In the era when theatres showed live plays and foreign films, a man decided to show an Indian film for the first time. This visionary was Ramchandra Gopal Torne, better known by contemporaries as Dadasaheb Torne. He was responsible for making the very first movie in India. He alogwith Narayan Govind Chitre, Ramrao Kirtikar , R. P. Tipnis and Cameraman Johnson, produced a long theatrical film ‘Pundalik’. Film was directed by Dadasaheb Torney. The entire film was shot in a theatre at Mangaldas Wadi in Bombay, where the Sangit Mandali, a professional theatre group, was performing a play ‘Pundalik’.
Dadasaheb Torne, a school dropout in from Malwan, learnt the skills for repairing instruments and installing electrical devices. His love for Marathi plays and foreign movies, gave him the idea of making a movie in India. He was just 21 or 22 years old when he convinced his friend Chitre to finance, in order to procure raw film reels and a movie camera from a British company. Although, no one knew how to use the new machine. The British camera company offered to send a man for operating the camera. This British man, named Johnson, became the first cinematographer for a movie made in India. Pundalik was a silent film without dialogue. Chitre and Ramrao Kirtikar wrote the shooting script.
Shree Pundalik was sent overseas for processing by Dadasaheb Torne. Torne’s Pundalik was about 1,500 feet or about 22 minutes long. The film had a shooting script, was shot with a camera, and its negatives were sent to London for processing. Positives were produced and finally released at Coronation Cinematograph, Girgaum. The film ran for two weeks. Some have argued that Pundalik does not deserve the honour of being called the first Indian film because it was a photographic recording of a popular Marathi play, and because the cameraman—a man named Johnson—was a British national and the film was processed in London. Detractors argue that Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra, which was released nearly a year later, is more deserving of the title of the first Indian film.
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.