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Remembering India’s First Feature Film – Raja Harishchandra

Jul 07, 2018

Remembering India’s First Feature Film – Raja Harishchandra
Remembering India’s First Feature Film – Raja Harishchandra | Credit: Indiatoday

Films are an integral part of our lives. Right from childhood, we Indians grow up on a staple diet of entertaining and thought-provoking films that influence our lifestyles and outlook. Today, Indian films are gaining global recognition for their technical brilliance and unique sensibilities. In fact, Indian films offer insights to foreigners about our society and our way of living. On the whole, the role of films in our lives and in our current society is very significant.

It is also a fact that the biggest celebrities in our country are movie stars and many people dream of making it big in the movie industry as actors and technicians. People prepare themselves to go through any amount of struggle to realise their dreams of being a part of Indian films. Such is the craze for films!

Amidst this entire craze, do we ever look back and see where it all started? Do you know what India’s first feature film was? Well, let us find out.

The very first full-length Indian feature film is ‘Raja Harishchandra’. The film is based on the story of Harishchandra who is known for his integrity and sacrifice. There is quite an interesting and inspiring story behind this film.

Credit: Itsmajja
Credit: Itsmajja

It all started when Dadasaheb Phalke went to watch ‘Amazing Animals’ along with his elder son at the America India Picture Palace. Looking at animals on the screen, his son was surprised and fascinated and told his mother about what they had seen. When they refused to believe, Phalke took the whole family to another film on Easter. This was ‘The Life of Christ’. While watching this film, Phalke imagined the story of Hindu gods being told and this inspired him to make a movie.

This was the beginning of a passionate struggle for Phalke. He quit his job at a printing press to follow his dreams. He travelled to London to learn filmmaking and started his venture ’Phalke Films' on his return. Failing to find investors, he made a short film called ‘Growth of a Pea Plant' that showed how a plant grew from a seed. He made this to showcase his technical skills and the equipment that he had acquired for filmmaking.

Once he managed to get some loans, he started the process of making the film. But, that was only the start of another struggle. He sold all his belongings and his wives jewels saving only her mangalsutra for his ambitious project. This was he himself is often compared to king Harishchandra.

Credit: Ithankyou
Credit: Ithankyou

Casting for the film was another challenge that Phalke faced. With most of the public seeing films as a dubious medium, no one was ready to be a part of it. Especially, women actors were impossible to find. Phalke is said to have roamed about in red-light areas looking for prostitutes who would be interested to act in his film. He finally cast Anna Salunke, a man, as the female lead in the movie. The titular role was played by Dattatraya Dabke. The role of Harsihchandra’s son required a child actor and no one was ready to allow their children to act. So, Phalke’s son Bhalchandra played that role and became the first child actor of Indian cinema.

With most of the actors having no prior acting experience, Phalke took on the responsibility of bringing out performances in them. He took care of almost all departments of filmmaking and completed the film in six months and 27 days.

He was known to have worked day and night to manage all aspects. In fact, when his son injured himself seriously and fell unconscious and people advised him to postpone the shoot and get his son treated, he decided against it. He thought that if he postponed the shoot then it would cause too much of a delay. Since his son’s scene was to play a dead child in the movie at that point, they actually shot the scene with an unconscious Bhalchandra.

Upon its release, the film garnered positive reviews from critics. Though some regions saw a lukewarm response, Phalke’s unique marketing of making the actors enact scenes at crossroads and his advertisements paid off. The film turned into a commercial success.

Isn’t that an inspiring story? It is no wonder that Dadasaheb Phalke is known as the Father of Indian Cinema.