Madhvrao Patvardhan

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Inventors in America, Britain, Germany and France were experimenting with moving pictures for a number of years. In 1640, Zeus Kirkhar of Rome achieved some successes, but there was no further progress. In the nineteenth century, the research in this regard received good momentum. Goerge Eastman, an imaginative man of New York, invented in 1889 the photographic film used today. Thereafter British inventor William Friese Greene made a camera, which could use the film for moving pictures. He made considerable progress in moving the pictures, and projecting them on a screen. He is, therefore, regarded as the father of cinema. The same year, a French inventor, L.A.A. Prince, also developed a camera. By co incidence, it was the same year that Thomas Edison developed two machines, the kinetoscope and the kinetograph. The former could be used for filming while with the latter, one could see pictures moving, by using a lever. These films were, of course, of a few seconds’ duration. The machines were installed in shops and were, therefore, known as ‘shop show’, ‘peep show’, ‘store show’ or ‘nickelodeon’. The year 1889 is an important one in the history of cinema. It was in this year that in India, a versatile engineer of Mumbai, Maadanrao Madhavrao Chitale, painted some events from the life of Srikrishna on slides. With the aid of a magic lantern, he showed them to audiences for fun. It created an impression of seeing a movie. Then Mahadeo Gopal Patwardhan of Kalyan thought that this could become a business and obtained an old magic lantern. His elder son Vinayak studied drawing and painting at the J.J.School of Art and made himself adept in both the skills of painting pictures on glass and creating a make-believe movie by using a magic lantern. He made a magic lantern at home by using lamps like those used at railway stations or by high ranking government officers.

The Patwardhan father and son duo got an early opportunity to present their newly acquired art to an audience. They called their show Shambarik Kharolika and explained the meaning of this strange-sounding, seemingly difficult name thus: Shambrik means magic and kharolika means lantern. ‘magi’ means shambarasur, from which we derived a concise word shambarik. The Marathi words for lantern are ‘deep’ and ‘diva’. They are, however, worn out by too much use. So we discovered the word ‘kharolika’ for it from ‘Amarkosh’(a thesaurus) as an alternative word and gave currency to the expression ‘Shambarik Kharolia’ for ‘Magic Lantern’.

“Why should we need an English word at all?” he would say/ A detailed description of their show is found in Prabodhankar Thakray’s autobiography, Mazi Jeevangatha( The Saga of My Life).


Along with Vinayakrao, his younger brother also became an expert in both the jobs. To encourage their new art, many people from Mumbai’s high society got them to hold shows of Shambarik Kharolika in their homes. As the shows became popular, they got invitations to hold special shows for seeing the events in the life of Shrikrishna depicted by them. Due to the huge response received by them at different places in Ganesh festivals, the interest and enthusiasm of the Patwardhan father and sons increased many fold and they started holding stage shows of Shambarik Kharolika in theatres by sale of tickets. The price of tickets ranged from one anna to four annas.

Deciding to make a profession of these shows, the Patwardhan father and brothers went all out in their efforts. Both the brothers had scored high marks at the matriculation examination. Rambhau had mastery over English now. It was decided that one of them would continue with his service in the railways and the other would concentrate all his attention on Shambharik Kharolika. Vinayakrao painted on slides a story with the backdrop of a circus. Pleased that the Patwardhans had depitcted on a screen a circus like their own, Kashinath Pant and Vishnupant Chhatre, the two proprietors of Chhatre’s Grand Circus, gave financial assistance to the Patwardhans in appreciation of the indigenous art. The Patwardhan brothers used for their slides the paintings of the well-known painters Ravi Verma and Madhavrao Dhurandhar.

To make the movements and the acting on the screen more effective, the Patwardhans coneiced of the idea of using three magic lanterns instead of one. Two of them were used for showing movements of acting and the third for decpicting the background décor such as forests, gardens, roads, rivers, palaces, clouds, mountains etc. This trick was wholly successful as they achieved the desired effect on the screen. A ten-foot long and ten-foot wide wet piece of cloth was used as a screen. Whenever the number of viewers increased, some of them would be seated on the other side of the screen too. According to a recorded estimate, the number of viewers had gone up to a thousand.

The show would begin with the appearance of an artistic board reading “Welcome – Patwardhan Brothers, Shambharik Kharolika”. A compere flanked on two sides by two tambora- wielding singers followed the ‘Welcome’ sign, as per the conventions of the period. The Patwardhan brothers would handle the lantern with such finesse that the action fo the singers fingering the wires of the tambora and that of the compere greeting the audience seemed very real. Showing the movements of lips and fingers accurately in appropriate places required real skill.

After the invocation by the compere, the singers would depart and the next scene would show the compere inviting his female counterpart, the Nati. Her movements were like a dancer’s. The Patwardhan brothers had acquired such a mastery over handling the magic lanterns that the movements of the Nati seemed quite genuine as in a moving picture. As the Patwardhan Brothers’ paintings were true to scale, clear-cut and attractive, the scenes were very beautiful to look at.

The invocations would be followed by the story. It was generally mythological. Once in a while, it would be of adventure too. Because of their good success in the business, the Patwardhans undertook a running tour of Maharashtra and Gujarat and ended it on the 27th of December 1895 at the 11th session of the Indian National Congress held in Pune. They held a show of Shambharik Kharolika for Lokmanya Tilak, Justice Ranade, the Hon. Mr. Gokhale, and Congress President Surendranath Bannerjee who acclaimed it. They also organized shows at the Anandobhowan theatre inn Budhwar Chowk of Pune by sale of tickets and the audience admired them to no end. The earnings too were huge. Mahadeo Gopal Patwardhan dided in 1902. About the same time the Patwardhan brothers filmed three movies: Seeta Swayamvar, Raja Harishchandra and Ramrajya Abhishek.

In order to show movements, three small pictures were painted on a four –inch glass slide. It took three to four days to paint one picture. An adequate number of such slides would make up a story in pictures. The Patwardhan brothers would be so engrossed in the complicated work of painting the pictures that they were oblivious to hunger and thirst.

The Patwardhan Brothers also obtained the services of renowned authors to write running commentaries appropriate to the various movies to make them more appealing and entertaining to the audience. Not only that, they added music to their shows. Being good connoisseurs of music, the Patwardhan Brothers were able to play tabla and harmonium. For some episodes they also got written dialogues and songs for which they got a lot of help from Kirtankar Joshi, a teacher by profession. The songs described the scenes. Their outfit included children with melodious voice to sing the songs, sitting by the side of the screen.

In one scene from the life of Srikrishna, Vasudeo carries the baby Shrikrishna over his head across a river. The river parts but the water goes on rising. But, as it touches the feet of the baby, its level recedes rapidly. The scene, which was contrived with slides, dumbstruck the audience. In 1958, the audiences admired the scene from the movie Ten Commandments in which the sea parts to allow chariots to run through it. The success of Patwardhan Brothers in achieving the same effect about 65 years earlier deserves to be admired.

Many foreigners endorsed the view that the Patwardhan Brothers’ amazing art of creating an illusion of a movie from a handpainted story on four- inch glass was unprecedented not only in India but the world over. Some of those laudatory references are still available. Mr. Jackson, Collector of Nashik was murdered in the second week of May 1909. He had witnessed the Shambharik Kharolika show only the previous day. His letter of appreciaton is also among other such commendations. In the matrix of even a mythological story, the Patwardhan Brothers wove a strand of nationalism very suggestively.

The idea underlying Shambharik Kharolika was that of a cartoon and eighteen years after Shambharik Kharolia, that is 1908, the first cartoon was published in America. It was Phatasmagoria by Emil Cole. Its length was 12 feet.

In 1895, in America, Edison invented ‘Vitascope’, a machine to enable more than one person to view a movie. It made it possible for a gathering of people to see a movie for about a half or three quarters of a minute, on a white piece of cloth hung up on a wall or a piece of string.

In France, Lumiere Brothers too were busy experimenting on these lines. They made two machines, one for filming and the other for projecting the film. After being dissatisfied about their efficiency, they filmed a 20-second event and held a private show of it for half a minute on 28th March, 185. The audience was wonderstruck as the picture showed the actual movement of characters. The name of this tiny movie was Lunch Hour at the Lumiere Factory. Encouraged by the audience response, the Lumiere brothers made a 50-ft movie named Charge of the Dragon and, on Christmas Day, 25th December, 1895, exhibited it at the Grand Café House in Paris by the sale of tickets. This was the first film show in the world! The audience count was 35 on the first day. The number went on swelling to reach the 2,000 mark. The Lumiere Brothers were then convinced that this business was going to be very profitable. They quickly produced many short films and sent their representatives to many countries to hold shows. One of their representatives came to India. He held his first show on 7th July 1896 at Watson Hotel..

Excerpted from Bapu Watve’s Dada Saheb Phalke, published by the National Book Trust. madhavrao patwardhan in phalke's journey

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