Harishchandrachi Factory (2009)
Here is film about the early days of Indian cinema that feels like it is made with the same passion of the industry’s pioneers. Other attributes shared include exuberant acting and broad humour, resulting in a delightfully good-natured film that can be enjoyed by all ages.
Amateur magician Dadasaheb Phalke is spellbound by his first glimpse of moving pictures and endevours not only to find out how the trick was performed, but to also create some screen magic himself. Learning what he can from books, magazines and a friendly projectionist, Phalke sends himself blind by incessantly watching film after film at the local tent theatre. Once recovered, he improbably sets off to London to get a crash course in filmmaking. Armed with his new-found knowledge, Phalke returns to India to make his film. All he needs now is a script, a crew and some actors. A little bit of money wouldn’t go astray either.
There is much fun to be had depicting the unique challenges Phalke encountered making the first feature length film in India. Unable to find any female actresses who would degrade themselves by appearing in such a venture, Phalke attempts to recruit ‘ladies of the night’, but they too feel such work is beneath them. In frustration, he succumbs to employing female impersonators, only to learn that custom prevents them from shaving off their moustaches while their father is alive.
Yet there are some experiences which are universal. The fascination and fear felt by early cinema goers is quaintly conveyed, as are the montages of Phalke’s education. Mimicking silent films in both camera speed and sound, these sequences are enhanced by the comical performance of Nandu Madhav as Phalke.
Vibhawari Deshpande portrays his supportive wife, who barely bats an eyelid as her furnishings and jewellery are sold to finance his dream. She even encourages his trip to London despite being pregnant with their third child. It’s no wonder that this biopic’s opening credits acknowledge that this adventure was one that was shared by the entire family.
Biopic depicts the making of Raja Harishchandra, setting up scenes rather than recreating them.