This Day in History (3-May-1913) – India’s first fully indigenous silent four-reel feature film ‘Raja Harishchandra’ was released

Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, more generally known as Dadasaheb Phalke worked in the Archaelogical Society of India and then as a printer before staking everything he had on making a film. He quit his printing press career and went to London to learn the technicals of making a movie. He bought a camera, a printing machine, a perforator and raw film and started making of ‘Raja Harishchandra’.

His advertisements seeking handsome actors for the lead role brought so much amateur and inadequate talent that Phalke was forced to add a line saying “ugly faces need not apply.” Dattatraya Dabke, a Marathi stage actor played the lead role of Harischandra. Phalke was forced to cast a male actor, Anna Salunke, in the role of queen Taramati because acting was not considered a decent profession for women. He found Salunke in a restaurant, working as a cook. His only female applicants for the role were prostitutes from Mumbai’s red-light areas, but even they backed out eventually.  Phalke’s son Bhalachandra donned the role of Rohtash, son of Harischandra.  Sage Vishwamitra’s role was played by G.V. Sane. His cast and crew were told to say they were working in Phalke’s “factory” while filming took place.

Although a silent film with intertitles in English and Hindi, its cast and staff was Marathi and it is therefore, often regarded as the first Marathi film as well. Dada Saheb Phalke, who eventually came to don the title “father of Indian Cinema” was the director, script writer and producer of the film. His wife handled much of the technical details  Only one print of the film was made and shown at the Coronation Cinematograph in Mumbai for 23 days. Phalke also preceded the film with a dance performance by two European girls for the first few days, as a marketing strategy. The movie was also shown in London in 1914. It was a commercial success and paved the way for more such films. Phalke was greatly influenced by the style of painter Raja Ravi Verma in the making of his films. Just as Verma brought Hindu mythology on canvas, Phalke brought it in motion pictures.



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