I watched the Marathi movie Harishchandrachi Factory last night, thanks to Chitra who gave us the DVD, and it was wonderful. More than wonderful in fact - one of the best I have seen. I could not take me eyes off the screen for one moment. I think everyone who is concerned with film making or any enterprise should watch this movie to see how this movie industry began entirely on one man's 'crazy' vision. It is the story of Dadasaheb Phalke (Dhundiraj Govind Phalke) also known as the father of Indian cinema. The movie is hilarious, heartwarming and highly inspiring.
Directed by Prakash Mokashi, the movie takes off at a stage in Dadasaheb's life when he has already studied fine arts and pursued a couple of jobs and business interests such as photography and a printing press. Dadasaheb Phalke (played by Nandu Madhav) has moved out of his large home into a chawl that has its own loving and interfering neighbours full of free advice and concern. He resists all attempts by people to give him start up loans to start a printing press (which he had successfully done before and walked out due to differences with his partners) and instead performs as a magician in the neighborhood under the name Professor Kelpha (Phalke reversed). He discovers the magic of cinema one day when he watches a motion picture 'The Passion of Christ' in a theatre (no bigger than one of our erstwhile video parlours) and then takes his entire family to view the movie. While the entire family watches the movie, Phalke, who has already watched it, turns around for most of the movie, with his back to the screen, to see how the images are projected on the screen.
Thus his journey begins. From selling off all the furniture in his house (for which his well-meaning neighbours trick him and almost get him admitted into the Thane Mental Hospital), buying books on cinema, reading them, nagging the film operator to show him how the movie is shown until he agrees and finally putting his insurance policy as security and going off to England to learn more about movie making. But not before almost losing his eyesight with all these exertions - a tender moment when his older son hunts his missing father down to the theatre and brings him back, almost blind. Luckily it is not so serious and he recovers.
In England, completely friendless, the indomitable Dadasaheb finds his way to the right people, learns about film making, buys his first camera and returns to his lovely family of his wife Saraswati, his two sons and his new daughter whom they had conceived before he left. And immediately moves house to a large one in Dadar where the movie 'Raja Harishchandra' is made. Now this is a story that everyone in the family is familiar with and everyone gets into the process of film making at home. Phalke makes a short film on the growth of a pea plant which he shows to prospective investors to raise money for the movie. His wife puts up her jewellery as security.
The process of making the movie in those days is shown delightfully. His search for a female lead takes him everywhere including the red light area. One girl agrees but her regular client comes to take her away, telling her that she cannot do something as degraded as acting in a movie. That raises suspicions in his crew of actors, carpenters, musicians that their profession is probably lower than the lowest. Sometime then Phalke tells them to tell their family and friends that they are working in a 'factory' to avoid this talk. The cast is got, a male actor plays the female lead (don't want to remove my moustache he says since my father is alive), outdoor shooting done (after convincing the police that they are not dacoits), cameraman got (his friend from Nasik) - all in a spirit of doing something wonderful, never stopping, always providing for all the people who throng his house. Finally the movie gets done.
It is interesting to see how Phalke actually educates people about the motion picture through road shows, about how its the first Indian movie made and entices them. The picture factory gets into the act and soon they make other movies such as 'Bhasmasur Mohini', 'Savitri' and so on. He visits his friends in England who offer him a great deal of money to move to England and make movies but he refuses. He says that in India, the industry will not grow if he moves to England. Such was the vision and commitment of Phalke saab, a spirit that lived in most people in those times. Phalke's great enthusiasm, his restless nature, his boundless energy and creativity, his love for people and for whatever caught his fancy, his belief in his ideas is shown extremely well. Every character is perfect and has done a wonderful job.
Phalke was born in Nasik. He studied in Bombay's JJ School of Fine Arts and then in Baroda's School of Fine Arts. He set up a photo studio in Godhra which ran into trouble and he shut it down soon. He lost his first wife and child to the plague and then moved to Bombay where he set up a printing press with partners. He studied the technology extensively and even went to Germany to understand the latest technology. All this is not shown in the movie and it takes off from the part where he goes into a chawl after his business failures.
The movie is a must watch and I'd give it a rating of 4.75 on 5 in terms of sheer viewing pleasure. I watched it last night and would watch it again right now. That is how easy it is on the viewer. And no better way to celebrate the life and achievement of Dadasaheb Phalke.