December 2, 2009 / 9:31 AM / 9 years ago

India revives century-old movie "magic lantern"

PANAJI, India (Reuters Life!) - Long before the lights, cameras and the action came to Bollywood, a family armed with a “magic lantern” breathed life into stories from Hindu mythology to audiences across India.

Nearly 120 years later, the same device — essentially a projector with colorful hand-painted glass slides — is enthralling modern cinema lovers at the annual International Film Festival of India, which is being held in Goa.

The green metal-and-wood projector, known as the Shambarik Kharolika, or Magic Lantern, is a star of the festival, drawing crowds keen for a taste of the movies, 19th-century style.

A slide show depicting the life of Krishna, a Hindu deity, was also presented at a special event at the festival this week.

In one sequence, a mouse appears to dart in and out of the mouth of a snoring demon. In another, the waters of Yamuna river recede as Vasudeva, the father of Krishna, attempts to cross it.

The Shambarik Kharolika, however, is more than just the precursor to what is now the world’s most prolific film industry: the device is the legacy of one family, the Patwardhans, who in 1892 entertained the nation with their show.

Gods were brought to life in their performance, with live music and narration accompanying the deft work of a projectionist who quickly switched the slides in front of a lens to give the impression of movement.

But interest in the show waned with the advent of motion pictures, and family members of the once popular troupe were reduced to amusing neighborhood children.

Sunil Patwardhan, the great-grandson of the show’s pioneer, donated the family heirlooms to the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) in 1983 in a bid to preserve them and share his family’s heritage with the world.

“At home, we were limited to showing it to neighborhood kids. This way we are able to show it to the entire world,” the 48-year-old Patwardhan, who works in a bank, told Reuters as he attended the magic lantern show at the film festival.

Former NFAI director P.K. Nair, who persuaded the Patwardhan family to hand over the slides to the archives, said they had agreed on the condition that the material be made available to them whenever they wanted to put on a performance.

Several shows have been held since, he said.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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