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Glamsham Classic Rewind: RAJA HARISHCHANDRA

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Glamsham introduces Classic Rewind series where movie critic, feature writer and columnist Vishal Verma will revisit Indian / World cinema since its origin and highlight its relevance in today’s times.

Beginning from where cinema became an undying passion in our lives and created livelihood for generations after generations, RAJA HARISHCHANDRA by the father of Indian cinema Dada Saheb Phalke.

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RAJA HARISHCHANDRA the 1913 Indian silent film, directed and produced by Dadasaheb Phalke, is recognized by Government of India as the first Indian feature film (though a section has a second opinion and believes Dadasaheb Torne's silent film SHREE PUNDALIK, released on 18 May 1912 to be the first Indian feature). RAJA HARISHCHANDRA features Dattatraya Damodar Dabke, Anna Salunke, Bhalchandra Phalke, and Gajanan Vasudev Sane and is based on the legend of Harishchandra, with Dabke portraying the title character. The film, being silent, had English and Hindi-language slates coming in between.

Significance/relevance in today’s times
It was the decision taken by a painter after watching THE LIFE OF CHRIST (1906) at a theatre in Mumbai, the passion to learn filmmaking techniques turned into an obsession and it is said that Phalke started visualizing Indian Gods in moving pictures. Phalke Films Company was formed and from here the passion and obsession for Indian cinema based on mythological stories began. RAJA HARISHCHANDRA laid the foundation for the ICMU Indian cinematic mythological universe) which is today awed by the world of Rajamouli – BAAHUBALI etc., Sanjay Leela Bhansali – PADMAAVAT etc., even the erstwhile flag bearer of bubbly, urban feel good romance – Karan Johar is fascinated, his upcoming TAKTH is said to be based on Mughal’s. Right from the silent movies based on Indian mythology to the talkie ones like the legendary Sohrab Modi’s 1941 SIKANDER – starring Prithviraj Kapoor as Alexander the Great and the Sohrab Modi as Indian King Puru to K. Asif’s pure gold – MUGHAL-E-AZAM in those era to Ashutosh Gowariker’s JODHA AKBAR etc. Not to forget the record breaking socials based on Indian mythology – JAI SANTOSHI MAA, the world of television awed by Indian mythology since Ramanand Sagar’s RAMAYANA, B. R. Chopra’s MAHABHARATA, mythology and legends from the great Indian epics Ramayana, Mahabharata had ruled and will continue to do. All the passion and obsession for mythologies on silver screen is infused by Dadasaheb Phalke’s RAJA HARISHCHANDRA, the short 3,700 feet (1,100 m), movie in four reels that was completed in six months and 27 days.

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Technical expertise in very first movie
Unbelievable!! Dadasaheb Phalke is hailed as the Father of Indian Cinema and it’s not an achievement meant just for archives and records. RAJA HARISHCHANDRA is not just the first Indian feature, the movie achieves some significant technical finesse that the world of Indian cinema still adapts even after 100 years!!! Let’s take a look at those landmarks in filmmaking set by RAJA HARISHCHANDRA

Trick Photography
Said to be influenced by the man behind special effects – the French legend Georges Melies who introduced multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted colour in filmmaking, Dadasaheb Phalke used this influence in RAJA HARISHCHANDRA in a scene where the God appears and disappears from behind the smoke of sage Vishvamitra's Yajna-kund by using negative stocks.

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Introductory episodes
Like a theatre, RAJA HARISCHANDRA had introductory episode where Dada Saheb Phalke played the Sutradhar and Padurang Gadhadhar Sane played Nati.

Single shot scenes
A phenomenon later adapted by masters like Satyajit Ray, Guru Dutt, etc. Dadasaheb Phalke’s penchant for single long shots is incredible, the ‘God’ scene, the ‘hunting’ scene and more…

Use of light and the fondness for outdoors
Dada Saheb Phalke in RAJA HARISHCHANDRA displayed his remarkable understanding of lights, having a fondness for outdoor, Phalke used a unique technique by blocking sunlight by using different techniques and also at paces where it demanded used direct sunlight. Dada Saheb Phalke is hailed as a genius when it comes to tonal gradation, lighting and camera movements.

Love for Parsi theatre, the man who influenced K. Asif, Shorab Modi etc.
Dada Saheb Phalke’s RAJA HARISHCHANDRA had traditional Indian folk theatre style, the influence from Parsi Theatre has remained and Indian gems like K. Asif’s MUGHAL-E-AZAM, Shorab Modi’s cinema etc. paid their pious tribute to the legacy.

Description plates in two languages
Before the appearance of sound with ALAM ARA (1931) there where inserts between shots explaining the plot. RAJA HARISHCHANDRA introduced the practice of plates in different languages – the reason we started having our movie titles in English and Hindi later. The language plates in RAJA HARISHCHANDRA was in good Hindi and English.

First family movie
RAJA HARISHCHANDRA saw the involvement of the entire Phalke household – wife Saraswati Phalke, eight children (five sons and three daughters) were all involved in the filmmaking process, with Saraswati handling some of the technical process including developing the film. His daughter, Mandakini Phalke, was in fact one of the first female actresses on the Indian screen at a time when acting in films was a much-derided profession. Dadasaheb Phalke was the director, producer, screenwriter, editor, art director, costume designer and make-up artist.

Unique marketing technique
Debates are welcome but the truth is marketing is a must but it should not be forced and unnecessary. The pioneer of Indian cinema Dada Saheb Phalke introduced an interesting way to spread awareness about his maiden venture – RAJA HARISHCHANDRA. Here it goes…

“Raja Harishchandra. A performance with 57,000 photographs. A picture two miles long. All for only three annas”

This is how the father of Indian cinema Dada Saheb Phalke made the announcement of the arrival of his first child. Dada Saheb Phalke was also a marketing wizard.

Climax or anticlimax, or call it the world’s greatest irony – the greatest tragedy on earth
It is said that the world’s biggest and the most loved love stories are those, which are incomplete. Romeo and Juliet, Laila Majnu etc. It’s the world’s greatest irony that you won’t find the entire 4 reels of RAJA HARISHCHANDRA. In 1917, the film's last print caught fire due to the constant friction and the exposure to high temperatures while it was being transported from one theatre to another, by a bullock cart. Though it was re-shot, only the first and last reels of the original film are preserved at the National Film Archive of India (NFAI). The first show of RAJA HARISHCHANDRA was held at Bombay's Olympia Picture Palace on April 21, 1913 (so private previews is a norm that began with the birth of Indian cinema). Later on May 3, 1913 RAJA HARISHCHANDRA was available for public at Coronation Cinematograph and Variety Hall, Sandhurst Road, Girgaum, Bombay. And the rest is history.

In upcoming Glamsham Classic Rewind, after the father of Indian cinema – Dadasaheb Phalke’s RAJA HARISCHANDRA, The father of Asian cinema – Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI will be discussed.

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