May 14, 2017: May 3, 1917, was a marking event not only in the acting sector at the inception of Bollywood but also the entire country as a whole. The first full-length Indian feature film ‘Raja Harishchandra’ was released today. It was produced by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, who we now affectionately call Dada Saheb Palkhe.
It was a silent film, implying it had no audio and the actors expressed through their gestures. With a running time of 40 minutes, it was just made with a diminutive budget of 20,000 rupees.
The story as the name suggests was an adaptation of the Hindu mythological story of Raja Harishchandra. It is said that he sacrificed his kingdom, wife and child only to keep his promise to a saint and preserve his self-righteous attitude.
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Later, the saint called Rishi Vishwamitra who had actually done all this to check the honesty of Harishchandra and gave him his kingdom, wife and son back. He was also blessed with divinity.
The film made us watch Dattatraya Damodar Dabke in the role of Harischandra and Anna Saluke, a male actor playing the role of his wife, Taramati. It was tough for the Phalke to convince any decent female actress because acting as a profession at that time was not considered a dignified job.
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The movie was screened in a single theatre, Coronation Cinematograph. He promoted the movie with a catchy phrase – “Raja Harishchandra: A performance with 57,000 photographs. A picture two miles long. All for only three annas. This film encouraged the creation of more and longer films and help increase female participation.
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Raja Harishchandra is still remembered with great love and respect among the Indian film fraternity. There have been multiple attempts at restoring the original reels, but only the first and last remain. The story of the making of the film was told in another feature – Harishchandrachi Factory, in 2009.
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