Father of Bollywood stars in India's Oscar entry

Thu Nov 5, 2009 3:26am EST
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By Shilpa Jamkhandikar

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.   Continued...