Not that the cinema was unknown in India before Phalke. Ever since the first moving pictures flickered across the screen in Bombay’s Watson Hotel in 1896, this “marvel of the century” as it was then advertised, had caught the imagination of common man. In the following decade, a number of tents cropped up in major cities and due to the fast-growing popularity of moving pictures, the tents were soon replaced by regular, permanent cinema houses all over the country.
With the popularity of moving pictures, cine cameras and other equipment were also being imported in India towards the turn of the century. A number of enterprising person made ingenious use of these cameras for recording topical events, marriage and other function, dramas etc, with remarkable success. The more famous among them were Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatavadekar or Save Dada who covered the wrestling bout as far back as `1899` Hiralal Sen who shot the dance sequence from the famous Bengali stage play Alibaba in 1903, Jyotish Sarkar who covered the ‘Anti-Partition day’ in Calcutta in 1905, Dabi Ghosh who worked for Aurora Cinema Company’s topical and so an..
Commedable though these attempts were none of them had thought of producing an indigenous story – film for the entertainment of the growing Cinema – minded audiences. The only two early attempts in recorded history were those of R.G. Torney along with Nanasaheb Chitre; and the other of Patankar Friends & Co. Torney and Chitre shot the stage-play Pundalik around 1911, with the assistance of a cameraman of Bourne & Shepard, got the film developed and printed from London and showed it in Bombay’s Coronation Cinema. Beyond novelty, the film had no other qualities and it was soon forgotten. The second attempt was around 1913, that of Patankar, Karandikar and Divekar, who pooled their savings and shot a film called savitri. But the film never saw the light of the day as its developing was found defective and hence it could be screened at all.
Against the background of these abortive attempts at film production, it was Phalke who, for the first time, not only conceived the idea of an indigenous story-film but, as a great visionary saw the possibilities of a great industry with infinite possibilities. Phalke did not stop at the idea stage. With the zeal and industry of a pioneer, he converted his ideas into realties; his conception into execution – against almost insurmountable odds and established continuous film production – now the second largest in the world – in this country. A prolific writer, phalke has written profusely – both by choice and by necessity – about his early struggles and sufferings, his trials and tribulations, to establish a new “Swadeshi” Industry in this country. A research is being undertaken about the life and work of phalke at present. Besides, a few reels of Phalke’s early silent films are fortunately acquired by the National Film Archive of India. The evidence, which is gradually emerging – both documentary and visual – merely confirms, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that Phalke was not only a pioneering film – maker but he was a pioneer in many branches of Indian Cinema. The Phalke Story makes poignant reading! Born at Trymbak, 29 Kilometers from Nasik, on April 30, 1870, and son of Dajishastri Phalke – Some time Professor of Sanskrit in the Wilson College, Bombay, phalke had inherited the best of habits and culture of a typical Hindu joint family of those days. Through tradition, Phalke was already well versed in the great epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata – in his Childhood and had also studied Vedas Upanishads, Shastras and Puranas, which was the way of life in his family. It was this knowledge and learning – particularly of Puranas, which came handy at the time of his early mythological film productions.
Phalke had his early education at Trymbak and thence at Bombay, at the place of his uncle. After completing his school education, Phalke an artistically – bent boy from his childhood, [[joined the J.J. School of Arts in 1885]] for a Drawing course. At the school as well as in Art School, he participated as an amateur artiste, in several stages – dramas – a faculty, which he utilized successfully in film production in later years.
Due to certain family circumstances, Phalke had to move over to Baroda with his elder brother to continue his art studies at the famous Kalabhavan of Baroda. This proved to be a blessing in disguise. Because it was in the congenial atmosphere of Kalabhavan that Phalke learned several arts, crafts and vocations which were later to help him, in a very great measure, to produce his and India’s first feature picture – Raja Harishchandra. Writing in the Diamond Jubilee Number of Kalabhavan magazine in 1936 Phalke observed. “In short, Baroda, the Capital of H.H. the Gaikwad, helped me to develop all the qualities needed for a successful film producer. And I owe my present prosperity to my stay in Baroda and to its technical institute – kalabhavan.
Professor Gajjar, Principal of Kalabhavan, was a kind and sympathetic man and he had a knack of finding talent in his students. Small wonder, therefore, that Prof. Gajjar Soon Spotted extra – ordinary talent in Phalke and while Phalke was completing his painting course, prof. Gajjar gave complete charge o Kalabhavan’s Photographic studio to Phalke. This was a golden opportunity for an enthusiastic student like Phalke. He utilized the up-to-date library and laboratory of Kalabhavan to the fullest extent. He made several experiments in photo-chemical processes such as photo-zinco, photo-litho, halftone, etc. Side-by-Side he had completed short courses in molding and architecture as well. His hobby of photography was, of course being continued since he bought his first camera back in 1980 and he had become proficient in that hobby with knowledge and experience gained through the years. Phalke and helped Stage – dramas and also learned magic, while in Baroda. This was indeed a golden period of Phalke’s life! Through force of circumstances, Phalke had to make a living as a portrait photographer and then as a scene-painter for drama companies for some years. An artist, as he was, Phalke was naturally restless with this drab life. Hence, around 1903, he landed on a job in Government of India’s Archeological Department as a Draughtsman and Photographer. His Superior, Mr. Causin was very much pleased with the artistic work of Phalke but he himself continued to be restless. He was now obsessed with the idea of starting a halftone block factory and thereby putting his expert know-how to use. Obsessed, because he had then received a silver medal in a Bombay Exhibition for his halftone blocks made out of Ravi Verma paintings. He started saving money for his proposed business and quite the comfortable government job after about two and a half years.
It was when Phalke opened his own business ‘Phalke Engraving & Printing Works’ that the really came into his own element for the first time. This was done in partnership of Sir Ramkrishna Bhandarkar. The engraving and printing works that he carried out were equal to the best-executed even abroad, because for Phalke only the best was good enough. He had received praise and appreciation for his work of halftone engraving, three-colour engraving and fine art printing from such overseas trade journals as American Printer and British Printer. Small Wonder that Phalke was inundated with work, with the result that the factory, which was originally located at Lonavala so that he could supply photo-litho transfers to nearby Ravi Verma Press) – had to be shifted to Dadar Main Road, Bombay. Still more work poured in and and with great reluctance Phalke had to leave his partnership with Sir Purshottam Vishram Mavji. Phalke’s printing works now became Laxmi Art Printing Works and Phalke as the Chief technician and partner, sailed for Germany in 1909 to get up-to-date machinery for three-colour process for his fast expanding works. It is interesting to note that there were hardly half a dozen-process works of the caliber of phalke’s in the entire country, then. With the new machinery bought from Germany and under the able technical guidance of Phalke, ‘Laxmi Art Printing Works’ flourished within a short time. The work was so heavy that it could not be executed even in the three shifts, day and night. But as luck would have it, there were differences between partners and soon the partnership came to an end. That he had to leave a business for which he had taken special training and it was a great blow to phalke. So much so that he refused to do anything at all. He even declined offers from rich financiers for setting up a similar competitive business. He was thoroughly disgusted with the ways of the world!
In this particular state of mind he went to see a picture Life of Christ in the ‘America-India’ Cinema on Sandhurst Road, Bombay) on a Saturday in the Christmas of 1910. (According to advertisements in Bombay papers, it was a Saturday in Easter of 1911). Phalke had seen pictures before, off and on. But the picture which he saw on that Saturday was very significant. Writes Phalke in Navayug issue of 1917 “while witnessing Christ on the Screen, I was visualizing in its place Bhagwan Shri Krishna, Bhagwan Shri Ramchandra, their Gokul and Ayodhya. I saw the picture again the same day. I spent a restless night. For the next two months, Phalke saw all the pictures in almost. All the cinema houses in Bombay and analyzed them scene-by-scene, shot by shot. Here was an enterprise, an industry, which suited Phalke’s training and temperament admirably. Says Phalke, “Fortunately, I was well up in all arts and crafts which go to make a motion picture such as drawings, paintings architecture, photography, drama, magic etc. I was fully convinced that it CAN be done.” Phalke;s conviction was deep. His faith abiding! Nothing in the world could convert him from his views that Indian films could be produced – Indian film industry could be established All the circumstances were, however against him. He was forty years of age then – a past mid-die-aged man by longevity standards of those days. He had no dependable source of income on which he had members of his family could fall back. And since he was not prepared to do anything else except his experiments I film-making his future was dark, insecure. Small wonder, therefore, that his friend thought him to be mad. “One of them even tried to make me to the lunatic asylum at Thana,” Says Phalke. Hardly they knew that it was the madness of a pioneer bent on producing ‘indigenous’ story film, at any cost !
Undaunted, Phalke went ahead with his deep and lasting convictions. “I got some cine-cate-logues, books and equipments from England and continued my experiments almost for a year. I hardly slept for three hours.” Phalke writes in Navayug issue of 1917. The viewing of pictures every day for analytic study, conducting experiment in film-making with imported miniature camera for long uncertain hours, the resultant loss of sleep, coupled with the lack of any means of livelihood, the adverse comments from friends and relatives the dark, uncertain prospects if the cinema experiments failed – all these factors told on phalke’s health and impaired his eyesight very badly bordering on blindness. But Thanks to Dr. Prabhakar, an eye-specialist of Bombay, the sight was soon restored. Phalke was however, forbidden to strain to strain his eyes any more!
But his deep conviction about definite possibility of indigenous film production and about establishing a new “Swadeshi” film Industry (those were the days of swadeshi” movement) would not allow phalke to sit still for long Through the analysis o pictures which he has seen regularly, through the studies of books and literature on cinema which he had carried out successfully and thoughts his expert knowledge of all aspects of film – making such as photography, drama, painting moulding, magic etc, Phalke thought him self capable of meeting all challenges o story film production. With one exception – Finance!
This was one challenge, which he could not meet, all his life! There was, however, no question of going backwards for phalke. With the dedication of a pioneer, he was able to negotiate a loan from a friend – Yeshwant Nandkarni – Who knew him for over ten over ten years – but not before Phalke satisfied Nandkarni about successful film – Making with his short film from Peanut to Plant. It was a one turn, one-picture, film, which Phalke had shot painstakingly, with his 25/- cine-camera imported from London before. But what was the security for the loan? The only worthwhile Security left with Phalke then were his insurance policies worth Rs. 15,000/- Unmindful of his future, Phalke pledged his life insurance policies and raised a loan of Rs. 10,000/- at exorbitant interest. This amount was required for his trip to England for practical training and for his trip to England for practical training and for buying machinery for film production. Although his ideas and experiments about film production had taken a firm shape in his mind, Phalke had to check a firm shape in his mind, Phalke had to check and identity these ideas wit actual practices at a film producing studio. Phalke was a firm believer in proper education – in theory and in practice. In fact, he was probably the first man to suggest the establishment of a Film Institute in India, some 42 years back. “My suggestion is that there must be a school established some where in India to teach the cinema industry, photography, acting, play & scenario writing etc,” Phalke told the Film Inquiry Committee in 1928. Hence, he thought that any rash action in film production without practical experience would be disastrous - both to him and to the ‘Swadeshi’ Industry which he sought to establish.
On February 1, 1912, Phalke left for London and got busy immediately on lending. With the help of the addresses in catalogues, he went round several cine-equipment shops to select the machinery. “But I was confused with the competitive claims of each machinery dealer”, writes Phalke in Mouj issue of 1939. “Then I saw the board of Bioscope Cine – Weekly near Piccadilly Circus. I went inside and registered myself as a subscriber of the weekly first. Then I saw the editor I my role as a subscriber. Mr. Cabourne, the editor, discouraged me first, pointing out that a number of producers even in England were not successful at film production. But when he realized my will and determination, when he knew my proficiency in the arts and crafts, which go in film production Mr. Cabernet on all aspects of films production. By now cabourne had become the friend, philosopher and guide of Phlake and helped him to buy the best available Williamson camera, printing machine, a perforator and some raw negative film priced reasonably. Cabourne went further and introduced Phalke to Cecil Hepworth, a prominent film producer at Walton. Hepworth gave valuable advise and information to Phalke, allowed him to see all departments of film-making, helped Phalke to shoot some footage with his newly – acquired camera and see the results. And thus ended the short practical course of a week at filmmaking the shortest on record!
“The ideas I had formed in India about film production had matched perfectly with the actual practice in England”. Says Phalke Navyug – 1917. He was, therefore, in a hurry to return to India, fully confident of his abilities. He took the next available ship after a stay of only a fort night and returned to Bombay on April 1, 1912. It was from that All Fools Day that Phalke had to face multiple, almost insurmountable problems of indigenous film production. India was not England. Conditions – both climatic and social were practically poles apart. To begin with Phalke had to face the perennial challenge – Finance! With the help of his newly acquired Williamson Camera, Phalke shot 100 / 200 ft. of film with his wife and children as ‘artistes’ – an extremely difficult job in those days, sixty years back. The raw negative was not even perforated! To put perforations on to the negative in the dark with hand-operated machine, so that it would run smoothly through the camera, called for skill and precision work. But Phalke went through the grind successfully and got the trial pieces printed on his imported printing machine. “When these pictures were projected on the screen” observes Phalke Navyug – 1917. “The financier was satisfied and agreed to give further loan against security!” But what security Phalke could offer! He had lost his all – even his insurance policies for a dream. He could not reclaim it until the dream came true. But Phalke had not lost that precious commodity called “Hope” so he turned to his wife. And like a dutiful, self-effecting Indian woman. Mrs. Phalke gave away her ornaments as security. So that her husband’s and India’s first ‘Indigenous” motion picture could be produced. Film production in India had its humble beginning in such supreme self-sacrifice, which has perhaps no parallel!
Then there were other problems, too. There was total dearth of artistes willing to work for films, because of the peculiar stigma attached to filmmaking. Phalke’s advertisements in Bombay’s Induprakash towards May 1912 viz. ‘Handsome faces wanted for films’ drew only third – rate stage artistes. So much so that he had to add one more line in the subsequent advertisement ‘ugly faces need not apply!” But the toughest job was that of finding suitable female artistes. An expert cameraman, Phalke was convinced that female roles must be played by females to meet the exacting demands of the camera. “ I used to get replies occasionally to my advertisement from such Red-light areas as phanaswadi; Akkalkot Lane, Hanuman Lane, Kennedy Bridges etc.; from prospective female artistes and I never lost a single opportunity to meet the applicants” writes Phalke in hi autobiography. But on some cause or the other, all these applicants withdrew later. With great difficulty, Phalke had brought a female artiste for a scene in Raja Harischandra But Phalke regrets that “after coaching her four days, her sheth whisked her away.” Phalke, therefore, had no alternative but no train suitable male actors to play female roles – a practice in vogue on stage, then.
The production problems were many and varied because of total ignorance about the art and technique of filmmaking. “I had to do every-thing”. Phlake told the film Inquiry Committee on February 13,1928. “I had to teach acting. I had to writ the scenario, do the photography and the actual projection too. Nobody knew anything in India about the industry in 1911. Phalke turned raw hands into film acting, fixed up a studio Dadar Main Road, Bombay, where he had stayed formerly for about seven years, in the bungalow of Maturates Manji Walji; wrote the story and scenario of truthful Raja Harischandra; prepared suitable drapery; erected the sets and started the actual work of shooting presumably after the rainy season of 1912, The title role of Raja Harishchandra was played by Dabke and that of Taramati by Saulunke, while Rohidas was played by Phalke’s own son – Bhalchandra. Production of India’s first feature was a round the clock job for Phalke shooting work during the day and perforating negative, developing the exposed films, editing and printing the film at night but phalke went though the grueling experience day after day, with zeal and assiduity and completed that historic Raja Harishandra within a period of about six months – almost simultaneously when other countries of the world were also having their very first features like Queen Elizabeth in France, Quo Vadies in Italy and Student of Prague in Germany. “I am proud to say that if I had not possessed the artistic and technical faculties required for film-making” declares Phalke (May 1939) “and If I had not the courage and daring, the film industry would never have been established in India in 1912.” Phalke had no doubt in his mind about the possibility of exploiting the story-Film not only thou gout the length and breadth of Indian but also abroad. As a pioneer, therefore, it was his responsibility to set standards for the industry and he did it judiciously in all branches. He chose mythological subjects because “only for mythological films we can have an all-India market” Phalke told the Film Inquiry Committee in 1928, “If I produce Shivaji’s life, it will never be appreciated in Bengal or Madras.’ Phalke had to set similar standards; for languages to be used in titles. “Although my mother-tongue to be used in titles. “Although my mother-tongue was Marathi”. Writes Phalke (Kesari 1934), “The titles o all my films right from 1912 were in Hindi, So that the pictures could be understood and appreciated throughout the country.” Phalke clearly had the potential non-Hindi audience too in mind and hence, in addition to Hindi, Phalke had given titles in English too, from his very first film his four-reeler 3700 ft. Raja Harishchandra.
The Painful Ordeal was now over. Phalke’s dream of producing a picture like life of Christ had actually come true. But, being a regular reader of Bioscope, Moving pictures and other motion picture magazines, Phalke knew that producing a picture is only half the battle. More important was the exploitation of a picture with proper publicity. He, therefore, arranged a preview of Raja Harishchandra at Bombay’s Olympia Cinema on April 21, 1913 and invited leaders In various fields in Bombay to witness his film, so that they would start the word-of-mouth publicity, The commercial screening commenced from May 3, 1913 at Bombay’s Coronation Cinema. Strangely, the film on Hindu mythology attracted non-Hindus first at the theatre. Phalke thought that more publicity was required. “I had to arrange a dance programmed of two European girls on the stage for 10/15 minutes during the first few days” Writes phalke in his autobiography, giving details of his publicity tie-up. It worked! The Hindu and other cosmopolitan audiences, who would not believe first that an Indian picture could be produced, now thronged the Coronation Cinema.
A born publicist as he was, Phalke simultaneously invited newspaper representatives to view the film, the Bombay Chronicle in its issue of May 5, 1913 raved about “The first great Indian dramatic film on the lines of films illustrating the great epics of the western World” and wrote in the review “……….. The result of his (phalke’s) effort exceeds one’s expectation.. it is a remarkable triumph for his film. Dramatically the film is admirable… one can feely praise the beauty and ingenuity with which he (Phalke) has succeeded in presenting effectively the most difficult scenes..” Difficult scenes, indeed! Because Phalke, a Camera wizard, had introduced, for the first time, trick photography in the legendary tale, with such imagination that it left the audience almost gasping. It is important to note that these trick effects were produced by Phalke with only an elementary hand-operated camera and a black curtain. He had to spend long hours doing the masking, reversing and double – exposing the images. But Phalke did the job so deftly and with such precision that it, at times, supercedes even the best trick work done with modern machinery and advanced technique today. One of the reasons for the immense popularity of early Phalke films was undoubtedly the superb trick effects in his – films the same reason which made the films of his contemporary. George Melies (1861-1938) popular in Europe. The Few reels of Phalke’s early films, preserved at the National Film Archive of India, Will bear ample testimony to phalke’s mastery of trick photo-graphy-sixty years back.
Phalke now had a double role to play – that of a producer and a distributor. It was not enough to produce more pictures. It was not enough to produce more pictures. It was necessary for Phalke to arrange to exhibit these picture, him-self-in the absence of any distributing agency – through the cinemas which were gradually coming up in the country. “I did the distribution of my films myself”, Phalke told the Film Inquiry Committee” “in my list there were 40 theatres.” There was, however, only me print of Raju Harishchandra; but on that one print alone “I got amazing returns” says Phalke. Encouraged, Phalke decided to produce another picture. But he thought Bombay to be unsuitable for film production and decided to go to Nasik. As he told the film Inquiry Committee, “Because the climate there is most suited to photography. There are oriental jungles, historical places and rivers.” Phalke sifted his ‘Studio’ to Nasik on October 3, 1913 and within about three months he produced his second mythological picture Mohim Bhasmasur, which gave ample scope for trick work. The Film was released in Bombay in January 1914 at the Coronation Cinema. There was no need this time for stage – dance for publicity. Mohini Bhasmasur was only 3,245 ft. in length but Phalke was able to get women to pay female roles this picture.“My second picture was “Bhasamasur Mohini” writes Phalke in his autobiography, “in which the roles of “Mohini” and “Parvati” were played by two women – Durga and Kamala – who were mother and daughter in real life. In my third film, I utilised the services of four women.
Phalke also produced a One-Reeler comedy Pithache Panje which was shown along with Mohini Bhasmasur. Pithache Panje and generated lot of controversy in the Press, then. But Phalke, a pioneer in short film production and a master cameraman, continued to produce comedies, topicals, cartoons, documentaries etc. in later years being fully aware of the infinite Power and scope of the short film for entertainment, education, instruction and record. With the success of Raja Harishchandra and Mohini Bhasmasur there were inquiries for more Phalke Films and to meet that demand Phalke launched his third film Savitri Satyawan – ano – there mythological, almost immediately after the release of Mohini Bhasmasur early in 1914. This 3,680 ft. Film was also completed in about three months and released in Bombay in June 1914, thanks to the financier who supplied him funds from time to time, being fully convinced with the remarkable response received by Phalke’s Films. Narrates Phalke Navyug 1917 : “It was indeed, remarkable that one print each of the three films brought in more money that the total debt I had incurred on film production. As the returns came, these were ploughed back in the film business’’. The damand for Phalke Films was now growing fast after the release of his Savitri Satyawan. “by this time my work had become famous even abroad”, declares Phalke, (Navyug 1917), “There was a demand for 20 copies of every film. People in India wre prepared to take the sole agency for distribution. So I thought it advisable to invest an additional 25,000/- to 30,000/- rupees and buy new electric driven machinery. So far, the work was being done by hand-driven machines, which were ridiculously slow”.
So Phalke decided to go abroad one more to buy the electric-driven machinery. There was another important reason, too. Palke had to brilliant Idea of exploiting his pictures abroad, for he says – (Navayug 1917) “I took with me Mohini Bhasmasur and Savitri Satyawan etc., to ensure the future success of my business abroad This was not merely a fit of imagination. As a pioneer in the overseas exploitation of Indian Films, Phalke had evidently thought it over properly and planned it meticulously. He was all the time in touch with his friend in London, Cabourne of Bioscope weekly and presumably, at the advice and guidance of Cabourne, Phalke had decided to have trade shows of his pictures in London as a prelude to their commercial exploitation for, the Bioscope issue of May 28, 1914 gives in glowing terms the achievements of Phalke under the heading “Trade Topics” thus: “Some two years ago Mr. D.G. Phalke, a well-known artist of Bombay, came over to this country and in this connection he acknowledges in very warm terms his indebtedness to, among others, Mr. Cecil Hepworth, who invited him to Walton and gave him much valuable advice and information. Upon his return to India, Mr. Phalke, who took back with him considerable plant found, that he had different conditions to contend with, owing in great measure to the hot climate and the difficulty of securing the services of suitable artistes, operators and others requisite for the efficient equipment of his enterprises. However, by diligent study and perseverance each obstacle was gradually surmounted and eventually, in April 1923, his first drama Harishchandra was produced and met with very considerable favour. Mr. Phalke has, since screened another drama, entitled Mohini and very shortly a third one is to be placed to his credit ………” This write up about Phalke was followed with the news of his impending arrival in London with his films in the issue of Bioscope of June 4, 1914 thus : “…. It is with no small interest that one awaits the appearance in this country of Mr. D.G. Phalke’s Fist Indian films, some details of which were given in last week’s Bioscope.”
So Phalke sailed for London towards June 1914 with the twin Objects of purchasing equipment and finding out about the possibilities of exploiting his Indian films on electrically – operated machinery as well as for finding abroad, which already had English titles unfortunately, all the rosy plans of Phalke were completely shattered – mainly due to the panic causd all round in India by news of world war. This was the severest blow of misfortune to Phalke – a precursor of a series of calamities, which were to befall on Phalke subsequently. Phalke, of course did purchase the necessary machinery and he did arrange the trade shows of his pictures with the help of his friend, Cabourne. In fact, not only the British Press unanimously praised Phalke’s efforts in such terms, as “From the technical Point of View they are surprisingly excellent”, We wish Mr. Phlake had been born here in England, but Phalke was even persuaded to produce a picture in England. Narrating the incident. Phalke says in his autobiography: “The proprietors of two Studios had seen me in my London hotel and had persuaded me to produce pictures on Indian Subjects in England. They even offered to maintain the staff and artistes that may have to be brought from India. They had further offered me a Remuneration of Rs. 300/- per month with 20 per cent in Profit.” But Phalkes was very much under the spell of “Swadeshi” movement initiated by Lokamanya Tilak in India and would not heed the advice of even his London friends like Maylankar, Bhise and Dandekar. Phalke would not entertain offers of foreigners – howsoever tempting these may be. He Wanted Indian Capital and Indian labor to produce Indian pictures.
But what was the condition in India. Phalke himself described these in Navyug 1917. “But Alas ! My third trip abroad coincided with the beginning of the War. The results of this were more distressing in India. This country of commission agents, than in England itself. I was in London at that time. The street placards read “Business as usual” while people in India got panicky and ran all over the country abandoning their houses and property in England when the War news – bulletins were beings published every half-hour, I was quietly purchasing machinery Editors of newspapers like the Bioscope were writing about the skill of an Indian. Efforts were being made to arrange the trade show of my films Mohini Bhasmasur and Savitri Satyawan and to give a palce to Indian films in the London market, here in India people had gone to the extent of closing down my studio and driving away my trained technicians. My financier friend, like any other Indian, was panicky and in my absence, he not only stopped paying salaries, but also postponed studio – running expenses. My men were somehow pulling on with debts till my arrival. The equipments I had purchased abroad were held up in England in the absence of any confirmation from Bombay and I had to come back empty handed.
Till the return of Phalke to India at the fag end of 1914, it was Mrs. Phalke who skillfully avoided the total shut-down of he “Studio” and the dismissal of the entire trained staff by begging and pleading with the financier. An Armed struggle of the magnitude of First World War had created an atmosphere of panic all over the country. Day after day, alarming reports of combat from various theatres of war were pouring into India. The Emden incident had just occurred and frightened thereby. Almost half the population of Bombay had already vacated. There was no knowing as to when the war will end. But the effects of war were already evident. Less and less plant, machinery and material could now be imported in India. There was perhaps well founded apprehension that with the spread of war to a larger area, the entire imports would be stopped, which would be a death – knell to those industries, which depended for their existence on imported materials. Like everybody else. Phalke’s frightened financier thought the same way and refused to make any more investment in film business, which to him was as good as lost. Although, therefore, he agreed at the request of Mrs. Phalke not to dismiss the staff and to close the factory (the studio was known as a factory then) he stopped the payment of salary and the day-to-day expenses the studio. Such was the tough and challenging situation which Phalke had to face on his return to India.
It required all the perseverance, all the skill, all the ingenuity for Phalke to persuade Nadkarni (or rather, his father – in – law and solicitor; chitins, who was the actual financier) to his point of view. With great difficulty the financier agreed to send a confirmatory telegram for dispatch of the electrically – operated equipment, which Phalke had already purchased on Payment in London, But the Financier was not payment in London But the financier was not prepared to sink any more money in the film business. Despite several attempts by Phalke in all possible ways. It was only when Phalke convinced the financier that the newly – imported machinery cannot be allowed simply to rust that he was the point. “I requested my financier to continue the expenditure for one year.” Says Phalke (Navyug 1917) “With great reluctance. He agreed to half these expenses and that also for a few days only and my loyal employees also agreed to serve the studio on half the salary during the bitter war time.”
In course of time the new machinery was received at Nasik and was set up. The studio also started functioning although on only half the expenses. But how to produce pictures with out working capital? Says Phalke (Navyug 1917) “My Financier told me categorically that he would not give even half the expenses in future and thus I had to go literally from door to door of rich people for my working capital. In Short, all my hopes and enthusiasm received a severe blow while my financier was haunted by the imaginary phantom of war.” This was the most testing period of Phalke’s life. Certain people were undoubtedly convinced about the utility and scope of moving pictures. But there were difficulties in their advancing money. Writes Phalke, (Navyug 1917). “Even in this critical period a few rich people had some sympathy for my hard work and were willing to lend me money on the security of the studio. However, my financier was not prepared to risk his investment made in the studio. It was not possible to get any working capital without security nor was it desirable to dismiss my trained staff. For without my working sfatt, I could never at the capital, hence there was no alternative but to incur daily expenses. Old film did not pay and I was not able to make new ones. Such was the insoluble nature of my problem. What could I do in these circumstances? Even the God Brahma (The creator of the universe) would find a solution difficult, To add to the difficulties, even the import of raw cinematograph film was restricted due to war.
In such circumstances, any other man would have been completely broken down – even perished. But not Phalke! His conviction about Indigenous ‘moving pictures’ was intact. His faith about establishing a new industry was unimpaired for he says in Navayug 1917, “If my Indian film enterprise had died like this, it would have been a permanent disgrace for the “Swadeshi” Movement in the eyes of the people in London.” Phalke thought that the British people would laugh at Indians if they knew that his pictures three of which were appreciated in London could not be produced only for want of working capital in a country, which seeks to encourage Indian Industries through the “Swadeshi” movement. I had decided to establish this industry in India” Says Phalke (Navayug 1917) “I was determined to do my duty even at the cost of my life i.e. to defend this industry even in absence of any financial support, with the firm convocation that the Indian people would get an occasion to see Indian images on the screen and people abroad would get a true picture of India.”
It is most probably during this testing period when imported machinery had already arrived, when studio was run on 50% budget, when supply of imported raw film was severely restricted due to war and when feature films could not be produced for want of working capital that Phalke appears to have turned his many sponsored genius on the production of short films by making virtue of necessity. It is amazing to see that Phalke should have utilised the camera for such diverse short film productions as comedies, cartoons, topicals, documentaries, educational shorts etc. around 1915 – Fifty five years back (and thereafter) – a field which is still not fully utilised by an Indian film maker except to some extent, by the films Division of the Government of India. Palke produced comedies like Pithache Panje, soulagana, Rasa (732 ft.) Mr. Sleepy Good Luck (197 ft.) cartoons like Agkadyanchi Mouj, Animated coins (677 ft.), Vichitra Shilpa or Inanimate Animated (165 ft.) topical like Sinhastha Parvani (977 ft.), Kartiki Purnima Festival (567 ft.) Ganesh Utsava (983 ft.) documentaries like Glass Works, Talegaon, (796 ft.) Birds Eye view of Budh Gaya (521 ft.) Rock – Cut temples of Ellora (435ft) and educational shorts like how films are prepared (955 ft.); Phalke a Master Magician, had also prepared a film of his magic tricks under the title of Prof. Kelpha’s magic (587 ft.); putting his own name “Pha-L-Ke” in reverse order as “Ke-L-Pha”.
But short film production was certainly not phalke’s idea about establishing a film industry. At best, it was a stopgap arrangement enforced on him by extremely adverse circumstances. The World War had now taken a fierce tune. Noting was quite on the Western Front. The panicky conditions in the country were very much aggravated and these made things all the worse for Phalke. It was a bolt from the blue when “towards the end of 1915, my financier refused to pay even a single pie towards the half salaries of my employees”, writes Phalke in Navyug 1917. “Finally, Categorically he declared that under no circumstances would be allow the investment in the studio to be used as security for further loans, irrespective of the consequences, whether the studio was working or he lost all his investment in the studio to be used as security for further loan, irrespective of the consequences, whether the studio was working or he lost all his investment”. The studio was working or he lost all his investment.” The studio was a sizable security according to standards of those days. As Phalke later started in an appeal, which he made to the public for funds on the “Gudi Padva” day in 1917, (Chaitra Shudh Pratipada 1839) an amount of over a lakh of rupees was locked up in the studio, machinery etc. But he could neither make use of it as a security, nor could be he abandons the studio and the workers for all times.
Troubles never come alone and Phalke, already in a soup of adverse circumstances, had to face calamities after calamities. Writing about it, Phalke says (Navyug 1917) “The very few loyal people I had with me were affected by malaria. My Chief Photographer was twice on the verge of collapse and my electrician died of cholera. The electric generator fell to pieces. My manager needed a surgical operations. He was implicated (additionally) by the police in a false case”, But the multiple difficulties, instead of discouraging Phalke, merely spurred him to more definite action. Collecting petty funds from various sources, he started directing the film Life of Shriyal. But more calamities were evidently in store for Phalke. To Put these in his words, (Navyug 1917) “ I am getting doses of such pure stimulants as faithful employees who are prepared to risk even their lives for me and friends who have disinterested love for me and chaste wife from a noble family and of obedient and promising children and of the atmosphere of selfless work in the factory. It is not at all surprising that I am still an undaunted optimist.
These “stimulants” were aids- not substitutes to the working capital and as the War grew from days into months and from months into years “ I was on the verge of dispair” says Phalke,” I tried all possible means to secure the capital, I approached all sorts of people, beginning from princely families, state authorities, noblemen managers, merchants, even down to ordinary folk, like, clerks, Everywhere my lack of security was the first stumbling block and the second was wartime conditions.” Very much preoccupied with with conditions created, by war, people around him including his friends and well wishers just could not understand or were not in a mood to understand Phalke’s plans and ideals. Even his appeals to the leaders of “Swadeshi” Movement to give support to film-making in India as a national industry, went unheeded which is the unmistakable lot of a man much ahead of his times, But Phalke could not be deterred, having himself seen and experienced the amazing results of his first three films – not only in India but even abroad. With transparent sincerity and passionate dedication, he continued to apply himself to his work with the attitude of a “Karmayogi” – Toiling hard for an ideal without any expectation of reward and publicized a scheme for collecting funds, which invited loans from one rupee onwards, with proper interest. The response to the scheme was ridiculously cold – just three persons came forward from the whole of Bombay and Poona! Phalke then contacted Lokamanya Tilak who had visited his studio at the time of 16th Provincial Conference at Nasik and who had intiated the “Swadeshi’ movement for helping Indian Industries. Tilak a great visionary him self, immediately agreed to arrange for a loan through “Paisa Fund” Scheme. But something went wrong somewhere and the “Paisa Fund” loan was never received. Phalke issued another circular to the public: “Do not let this institution die.” If some wealthy People will give even a portion of the money they want to utilize for charitable deeds in the memory of the relatives, I will also use the income from my institution for charitable deeds only”. Phalke learned the hard way that he must not depend on chance or charity to attain his ideal.
Meanwhile, things were fast deteriorating for Phalke. The financer had already stopped payment long back. The liabilities were mounting day-by-day but “such is my insane obsession with my hopes and ideals for this profession and such is the love for my country” says Phalke (Navyug 1917) “that even though I have no hopes whatsoever of getting any capital, I keep on accumulating quarterly compound interest. The curious thing is that my employees are equally obsessed with the same ideals”. But obsession with ideals was one thing and facing the realities was just another! Phalke had to do something for his own subsistence as well that of his employees or whatever was left of them. Throughout 1916, Phalke was traveling place to place in quest of capital and at the same time giving shows of his autobiography Phalke says : “I tried to get financial help from the Chiefs of small states like Jamkhandi, Aundh, Miraj etc.but although the Chiefs praised my efforts, they were not able to help me financially, then I had to turn my attention to bigger states like gwalior and Indore etc. Since there were no theatres for cinema in many places. Then, I had to go on tour with my entire paraphernalia of operators, electricians, and doorkeepers as also the projection machine. I was in Gwalior for two months, and was trying for working capital but could not get the same because I was a Brahmin. Thereafter, I spent two months in Indore from whence I had to return due to plague epidemic in that place. Before doing so, how –ever I had obtained a loan of Rs. 5000/- from the Indore Princess through Shrimant Talcherkar Mamasaheb. With that loan, I came straight to Nasik.”
This incident appears to have occurred presumably towards the beginning of 1917. Even during war years Phalke had at least got the working capital For which he was yearning and plodding through all these fateful days nights – the darkest period in his life before dawn ! He was also fortunate in getting a loan o Rs. 1000/- from the chief of Aundh and some smaller amounts by way of loan from a couple of friends. But how to produce a picture within a shoestring budget of hardly about Rs. 8000/- and with a total staff of just 14 persons – including himself! But except for finance, Phalke was Capable of meeting any challenge of film – making. He had done it before. He could as well do it now more efficiently, more capably, within the limitations imposed on him by strange circumstances. Phalke not only produced one picture but two. “After three years of trying in every possible way, I was able to keep up my resolve of making two long programmes with very small capital and with the assistance of few worker’s says phalke in Navyug 1917. These are a new version of Raja Harishchandra and Lanka Dahan. By making a box office hit like “Lanka Dahan”. Even during the thick of war, I have set at rest all doubts about the commercial possibilities of films.” “Lanka Dahan was 3000 ft. in length while the new version of Raja Harishchandra wa shorter than the original version 2,944 ft. Phalke also appears to have made his short educational film viz. How Films are made (955 ft.) at this time with a dual purpose. Since his written appeals and similar canvassing for more working capital had yielded no results, he probably wanted to make a visual approach through this film and at the same time explain to the public at large the intricacies of Film-Making.
Lanka Dahan was a thumping success, wherever it was released. It was the biggest box-office draw of that period – among Indian and imported films. (Two other Indian Pictures were released simultaneously with Lanka Dahan. Madan’s Harishchndra at Alexandra and Patankar;s Pralhad at Darbar). When released at the west end cinema in Bombay (now Naaz) in September 1917, the normal shows of the theatre could not cope up with the vast, surging crowds surrounding the theatre, at all times. So the theatre management was completed to have continuous shows from morning till late at night writing about the success of Lanka Dahan Phalke says in his autobiography. “Lanka Dahan was a tremendous box-office draw. It collected Rs. 32,000/- at West End, Bombay in the first ten days alone. The Aryan Cinema, Poona had the same experience. The eager mob almost broke the doors of the cinema in Poona. In Madras, Lanka Dahan, collections had to be police.” It was at this time that Phlake wrote the story of how he produced films in Navyug magazine in four installments. Inevitably, the dazzling success of Lanka Dahan had attracted lot of attention all round. Phalke’s story on ‘Indian Films’ in Navaayug had also evoked sympathy and consideration from thinking person about the establishment of flim industry as a national industry.
Lokmanya Tilak appears to have read Navayug articles by Phalke,whom he knew for long. Because phalke writes in his autobiography “After reading my articles in Navayug, Lokamanya Tilak, Manmohandas Ramji and Ratanseth Tata decided to create a limited company for me with a capital ofr Rupees five lakhs. We had a few meetings in Bombay and Poona and even Memorandum and Articles of Association were drafted.” There were several other offers too. Surprisingly, one of them came from Begum Fatma, who later became famous flim star and also started her several meetings with Fatma at her Walkeshwar bungalow” Writes Phalke in his autobiography. “ She even came to Nasik with her daughters- Zubedia and others-for talks with me” Another tempting offer came to phalke from five industrialists of Bombay, through a broker. And it was this offer that Phalke ultimately accepted. “I wrote a letter to Lokamanya Tilak saying that I was arranging the formation of a partnership company myself”, writes Phalke in his autobiography. Towards the end of 1917 “Phalke’s films” was incorporated into ‘Hindustan Film Company with phalke as working partner and V.S. Apte, Mayashankar Bhatt, L.B. Phatak Madhavli jesing and Gokuldas Domodar as financing partners. By virtue of this partnership the four features and 16 shorts which phalke had produced earlier became the property of Hindustan Film Company (Kesari 1934). Relieved of his financial worries, Phalke was now able to concentrate on filmmaking. Until Lanka Dahan the Nasik studio was an open-air studio. Phakle was now able to have a ipucca studio for which he had prepared plans way back in 1914. The first plcture to be produced under ‘Hindustan’ banner was Shir Krishna Janma-a worthy successor to Lnka Dahan or even better than Lanka Dahan in many respects. This 5,500 ft. film had better exploitation than Phalke’s previous film because of the independent distribution arrangements of Hindustan’ and due to setting up of regional offices at Bombay and Madras. The picture was released in Bombay in 1918 and had wonderful reception. It was followed in quick succession by another prestige picture Phalke Kalia Mardan. In this picuter Phalke’s daughter Mandakini had played the role of young Krishna with great success.
A stickler for discipline, Phalke had set up a model studio at Nasik. Writing about it in his autobiography Phalke say’s “At seven every morning a doctor used to check up the health of the staff and artistes. All the members were required to take exercises daily for which all the equipment like double-bar, horizontal-bar etc.specially purchased from a circus. There were arrangements for football too. Coaches were specially employed to teach fighting, fencing and the like. A farm and a garden- the finest in entire Nasik District then-were also maintained Not only were these used for outdoors, but vegetables and other products from the fram were utilized for the common mess in the Studio. There was a Library, a reading room and even a miniature zoo. It was a one big happy family!
But the happiness was short-lived. There were differences between Phalke and other partners. An artist by temperament, Phalke could not see eye-to-eye with his partners in certain matters of film production. As a result, Phalke suddenly decided to retire from film business and go over to Benaras towards the end of 1919. It was certainly a great loss to the embryo film industry in the country. But what was loss to the screen, turned out to be a great gain for the stage. Because it was during his sojourn at Benaras that Phalke worte his famous drama Rangabhoomi, which was a searching satire on dramas and stage-conditions of that period. The drama was in seven acts and had to be performed on two consecutive nights – four acts during the first night and three acts during the following night. Phalke had also prepared a model of a new autobiography, “At Benares I had almost completed writing my drama. Lokamanya Tilak, Who had come to benares around May 1920, listened attentively to some scenes from my drama and enjoyed them. He also saw the stage model. Tilak promised all assistance for building the stage as p3er model and to arrange for my drama to be played there. Unfortunately Tilak died soon therafter”. But Phalke went through the drama scheme just the same. He not only completed the drama, but formed a drama company, collected the artistes, coached them and staged the drama at Bombay, Poona and Nasik. Incidentally, to give expression to his musical talent, Phalke had introduced a number of songs in his drama. Phalke knew music well. “I had a sweet melodious voice and had received full scientific instructions in Maulabux Musical school of Baroda” Phalke wrote in 1936 Diamond Jubilee number of Kalabhavan Baroda. Phalke’s drama venture, however, did not prove successful as a business proposition. All the same, as a dramatist of high order, he was honoured as a President of the annual “Natya-Sammelan” held at Kolhapur in 1926.
Meanwhile, affairs at the Hindustan film company – minus the creative genius of Palke were also not very encouraging. A subsidiary company formed by “Hindustan during this period at Poona-Bharat film Company – with fresh talents, had to be wound up after a period o two years, because “Hindustan” no more had the monopoly of film production, as in the past Attracted by the financial success of Lanka Dahan and following the trail blazed by Phalke, a number of new film producing companies Madan, Kohinoor, Maharastra etc. – had already come up, both in Bombay and Calcutta. Except Maharashtra’ the majority o producers had started producing film on strictly commercial basis, trying to cash on the growing popularity of moving pictures. Hindustan films had to face now serious competition from such films, which probably complled the financing partners of Hindustan to recall Phalke to their fold once more, early in 1922. “Ultimately, I came back on certain promises and took charge of the studio after some reorganization”. Writes Phalke in his autobiography.
But Phalke, who rejoined Hindustan, Film Company 1922 was not the same old Phalke who once reigned supreme in his own, exclusive ‘Phalke’s Films’. His activities were necessarily conditioned by budgetary controls, release schedules and the like in a partnership firm. It appears from at accounts – particularly from his autobiography – that such an atmosphere was totally unsuited to phalke’s tastes and temperament. Phalke, of course, did direct a few films for Hindustan – one of the earlier and better known being Mahananda produced in 1923. But by and large, he had adopted an attitude of resignation and was satisfied with supervising only the technical side of the studio. Many of the pictures produced by Hindustan subsequently were directed by Phalke-trained assistants. Phalke continued to work for Hindustan till 1932. When the Company was voluntarily wround-up. According to censor reports, Hindustan Film Company produced 97 features films (including Phalke’s early four films) and 26 short subject – a majority of which were produced by Phalke himself under his “Phalke Films.” The last silent pictures directed by Phalke for Hindustan viz. Setu Bandhan which was produced in partnership with one of his erstwhile financiers – Maya Shankar Bhatt – had to be synchronized later due to the advent of “Talkies” in 1931.
“I had decided to retire from the film industry after completion of Setu Bandhan”, says Phalke in Kesari 1934. “But What next? That question stared me in the face. Because I have made no savings. Such was the irony of fate that Phalke, whose pictures created box-office records and earned lakhs of rupees was now without any savings after 20 years and 97 pictures; Phalke, who had established a major industry, which provided employment to thousands of people was himself looking for a gainful employment, at the ripe old age of 62. But Phalke’s enthusiasm even at that age appears to be as fresh as when he started the film industry back in 1912. Being totally unsuited for servitude by nature, Phalke naturally wanted to start an industry, because the impression made on his mind by Tilak’s ‘Swadeshi’ movement were deep and lasting. “It is enough if I am able to stop the imports of foreign goods even in a very small way” said Phalke Kesari (1934). He had by now started the manufacture of enamel boards the basic knowledge of which he had obtained at Kala Bhavan, Baroda, some forty years back. “While I was experimenting with Photo – Mechanical process, I came across a small book on ‘Photo-Ceramics’ in the Kala Bhavan Library”, says Phalke (Kesari 1934). “After some experiments, I was able to prepare the finished photo ceramics. Prof. Gajjar not only appreciated my work but even offered my scholarship for that.” This was alright as an experiment but for starting This industry, “I had not only to use all my saving but had to take some loan to make up the initial capital of about eight thousand rupees Phalke says in Kesari 1934. Phalke’s enamel boards were appreciated by the Director of Industries. The boards were also put before the public in the Classified Trades Exhibition’ held in Bombay and the ‘Industrial Exhibition’ held at Poona then. But mere appreciation was not enough. To expand the business, Phalke had to face the challenge of finance. “I had become wires by previous with financiers. But since I was required to arrange for only 10,000 to 20,000 rupees for my ‘working capital’ felt it will not be difficult as in the past” says Phalke in Kesari issue of 1934. But the progress of the enamel board production does not seem to have gone as per plan, be cause towards the end of 1934 Phalke accepted a direct Gangavataran for Kolhapur Cinetone –to be produced in Hindi and Marathi. It took over two years for the complection of the picture because of creating misunderstandings which occurred between Phalke and the producing company. The strain of film-making was too much for a man nearing 70, with the result that Phalke became sick and was taken to Koregaon by his friend and famous novelist Narayan Hari Apte and put under medical treatment About this time Phalke had written in a postscript to a letter: “Gangavataran may be my last picture. It is my last desire that my pictures and the way I produced them should be severely criticized. Because it is only through such criticism that the future could be improved”.
These words proved prophetic! Gangavataran actually turned out to be the last picture of Phalke. Even at that age Phakle was receiving offers from producers of as distant place as Luck now in North and Rajahmundry un South. He was also toying with the idea of making short films on the same lines as those he so successfully made between 1914 to 1917. “I through of implementing my idea of making educational and industrial films” Phalke wrote in an article written some time before his death. There was even some correspondence with Prabhat Film Comp-any for starting a branch for short filmmaking. But none of these ideas could be translated into action. With the passage of time and with the improvement in the quality and quantity of Indian Films, Phalke eventuallytity of Indian Films, Phalke eventually went into oblivion- except for a short spell when as the pioneer of Indian films he was honoured with a purse of Rs. 5,000/- at the time of Silver Jubilee Celebrations of Indian Film Industry held in Bombay in 1939. It was on February 16,1944 that Phalke breathed his last at the age of 74 at Nasik in poverty, like those two other pioneers of early films, George Melies in France and Friese Green in England. And yet the legacy which he has left behind in the in the from of Indian film industry is so great, so precious, that the name of Phalke will continue to be a synonym for Indian Films for all times!