Dadasaheb Phalke: Father figure of cinema in India

This remarkable filmmaker and screenwriter is credited with the making of 95 films which included the milestone Raja Harishchandra, India’s first full-length silent feature movie.
Having watched a silent movie titled The Life of Christ, Phalke was inspired to depict the story of Indian deities on the large screen.(Illustration: Mohit Suneja)
Having watched a silent movie titled The Life of Christ, Phalke was inspired to depict the story of Indian deities on the large screen.(Illustration: Mohit Suneja)
Updated on Feb 14, 2020 06:13 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By HT Correspondent

Born on April 30, 1870, in Nashik, Maharashtra, to Sanskrit scholar and priest Govind Sadashiv (alias Dajishastri) and Dwarkabai, Dhundiraj Govind Phalke. Phalke grew up with six siblings who included four sisters and two brothers, completed primary education in Trimbakeshwar before he went to Bombay for matriculation. In 1885, he joined the Sir JJ School of Art in Bombay where he took up a one-year course in drawing. Later on, he joined Kala Bhavan at the Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda and to study sculpture, engineering, drawing, painting and photography. Phalke bought a camera and began experimenting with photography, processing as well as printing.


Phalke became a photographer in Godhra, Gujarat, but had to discontinue the work after the death of his first wife and child due to an outbreak of plague. Later, he worked as a draftsman for the Archaeological Survey of India for a short period. Turning his attention to the printing sector, he launched a press and travelled to Germany to inquire about the latest technology and machinery in connection to the new industry. He also worked for the famous painter, Raja Ravi Varma, who was renowned for his signature works depicting gods and goddesses.

Having watched a silent movie titled The Life of Christ, Phalke was inspired to depict the story of Indian deities on the large screen. That proved to be a turning point of his career and led to the beginning of cinema in India.

He borrowed some money and made India’s first motion picture titled Raja Harishchandra in 1912. The movie, that was publicly screened on May 3, 1913 at the city’s Coronation cinema, and Phalke’s achievement received accolades galore. Not the one to rest on his oars, he made many more movies including renowned works like Mohini Bhasmasur in 1913, Satyavan Savitri (1914), Lanka Dahan (1917), Shri Krishna Janma (1918) and Kaliya Mardan (1919).

As the silent films era gained momentum, Phalke launched the Hindustan Cinema Films Company in partnership with five businessmen from Mumbai. While two films made by the firm performed well on the commercial front, other challenges arose and left Phalke little option but to leave it.

Phalke formed a new firm, the Phalke Diamond Company, established a model studio and trained technicians, actors, but the initiative ended up in a miserable failure. His last silent film, Setubandhan, was released in 1932 and later re-released with dubbing. During 1936-1938, he produced his last film, Gangavataran (1937) which was the only talking movie directed by Phalke before he retired and headed for Nashik, where he died on February 16, 1944.


In recognition of his lifetime contribution to the Indian cinema, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, instituted by the government in 1969, is the highest official recognition for film personalities in India and is presented annually by the President for remarkable contribution to Indian cinema. The award contains a shawl, cash prize of ~10 lakh as well as the Golden Lotus (Swarna Kamal)


1. Dadasaheb Phalke’s entire family was involved in making the film Raja Harishchandra. He himself was the producer, director, writer and cameraman of the film. It was completed in six months and 27 days.

2. In 2009, the Marathi film Harishchandrachi Factory, directed by Paresh Mokashi, depicted Dadasaheb Phalke’s struggle in making Raja Harishchandra. It was India’s official entry to the Academy Awards.

3. In 1971, India Post released a postage stamp that featured Dadasaheb Phalke. On April 30, 2018, even Google honoured the biggest doyen of films in India on the occasion of his 148th birth anniversary.

4. As a truly multifaceted personality, Dadasaheb was involved in several fields other than films too. He was always eager to learn new skills. For example, when his photo studio and laboratory could not earn him a decent livelihood, Phalke took to painting stage curtains for drama companies. He also held magic shows in public after learning tricks from a German magician who had toured Baroda.

Source: Wikipedia,

Illustration: Mohit Suneja

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Tuesday, October 26, 2021