also marks Paresh Mokashi's transition from Marathi theatre to Marathi cinema.

Dadasaheb Phalke's Rajah Harishchandra set a milestone in Indian film industry by making the country's first full length film and marked the country's entry into the world of motion picture. Paresh Mokashi's HARISHCHANDRACHI FACTORY is a look at the man and filmmaker. Mokashi has been associated with Marathi theatre for over the past 20 years, his work experimental, yet vivid and humourous.

The film opens when Phalke abandons his well-established printing press after a tiff with his business partner, promising to himself that he would never go back to the business of printing again. With two growing boys and a wife to take care of, he wanders around the streets of Dadar in Mumbai looking for a job. He accidentally stumbles across a tent theatre that was screening a silent motion picture called LIFE OF CHRIST (1910). From then on, he is obsessed with the idea of making the first Indian motion picture and he does it with Rajah Harishchandra. Mokashi's film ends when success greets Phalke after the release of the film. It made international headlines after its maiden screening on 3 May, 1913, at Mumbai's Coronation Theatre as serpentine queues formed outside the theatre, including British officers and their wives.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting instituted the Lifetime Achievement Award after him, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, in 1969 to honour pillars of Indian cinema for their lifetime contribution to the field.

Mokashi insists that he never had the Oscars in mind when he decided to make the film. Marathi was the obvious choice because it is his mother tongue, and more importantly, Phalke was a Maharashtrian. "He was a very witty person with a sharp sense of humour. He took all kinds of problems in his stride without complaining and refused to be bogged down by fear of failure. Here was a man who had achieved so much, took so many risks yet was never overwhelmed. It's this aspect of his life that appealed to me," says Mokashi who is into objective research on ancient scriptures like the Vedas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharat.

True to his idea about the man he set out to rescue from history and recreate for the modern generation from a light-hearted and humorous perspective. HARISHCHANDRACHI FACTORY shows a simple young man, content with wife and two kids, trying to achieve what then seemed the impossible. Nandu Madhav gives a sparkling performance as Phalke.

Mokashi invests the film with a happy and cheerful mood, refusing to reduce it to a serious and grave film loaded with an information overload and short on entertainment. Entertainment, in fact, keeps the flag flying for HARISHCHANDRACHI FACTORY.

Why the title 'factory' for a movie-making business? An amusing scene in the film explains this. When Phalke is all set to recruit people for his film, some people willing to work tell him that their families do not like it because filmmaking is a socially unacceptable profession. "Just tell them you are joining a factory," Phalke says. When he advertises for crew, porters also come in and he decides not to put advertisements any more.

As Phalke starts his work, the ambience in his home changes completely. His wife and two boys help him out in every way, elaborating on the strong family bond the Phalkes shared. In one scene, when Phalke enters the kitchen, picks up a heavy brass vessel and rushes out, his wife calls after him, with despair but without anger "Can't you at least tell me before selling things away?". As he recovers from his brief struggle with blindness, his wife breaks the news of her pregnancy. Phalke is delighted. The family is even forced to move out of a house once because the tradition-bound neighbourhood is scandalized by the unusual ways of the Phalke household.

Shot almost entirely at Nitin Desai's sophisticated studio in Mumbai, HARISHCHANDRACHI FACTORY recreates a time and place in the city a century ago which is both aesthetic and convincing. We witness a Dadar in (then) Bombay we cannot associate with its present avatar. It looks like a small town, with empty streets, simple people, shorn of traffic jams, teeming crowds or honking cars. The interiors of Phalke's home at different times stand as historical testimony to his slow but steady growth till his final success.

The cinematography makes generous use of sunny tones like yellow, brown, orange, red and amber, in tune with the cheerful and amusing mood of the film. Mokashi has also recreated a simulation of the black-and-white film Phalke made to source funds for his project. Clippings from archives of newspapers are used as are photographs from the original Rajah Harishchandra.

The film ends on a beautiful note of hope and delight. After the success of Rajah Harischandra, toy makers begin to manufacture movable toys with hinged joints. The camera closes on a wooden green parrot with movable wings pointing out how one form of creative art leads to the birth of another. "You can't treat cinema as a money-making machine any more. We see a new approach towards making films today. The best part of this whole process is that we are coming up with novel subjects we believe in to make realistic cinema that is neither parallel nor art cinema but are economically viable without which we can't continue to make films," contends Mokashi.

HARISHCHANDRACHI FACTORY proves that a film with high production values that recreates a historical person and period can offer wholesome entertainment without dotting the narrative with negative characters, without item numbers and without a drop of blood to scar the film.

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