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The film closely follows the story of Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra

Cinema and movie making is constantly changing, and the result is in front of us we've come a long way from silent black and white short movies to high definition, colour, 5-D movies. It has evolved for the last 108 years and continues to grow. India's first auteur-filmmaker Dhundiraj Govind Phalke popularly known as Dadasahen Phalke directed and produced India's first feature film Raja Harishchandra which was a hundred per cent made by the Indian crew. The movie was released in Bombay's (Mumbai) Coronation Theatre on the 3rd of May 1913 under the label of being India's first home production, full-length film.

Raja Harishchandra was the first to be 'acted, directed and produced by an all-Indian team. Phalke's inspiration to make a "Swadeshi" movie comes from when he viewed the silent movie, "The Life of Christ" in 1911. He wrote in Navayug, November 1917 that While the Life of Christ was rolling fast before my physical eyes, I was mentally visualizing the gods, Shri Krishna, Shri Ramachandra, their Gokul and Ayodhya… He wanted to feel the connection with the movies but that connection failed to form as the context of the movie was foreign.

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The Making

Phalke went to London the very next year to learn about filmmaking techniques. He even imported the hardware required for filmmaking to India from England, France, Germany, and the United States of America. Upon his return to India, he founded Phalke Films Company. Phalke published classified in various newspapers for the cast and crew to apply, what's unique about the film was that even the female roles were played by male actors this happened as no women were available for the role.

Phalke was a one-man crew for the production, he was in charge of writing script, direction, production design, make-up, film editing along with film processing. The filming of the whole movie took six months and 27 days.

Anna Salunke The female roles were played by male actors in the movieWikimedia Commons


As the name itself suggests the film closely follows the story of Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra from the Vedas who is known to be the epitome of truth as maharishi Vishvamitra makes him go through numerous torturous tests to prove himself.

The story goes as Raja (King) Harishchandra was teaching his son, Rohitashva how to shoot with a bow and arrow as Queen Taramati watches over her son and husband. Later the people of the Kingdom request the king to go on a hunting expedition as the animals have been creating havoc. While on the hunt, Harishchandra hears the cries of some women. Upon following the voice Harishchnadra discovers the sage Vishwamitra was performing a yajna to get help from Triguna Shakti (three powers) against their will. After witnessing the sight Harishchandra revolts and interrupts the sage, which infuriates the egoistic sage. To calm his wrath Harishchandra offers to sacrifice his kingdom to the sage. He informs his queen of the events and the family is exiled from the kingdom by Vishvamitra. The sage asks the poor king for Dakshina within the time period of 48 days. While in exile Rohitashva meets his demise, the king asks his wife to visit Dom king in the hope of free cremation only to face more difficulties on the path Vishvamitra frames her for the murder of the prince of Kashi. Taramati faces trial, pleads guilty and is ordered to be beheaded by Harishchandra. With a torn heart but as he could not turn away from his duty, the king raises his sword to behead his wife, Lord Shiva appears, and it is revealed that all the difficulties they have been going throw were the tests laid down by Vishvamitra to test the integrity of the king, Harishchandra gets back his kingdom, his son is brought back to life and the movie ends.

A legacy of the century

Only a handful of "firsts/indigenous" movies made in India have survived the century. Raja Harishchandra being one of them still holds the same meaning and inspiration for its audience as it did a century ago. Film historian Firoze Rangoonwalla describes the film's impact on the public as "a wide impression and appealed to a large audience in different places" and its box office success provided "the seal of acceptance and laid the foundation of the film industry" in the country.

ALSO READ: History deformation: Challenging time for filmmakers in India

The Debate

The debate over whether Raja Harishchandra is truly the first full-length Indian feature film has been argued over for decades. Some film historians claim that Shree Pundalik by Dadasaheb Torne was released in the same theatre a year before Raja Harishchandra was the maiden Indian Film. However, other historians differ they argue that Shree Pundalik is a simple cinematographic recording filmed by a British cameraman on a single fixed camera, and later processed in London. On the other hand, Raja Harishchandra was completely made in India, from cameraman to final editing of the movie. Thus, it has recognition from the government of India as the first Indian feature film.

Keywords: Filmmaking, India's first feature film, Raja Harishchandra, Dadasaheb Phalke, filmmakers in India



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