From PhalkeFactory

Lord Rippon- Viceroy of India

“I remember watching Parsi Gujarati plays in Bombay Theatre when I was a child,” says 74-year- old Pervez Dara Mehta, an old hand. He recounts that Parsi theatre groups dominated the Bombay theatre scene between the late 18 and early 1900s. “Some plays would begin at 10 pm and go on till two in the morning – with upto six ‘oncores’.” He tells us of a popular Parsi theatre genre called “seria-comic”, which encapsulated extremes of tragedy (seriousness), comedy and the in-between in a four-hour production. [1]

[2] mapping marathi theatre shanta gokhale

"Foreign forms of ornament are being constantly introduced into the country; and so rapidly are they spreading, that there is a real fear that they may at last irrevocably witiate the native tradition of the decorative arts of India" G.C.M.Birdwood[3]

Phalke writing in the studio.


Today, in the debris of our unfulfilled days, weighed down with the cares of this profession which is proving to be treacherous, no, I should not say that, rather, that it is dependent of investors who are too anxious to make money and have no regard for anything like detail and perfection .. Dealing with those buffets dealt by these businessmen with no vision- In the middle of all this insanity, I participated in a small home production with my wife and children- an enactment of Shakuntala. Sarasvati played Shakuntala and I could see how happy the children were with that decision, to see their homely mother as a comely maiden, but when the time came to cast me, both Prabhakar and Babaraya wanted me to play Durvasa, while they played the king of Hastinapur.

I suppose it is only right. After all, she is a child before my ageing self, this mother of my children, who has had to grow up before her time to look after my needs, perhaps I can only play a Durvasa to her Shakuntala. I added a beard to my face to give the whole thing some more authenticity, to teach them that which I believe in and which is all I have to give them- namely, a respect for detail, an industriousness and the pursuit of perfection. The boys were merry to see me, undoubtedly a villain in their daily lives, looking like this strange mendicant with bowl in my hand, but I noticed my daughter, usually so forthcoming around me, shied away in shock and Neelkanth, who hovers about Sarasvati like her shadow, started crying.

Sarasvati surprised me (smiles) with her spirited acting. She comes to life in the presence of her children, never so much before me. She sat on the doorway of our inner room, like a sad Shakuntala and fondled Neelkanth's head, as though he was Shakuntala's fawn, in her lap.

The fawn starts upon seeing Durvasa, but Shakuntala pays no heed. Durvasa calls out, once, twice, and then loses his temper. A song starts an exchange between Durvasa and Shakuntala.

(Meanwhile, the studio is flying through pasages of time which is unrolling in painted backdrops at the windows. Green forest, clinging vine, a distant brook, a tamarind tree with small, shy leaves )

Phalke, writing:

Those years, of the early 80's,Kirloskar's Natak company had taken the world by storm. I was too young to be taken to see anything, but I was rapt with the theatre of the Mahanagar, the city of Bombay itself. I was told stories of the theatre though, of Annasaheb's performance. People who had not been to the show, and most of our family and neighbours had not- felt that they could talk about it, so full of pride and wonder did accounts of the event make everyone! Marathi theatre had come into its own, everyone said, had learnt from Parsee and British theatre to tell our own particular stories with our songs, our kind of acting. Kirloskar conquered Bombay like that city was conquering me.

Of course the critics complained, of how he was reducing the songs, making the men sing like high pitched women, killing all sense of the sacredness of the music. But his music was like electricity, it ran through audiences and carried them away with it. When they returned home, they could not stop singing.

He was a smart man, Annasaheb, he made short singable songs, he gave everyone the illusion that they could sing. He had learnt the lessons of Nal.

( The studio somersaults and swings from side to side, like it fancies itself to be a trapeze artist. And flashing across the windows of the sumersaulting studio, are the kaleidescopic images of the city- Gothic architecture, a gas air balloon with Tukaram in it, a photograph of a native policeman nervously facing the camera. Then in a momentary silence and a darkness that falls over the windows, a large sun rises- it is a clock that is slowly being hoisted on intricate machinery. It radiates an imperial light as it goes, like Melies' sun. The studio steadies, the sun is hoisted, its 16 bells begin to chime Handel's Auld Lang Syne.

Kirloskarnatak 14869.jpg Bombay Policeman.jpg

Kirloskarnatak: 'But only when Balwant Pandurang Kirloskar (popularly known as Annasaheb Kirloskar) staged his first musical play Shaakuntal on October 31, 1880 in Pune did the trend of Sangeet Natak really start. Kirloskar included 209 musical pieces in his Shaakuntal of 7 acts. They consisted of a mix of Hindustani and Carnatic classical music, and lighter music.' [4]

The Naandi- invocation from the very first play- Shakuntal, in the Sangeet Natak tradition. reproduced for the film Bal Gandharava. [5]

There is a new King in Travancore, he tries to encourage Ravi Varma, suggests that he paints Sita Bhoomipravesam. At the same time, the eagerness of the visiting Governor of Madras to meet Ravi Varma makes the king, Vishakam Thirunal, jealous. Dewan T. Madhav Rao visited Travancore.

Ravi Varma's brother Raja Varma joins him his works sometime in the 1880's. He keeps a diary of their travels and experiences. They elaborated for themselves the European method of touching and re touching paintings till they reached some kind of satisfactory perfection.

Governor of Madras: your Highness, I am so very eager to meet the famous painter Ravi Varma

His Highness: Indeed, surely, we shall summon him

Governor of Madras: I am a devoted fan, he even painted an amazing likeness of me last year, my wife has been known to talk to it ha ha ha- of course he must have done many such portraits of you

His Highness: Indeed surely, he has done many such portraits

Governor of Madras: He is a rare treasure, a talent of distinction, a star in the crown of her Majesty.. and your crown of course.

His Highness: Yes, my crown, of course.

Governor of Madras: If one did not know with absolute certainity and I know it now of course, I would never have believed that this is the work of an Indian. It can compete with some fine specimens of Europe you know

His Highness: Yes, fine specimen of Europe.

Ravi Varma has entered and is standing a small distance behind, listening, looking crestfallen. As soon as he sees Ravi Varma, the Englishman leaps to his feet.

As soon as he sees the Englishman leap to his feet, His Highness stands up in deference to the Englishman.

Ravi Varma continues to stand in deference to both.

His Highness cannot sit down till the Englishman sits down. The Englishman keeps standing, in continuing politeness to the painter. His Highness begins to look unhappy.

Governor, Englishman: Ah there he is!! The prince of painters, indeed a king among painters and can there be a better royalty than that? Ah there you are, prince among painters

His Highness considers the words: Prince..

Ravi Varma is shaking his head and unable to speak.

Englishman, Governor, subject of Ravi Varma's painting the previous year: Ahhh sit down Ravi Varma

The king does not look at Ravi Varma

Ravi Varma does not look at the king

Neither sits down

Nor does the Englishman.

We see now that the court has been at attention, men in dignified dresses, standing up all along.

The Governor has begun to look restless, he starts rubbing his English boots against one another, as though fully concentrating on removing the dust.

Everyone is standing still. Ravi Varma bows low and leaves the gathered assembly. No one moves. He walks among the men who stand like they are also pillars in the hall, and into the silence outside, of empty corridors, and then, the road. His face reflects the tension of the breach of protocol.

He walks thus, on and on, and faces the sea of Bombay. He sees a passing buggy, gets into it, and gives him the address of his studio.

Ravi Varma takes class in JJ

धूंढीराज ढेर सारे विद्यार्थियों के बीच खड़ा है, पेंटिंग पर लेक्चर सुनते.

कारण एक है, जल रंग जब काग़ज़ पर अवतरित होता है, तो उसके तेज प्रचार को ठीक वक्त रोकने का सामर्थ्य कलाकार में होना चाहिए. तेल रंगो जैसा सुधार वहाँ नहीं किया जेया सकता है. इसका अर्थ यह है की तेल रंग की अपेक्षा जल रंग अधिक प्रभावशाली होते हैं? बिल्कुल नहीं. उल्टे मैं कहूँगा की जलरंग ठीक हैं, पर उसमें शान्ती नहीं है. असली शान्ती है, कोयले में. वो अधिक वास्तविक है. पर रंग जलरंग मैं दौड़ धूप रहती है. तेल रंग की गाती धीमी, अधिक कष्टदायी होती है.

Phalke draws on two points on paper:

There is a king in Baroda, a princess in Tanjore, they are married

(he makes a line)

In the process of going from here to here

( his line indicates)

Laxmibai is made into Chimnabai.


The young Chimna speaks neither Marathi nor Gujrati, but her eyes are round like circles, deep as the pond outside our Nasik studio.And she dances.

The single travelling dot is trailed by other dots. The series of dots sway, take shapes, of exhaust fumes, of a funnel, of a bird that takes to the sky:

Two young dancers, Gaura, and Sarada, have come with her to Baroda. Two nattuvanars and two teachers, Vadivelu and Sabhapati, complete the procession.

A room deep in the palace becomes a pretty rattle, the sounds of footwork and anklets become familiar..

One warm, lazy afternoon, Sayaji sits before a performance that is staged only for him. Three women dance for him. The nattuvanars keep step with cymbals, and sing, looking steadily at the dancer. The strange sounds that leap like off their lips like pebbles, seem to get caught in the open mouths of the anklets, the dancer plays with them, letting her feet become like butterflies on the ground. Saya will wonder in later years whether that afternoon was really a dream. He will wonder at a time when it will really become a dream, when to deal with loss he will try and concentrate on remembered moments. Liquid eyes that he had some claim to, were all she seemed made of that day. Eye widening impossibly as they implored, He had felt uneasy, she looked, almost- alien , in a a dazzle of silk and gold and flowers, crowned by those eyes responding to every cadence of a language unknown to him. Behind her, the vigorously undulating forms of the two dancers, their eyes more quiet and deferential.


Backdrops across painting and theatre

Jamsetji's notes.

Backdrops opened new worlds that could change rapidly within the space of a show. Huge paintings- 14 or 18 feet high and 26- 28 feet wide, could make any world come alive.

Painted backdrop.jpg Backdrop 3.jpgBackdrop 4.jpg


A lonely street where lovers meet under a smouldering afternoon sun

Factories belch smoke the colour of a deep evening sky, the back of a train in the distance, leaving its own trail of smoke, an Parsee gentleman races on his humpbacked tricycle, the wheels have painted clocks on them. Time and speed are money his painted image seems to say.

Unknown to him, his daughter steals out- there she is behind a pillar, no, she is under the shade of the lone tree in the city, meeting her down-on-luck lover.

Tram lines .JPG

The classical indian stage as space


painted backdrops, 19th and early 20th century theatre in India

Bombay, 1880.jpg

Look what I did with the Circle

The first Big Top was brought to India in 1880 by an Englishman Willaim Chirney, who offered 500 gold coins to any Indian who could hassle a horse the way he did. The Raja of Kurdwad's stable hand, Vishnupant Chhatre, took up the challenge, and thus was born Chhatre's Circus, the precusor of other "Indian" circuses: Deval, Parashuram, Lion, Karlekar, Shellar, Rayman, Malabar and Whiteways..


The roof of the circus tent was the sky of the world that you entered. Here anything could and must happen. An ill dressed magician had sold you a ticket at the gate. Limbs turned to jelly inside shimmering costumes, big animals danced and performed for the little ones, clowns were cursed with large boils on their noses for always telling lies. Men fell down like bears and laughed, their paws in the air. Bears wore frilly skirts and over them,bright blouses held together with strings.

The big top.jpg



[8] photogruave a committed artistic process of printing [9]

one of Jules Verne's 54 books series on Voyages Extraordinaire, "The end of Nana Sahib" or "The Steam House" or 'The Demon of Cawnpore" "I don't want to speak evil of railroads, Banks, since it is your business to make them; but let me ask whether you call it traveling to be jammed up in the compartment of a carriage, see no further than the glass of the windows on either side of you, tear along day and night, now among viaducts among the eagles and vultures, now through tunnels among moles and rats, stopping only at stations one exactly like another, seeing nothing of towns but the outside of their walls and the tops of their minarets, and all this among an uproar of snorting engines, shrieking steam whistles, grinding and grating of rails, varied by the mournful groans of the brake. Can you, I say, call this traveling so as to see a country?" [10] [11]