Dadasaheb Phalke: The Father of Indian Cinema

Do you know why India’s highest cinema award is given in the name of Dadasaheb Phalke?

So we all know about the most prestigious and coveted award of Indian cinema “Dadasaheb Phalke Award” but most of us do not know much about Dadasaheb, his life and his contribution to Indian cinema.

Dadasaheb Phalke is known as the ‘Father of Indian Cinema’. He had made India’s first full-length feature film Raja Harishchandra (1913). His life was also like a movie, full with tragedy, enthusiasm and inspirations. so let’s first talk about his childhood.

Dhundiraj Govind Phalke was the real name of Dadasaheb. He was born on 30 April,1870 in Marathi speaking Chitpavan Brahmin family at Trimbak, Maharashtra. Phalke grew up with six siblings including four sisters and two brothers. He completed primary education from Trimbakeshwar before he went to Mumbai for higher studies. He was artistic in nature and displayed great interest in the creative arts since his childhood. He joined the sir J J School of Art in Bombay where he took up a one year course in drawing.

Young Dhundiraj Govind Phalke (Source: Google)

Later on, he joined kalabhavan at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda and studied sculpture, engineering, drawing, painting and photography. Phalke bought a camera and began experimenting with photography, processing as well as printing. Phalke started his career as a photographer in Godhra, Gujarat but later on he had to quit that after the death of his first wife and child due to an outbreak of plague. He also worked as a draftsman for the  Archaeological Survey of India for a short period.

He then got interested into the printing sector so he launched a press and travelled to Germany to know more about the latest technology and machinery in connection with the new industry. He worked for the famous painter, Raja Ravi Varma who was renowned for his signature works depicting gods and goddesses.

Making of ‘Raja Harishchandra(Source: Google)

The Turning point came into his life when he watched a silent film and it was deeply moved him by its poignancy. The tittle of the movie was “The Life of Christ” which inspired Phalke to depict the story of Indian deities on the large screen. After this incident Dadasaheb decided to become a filmmaker and had a vision to display Indian mythological characters on the moving picture screen. He borrowed some money. His entire family was involved in making of 1st film of India. He himself was the producer, director, writer and cameraman of the film. He went to London in 1912, where apart from training he bought a Williamson camera, a printing machine and a perforator. Back in India, Phalke wrote the screenplay of Raja Harishchandra and pledged his life insurance policies and sold his wife’s jewellery to raise money for the film. And eventually he released the first full length Indian motion picture ‘Raja Harishchandra’ in 1913, the most important milestone in Indian cinematic history. It was completed in six months and 27 days. The movie was publicly screened on May 3, 1913 at the city’s coronation cinema. With his consistent faith and efforts he laid the foundation of Indian cinema. Through his relentless commitment and earnest efforts, cinema has become an inevitable part of Indian culture in today’s world.

He made many more movies including Mohini Bhasmasur in 1913, Satyavan Savitri (1914), Lanka Dahan (1917), Shri Krishna Janma (1918) and Kaliya Mardan (1919). Phalke launched the Hindustan Cinema Films Company in partnership with five businessmen from Mumbai.  Also formed one new firm, The Phalke Diamond Company and model studio for training technicians and actors but ended up with miserable failure.

His last silent film Setubandhan was released in 1932 and later re-released with dubbing. During 1936-1938, he produced his last film, Gangavataran (1937) which was the only talking movie directed by Phalke before he retired and headed for Nashik, where he died on February 16, 1944.

In recognition of his lifetime contribution to the Indian cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke Award was instituted by the government in 1969 which is the highest official recognition for film personalities in India. It is presented annually by the President for remarkable contribution to Indian cinema. The award contains a shawl, cash prize of 10 lakh as well as the Golden Lotus (Swarna Kamal).

Dadasaheb Phalke was a true gem in Indian cinema, a man with multifaceted personality. His whole life was dedicated to art and cinema. He was also involved in several fields other than films. He was very enthusiastic to learn new skills. For example, when his photo studio and laboratory could not earn him a decent livelihood, Phalke took to painting stage curtains for drama companies. It can clearly be inferred from his career that he lived his life with passion & creative hard work. He will be remembered as a role model in Indian Cinema for all the upcoming generations. 

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