Restoration era of Indian cinema

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • |
  • Updated: May 02, 2013 18:22 IST

A still from the first feature film of India, Dadasaheb Phalke's Raja Harishchandra (1913). Dadasaheb needs no introduction. He was the expert of silent cinema and introduced India to the art of cinematic experience. Take a pictorial tour through Dadasaheb Phalke's life and films. (Images courtesy: The Silent Film, a book on Dadasaheb)

The years 2009-12 have been fruitful for goldies oldies of Indian cinema. So far, 566 films have been restored or digitised by the National Archives of India (NFAI) in these three years. The 20-odd silent films in NFAI collection that have been saved include Dadasaheb Phalke films like Raja Harishchandra, Kaliya Mardan; German-born director Franz Osten’s Light of Asia, Shiraz and Throw of Dice; Shyam Sunder Agarwal's Diler Jigar and Baburao Painter’s Muraliwala.

Raja Harishchandra – India’s first feature, a 40-minute film, was directed by Dadasaheb Phalke. It was based on the legend of the pious and upright king who first sacrifices his kingdom, followed by his wife and eventually his children to honour his promise to a sage. Released on 3 May 1913, it was a commercial success. D Dobke, a Marathi stage actor played the lead role of Harischandra. The female lead role of Taramati, Harischandra's wife was also played by a male actor, Anna Salunke.  Phalke's son Bhalachandra D. Phalke was the child artist who donned the role of Rohtash, son of Harischandra.

Kaliya Mardan – Phalke’s 1919 film captures various episodes from Lord Krishna's childhood. The remarkable opening of the film shows a closeup of Phalke’s daughter, Mandakini which mixes slowly with the image of her as Krishna.  Many moods of this child actress are captured in the film. The title of the film even says  “Study of facial expressions by a little girl of seven”. Phalke’s trick photography especially in the last scene of Kaliya Mardan, where little Krishna overpowers the giant serpent is innovative.

Light of Asia -- Directed by Franz Osten and Twenties’ superstar of Indian cinema, Himanshu Rai, the 1925 film was adapted from a book based on the life of Gautam Buddha. It was shot in Lahore, where the set decoration was created by Devika Rani, the wife of actor/director Rai and a noted actress herself. The film was released in the USA by the Film Arts Guild on 11 May 1928.

Throw of Dice -- The 1929 film formed the final part of a trilogy of Indo-German productions, between Franz Osten and Indian actor-producer Himanshu Rai. The movie is about two kings vying for the love of a hermit's daughter. The film has been described by reviewers as a cross between two Hollywood masters, Chaplin and Cecil B de Mille.


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