November 5, 2009 / 8:29 AM / 8 years ago

Father of Bollywood stars in India's Oscar entry

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - When Dhundiraj Govind Phalke decided to make a movie in 1911, he faced ridicule and a severe shortage of funds. Undeterred, he sold most of his belongings to create India’s first feature film, “Raja Harishchandra,” sowing the seeds for what is today the world’s largest film industry.

Nearly a century later, when Mumbai-based theater artist Paresh Mokashi decided to make his first film, he chose to tell Phalke’s story, but he found his own plight wasn’t very different from that of his subject.

“I mortgaged my house, pulled out every penny that I had in my pocket. A lot of people weren’t sure of the script and the subject,” Mokashi, who completed “Harishchandrachi Factory” (Harishchandra’s Factory) in 2008, told Reuters.

Mokashi’s story has a happy ending: “Harishchandrachi Factory” is India’s entry to next year’s Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category. And UTV Motion Pictures, one of the country’s biggest production houses, has acquired its rights.

“My aim was to tell the story of the man who started what is now the world’s largest film industry. Phalke faced a great deal of problems while making the film,” Mokashi said.

“He had no previous experience, no money and a family to feed. Yet, he faced all these hurdles with a smile and a devil may care attitude,” he added.

Phalke, known as the father of Indian cinema, released “Raja Harishchandra” in 1913, going on to make 95 full-length movies and 26 short films in a career that spanned 19 years.

He died in 1944, but his name lives on in the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, instituted in his honor by the government in 1969 and which is, until today, the highest award in Indian cinema.

In the 2008 film, Phalke almost loses his eyesight from staring at miniscule cinema prints in the dark, and convinces friends and family to act in his film, based on the ancient Hindu tale of the king Harishchandra.

Mokashi says Phalke’s life inspired him while making his debut film, on a budget of just $600,000.

“My family was absolutely supportive of me mortgaging our house. Everyone in the unit was happy to make do with whatever was available, because we all took a lesson from Phalke’s life,” he said.

The film, which was made in Marathi, a language spoken in the western Indian state of Maharashtra where Phalke lived, has been drawing rave reviews in India since its release, and was the closing film of the South Asian International film festival in New York.

Siddharth Roy Kapur, of distributors UTV, says the company aims to get it screened all over the United States ahead of next year’s Oscars in a bid to better its chances.

“This is a gem of a film that almost didn’t get made. Now, our aim is to see that it gets as many screenings as possible, so that members of the Academy can watch it,” Kapur said.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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