Phalke, 1879 -86, Bombay

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The family, consisting of the child Phalke and his parents, leaves for Bombay.

1879 - 86 - BOMBAY The train moves on.

After a time, it enters a cave-like Victoria Terminus, almost as though entering a camera obscura, and halts.

A crowd gets off.

Phalke is separated from his family and gets lost.

Darkness descends.

He is alone in a deserted Victoria Terminus, bewitched by the carvings of gargoyles, lizards, lions, tigers, flora and fauna, like in a fairyland.

Suddenly it starts to rain, and everything comes to life.

Streams of water pour out of the stone mouths of mythical monsters, frothing at the jaws.

Phalke is shaken, shivering with cold, crying for his father in the dark.

But it is in a still unreal twilight outside VT station that a group of boys from the JJ School of Arts sits with hammers and knives, carving out figures on the terraces and the tops. The cotton loaders are teasing a Victoria look-alike, a mad woman at the fountain outside.

Picking up leaves as if to build a nest, small birds move above.

A Victoria enters and drags the woman away by the hair.

A mad dog chases Phalke through a backdrop - streets, railway lines, ships and factories.

He enters a palace and finds the princess stretching her arms and calling his name, and then metamorphosing into a frightening old woman.

With a jerk, Phalke comes awake.



Phalke roams from camp to camp with photographs of his wife and child, looking for their bodies.

Wandering desolate after their death, a paranoid Dada meets Nicephore Niepce, one of the Lumiere Brothers’ 40 magicians.

Phalke travels with Niepce and learns the history of chemistry and mechanics.

They become popular figures in north and central India.

They play trick slides.

A large mirror in a carved frame is on the stage.

Phalke is invited onstage, where he is asked to walk around the mirror and examine it to his satisfaction.

Niepce asks him to don a hooded red robe.

He then positions him some ten feet from the mirror, where the vivid red reflection is clearly visible to the audience.

The theatre is darkened, except for a brightening light that comes from within the mirror itself.

As Phalke waves his robed arms around and bows to his bowing reflection, his reflection begins to show signs of disobedience.

It crosses its arms over its chest and starts waving them about.

Suddenly, the reflection grimaces, removes a knife and stabs itself in the chest.

The reflection collapses onto the reflected floor - it is he himself.

Now a ghost-like white form rises from the dead reflection and hovers in the mirror.

All at once, a ghost emerges from the glass. It looks towards the startled, terrified spectators.

The masterful illusion mystifies even professional magicians who agree only that the mirror was a trick cabinet with black lined doors in the rear and an assistant hidden inside.

The lights were probably concealed between the glass and the lightly silvered back.

As the lights grew brighter, the mirror grew transparent, and a red-robed assistant showed himself in the glass.

The ghost was more difficult to explain, despite a big tradition of stage ghosts.

It was said that concealed magic lanterns produced the phantom, but no other magician was able to imitate the effect.

Even in these early years, there was something uncanny about the illusions.

But some said that Nicephore was not a showman at all, but had sold his soul to the devil in return for unholy powers.

As the guru and his disciple traveled across the country, Nicephore made him paint the backdrops with his chemical jugglery.


Phalke is a changed man when he returns home to Baroda.

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