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Dadasaheb Phalke Biography

Dadasaheb Phalke Biography

దాదాసాహెబ్ ఫాల్కే జీవిత చరిత్ర 

Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, popularly known as Dadasaheb (30 April 1870 – 16 February 1944), was an Indian producer-director-screenwriter, known as the Father of Indian cinema. His debut film, Raja Harishchandra, which was the first Marathi cinema, was the first Indian movie in 1913, and is now known as India's first full-length feature. He made 95 feature-length films and 27 short films in his career, spanning 19 years, until 1937, including his most noted works: Mohini Bhasmasur (1913), Satyavan Savitri (1914), Lanka Dahan (1917), Shri Krishna Janma (1918) and Kaliya Mardan (1919).

Early Life and Education

Dhundiraj Phalke was born on 30 April 1870 at Trimbak, Maharashtra (then Bombay Presidency) into a Marathi-speaking Chitpavan Brahmin family.His father, Govind Sadashiv alias Dajishastri, was a Sanskrit scholar and worked as a priest conducting religious ceremonies and his mother, Dwarkabai, was a housewife. family shifted its base to Mumbai (then Bombay). Phalke completed his primary education in Trimbakeshwar and matriculation was done in Mumbai.

Phalke joined the Sir J. J. School of Art, Mumbai in 1885 and completed a one-year course in drawing. Later, he joined Kala Bhavan, the Faculty of Fine Arts, at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda and completed a course in Oil painting and Watercolor painting in 1890. In the same year, Phalke bought a film camera and started experimenting with photography, processing, and printing. He was awarded a gold medal for creating a model of an ideal theatre at the 1892 Industrial Exhibition of Ahmedabad.

In 1891, Phalke did a six-months course to learn the techniques of preparing half-tone blocks, photo-lithio, and three-colour ceramic photography.Principal Gajjar of Kala Bhavan sent Phalke to Ratlam to learn three-colour blockmaking, photolitho transfers, colotype and darkroom printing techniques under the guidance of Babulal Varuvalkar. in 1895, he decided to become a professional photographer and relocated to Godhra for doing business. His business did not do well in Godhra and he lost his wife and a child in the 1900 plague epidemic in the city.

Phalke returned to Baroda and started the business of painting the stage curtains for the drama companies. This got him some basic training in drama production and fetched him a few minor roles in the plays. Phalke learned magic tricks from a German magician who was on a tour in Baroda that time. This helped him use trick photography in his filmmaking. In 1902, Phalke remarried to Girija Karandikar, Girija was renamed as Saraswati after the marriage. In 1903, he got a job as a photographer and draftsman at the Archaeological Survey of India. However, not satisfied with the job, Phalke resigned in 1906 and set up a printing press at Lonavla under the name of "Phalke Engraving and Printing Works" with R. G. Bhandarkar as a partner.Later the press was shifted to Dadar, Mumbai. Phalke went to Germany in 1909 to buy the necessary colour printing machinery.Though the printing business grew exponentially, the partners had increasing differences about the running of the press. 

Filmmaking struggle, debut, and success

After quitting "Laxmi Art Printing Works", Phalke received multiple offers from various financiers to start another printing press but he did not accept any offers. On 15 April 1911, Phalke with his family theatre, As it was Easter, the theatre screened a film about Jesus, The Life of Christ (1906) by the French director Alice Guy-Blaché. While watching Jesus on the screen, Phalke envisioned Hindu deities Rama and Krishna instead and decided to start in the business of "moving pictures".For the next one year, Phalke started collecting various film related material like catalogues, books, and movie making equipment from Europe. He bought a small film camera and reels and started showing movies at night. Phalke wished to go to London to get technical knowledge of filmmaking but had difficulties getting finances for his trip. With the help of Yashwantrao Nadkarni and Abasaheb Chitnis, he secured a sum of ten thousands by mortgaging his insurance policies worth twelve thousands. On 1 February 1912, he boarded a ship for London.

At London, Phalke saw a nameboard of "Bioscope Cine-Weekly" near Piccadilly Circus. He was a subscriber of the weekly in India. He met its editor, Mr. Kepburn, and explained the purpose of his visit. However, he was impressed with Phalke's dedication and introduced him to the film director, producer, and screenwriter Cecil Hepworth of Walton Studios. At the advice of Kepburn and Hepworth, he bought Williamson camera for fifty pounds and placed an order for Kodak raw film and a perforator. Phalke stayed in London for two weeks and returned to India on 1 April 1912. He founded the "Phalke Films Company" on the same day.

Film debut with Raja Harishchandra

Phalke decided to make a short film. He planted some peas in a pot and placed a camera in front of it. He shot one frame a day for over a month producing a film just over one minute, of the seed growing, sprouting, and changing into a climber. The short film titled Ankurachi Wadh (Growth of a Pea Plant) and was showed selective individuals. Some of them, including Yashwantrao Nadkarni and Narayanrao Devhare, offered Phalke a loan.

Phalke decided to make a film based on the legends of Harishchandra and wrote the script for it. As no women were available to play female leads, male actors performed the female roles. he filming was completed in six months and 27 days producing a film of 3,700 feet (1,100 m), about four reels. The film premiered at the Olympia Theatre, Mumbai on 21 April 1913, and had its theatrical release on Saturday, 3 May 1913 at the Coronation Cinema, Girgaon, Mumbai. The Government of India recognises Raja Harischandra as the first Indian feature film.

After the success of Raja Harishchandra, Phalke relocated to Nashik. he started working on Mohini Bhasmasur, based on a mythological story of Mohini, female avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, and Bhasmasura, an asura (demon). Durgabai Kamat was cast as Parvati and her daughter Kamlabai Gokhale as Mohini and became first women to act in the Indian cinema. The film wasreleased on 2 January 1914 at the Olympia Theatre, Mumbai. Phalke made his third film Satyavan Savitri based on the legends of Satyavan and Savitri. Both the films were commercially successful like Raja Harishchandra.

Soon silent films developed into a potential medium and also proved their financial viability. Therefore entrepreneurs approached him and he opened a film company ‘Hindustan Films’ in partnership with five businessmen from Mumbai. The primary agenda of the businessmen was to gain profits while he solely focused on the creative aspect of filmmaking which led to difference of opinions and he resigned from the company in 1920. Although after some time, he returned to the film company and directed some films, he never really understood or appreciated the profit aspect of filmmaking and eventually left the company again. His last silent movie was ‘Setubandhan’ (1932).

In 1937, he directed his first sound film ‘Gangavataran’ which also proved to be the last film of his career. With the introduction of sound in cinema and the new diversified ways of filmmaking, his work lost admiration and eventually he took retirement from filmmaking. In his 19 years of film making career, he made 95 movies and 26 short films. His other motion picture works include ‘Rajrishi Ambarish’ (1922), ‘Ram Maruti Yuddha’ (1923), ‘Guru Dronacharya’ (1923), ‘Ashwathama’ (1923), ‘Shivajichi Agryahun Sutaka’ (1924), ‘Satyabhama’ (1925), ‘Ram Rajya Vijay’ (1926), ‘Bhakta Pralhad’ (1926), ‘Hanuman Janma’ (1927), ‘Draupadi Vashtraharan’ (1927),‘Parshuram’ (1928), ‘Sant Mirabai’ (1929) and ‘Kabir Kamal’ (1930).


The Dadasaheb Phalke Award, for lifetime contribution to cinema, was instituted in his honour by the Government of India in 1969. A postage stamp bearing his likeness was released by India Post to honour him in 1971. An honorary award from the Dadasaheb Phalke Academy Mumbai was introduced in the year 2001, for lifetime achievement in Indian cinema.

Last days

The times changed and Phalke fell victim to the emerging technology of sound film. Unable to cope with the talkies, the man who had fathered the Indian film industry became obsolete. His last silent film Setubandhan was released in 1932 and later released with dubbing. During 1936–1938, he produced his last film Gangavataran (1937) which was the only talking movie directed by Phalke, before retiring to Nashik, where he died on 16 February 1944. 

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