Seeds of Indian cinema grew from one photographer's obsession

Thu May 2, 2013 7:14am EDT
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By Shilpa Jamkhandikar

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Male actors dressed as women and scenes were projected on a white sheet for a gamble that almost bankrupted one Indian photographer, whose obsession with creating a "moving picture" sowed the seeds for the world's largest film industry.

On Friday, Indian cinema marks 100 years since Dhundiraj Govind Phalke's black-and-white silent film "Raja Harishchandra" (King Harishchandra) held audiences spellbound at its first public screening on May 3, 1913, in Mumbai.

Phalke's 40-minute film, about a righteous Indian king who never told a lie, was shot mostly at his house with a motley group of actors including his young son.

"He wasn't an ambitious man, but he was gripped by the immense possibilities of the movies and what they could do," said film-maker Paresh Mokashi, who chronicled the making of India's first feature film in a 2009 Marathi-language movie.

"He saw that if done properly, this art would prosper in India."

Prosper it did. Indian cinema, with its subset of Bollywood for Hindi-language films, is now a billion-dollar industry that makes more than a thousand films a year in several languages.

It is worth 112.4 billion rupees (over $2 billion) and leads the world in terms of films produced and tickets sold.

Phalke, who had been a photographer and worked at a printing press before movie fever gripped him, battled numerous hurdles to make "Raja Harishchandra" barely two decades after the first film commercial exhibitions began in New York using the kinetoscope.   Continued...

A worker pulls a publicity cut-out of a Bollywood movie in Mumbai December 16, 2009. REUTERS/Arko Datta