Dada Sahib Phalke, the legend of Indian cinema

(1870 – 1944)

The boy born in 1870 to Daji Sahib, a professor of Sanskrit, grew up as Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, later became a legend in the history of Indian Films as Dada Sahib Phalke. He made Raja Harishchandra, India's first indigenous silent movie and became the foster father of Indian moviedom by his contributions that continued for several years. For Raja Harishchandra, he played the lead role, wrote the script, coached up other actors, designed the costumes, operated the camera, took out the print, edited it...…from paper work to the final projection, all by himself. It marked the birth of one of the first feature films produced in India, and the birth of the film industry in the country. 

Phalke evinced a keen interest in liberal arts from his younger days and joined a famous school of arts in Bombay in 1885, and then shifted to Baroda, the seat of arts in western India. He studied architecture and photography and grabbed a job as still photographer and draftsman in the archeology department (1903). This life attracted him to the world of films. He went to Germany to get trained in color processing (1909).  He managed to set up a printing press in Bombay and brought out two pictorial magazines. His fascination for films was so intense that he made a short film called 'The Growth of a Pea Plant'; went to England, managed to gather information about making films, and collected raw film stocks, and  equipments for film making, before returning to Bombay.

It was with these new found equipments and ideas, that he made Raja Harishchandra, almost single-handed. On April 21, 1913 his film was exhibited before an invited audience at the Coronation Theatre in Bombay. And that was the beginning of commercial film industry in India.

Phalke set up a film studio, which included a chemical lab as also a distribution company. In 1913 he made another film, Bhasmasur Mohini, in which for the first time in India two women too acted. It was in 1932 that films in India became talkies. In the same year Phalke made his last silent movie, Sethubandhan. He had made more than hundred feature films and around twenty short films. In 1937 he made his last film Gangavatharan. 

Though he made films and made history, his last days were miserable. When the silver jubilee of film making in India was celebrated in 1942, he too was invited, but his pioneering role in Indian film making was not properly recognized. However, the film fraternity in Bombay collected a fund and purchased a house for him and it was in this house that he spent his final days before passing into history. Nation honoured his memory in many ways and one of those is the setting up of Dada Sahib Phalke Award, the highest award for a film maker in India.