Hindi Cinema has come a long way. New technologies are being introduced in bollywood every other day. But this wasn’t the situation Cinema when it was first introduced to India on July 7, 1896. It began with the Lumiere Brothers’ Cinematography, unveiling six silent short films at the Watson’s Hotel in Bombay, namely Entry of Cinematographe, The Sea Bath, Arrival of a Train, A Demolition, Ladies & Soldiers on Wheels and Leaving the Factory. In the same year, the Madras Photographic Store advertised “animated photographs”. Daily screenings of films commenced in Bombay in 1897 by Clifton and Co.’s Meadows Street Photography Studio.
The ‘First’ feature film in India
The first narrative feature film made in India by N.G. Chitre and Dadasaheb Torne.The movie ‘Pundalik’ was a recording of a play. That time the camera used to be fixed on one platform and was a very heavy opto-mechanical-electrical instrument. So only “one angle” movie recording was possible. There was no concept of editing or close up shots etc. After watching the recorded movie Dadasaheb was not happy with the overall performance and the effect it was giving. So he decided to record it in parts and then join the film together. This is the job now professionally done by the film “Editor” and is an important job in the entire movie industry today. Many effects will be ineffective if the Editor does not do his job properly.
Dadasaheb was an original Director, Special effects person, Editor, Sound Recordist etc. and was a master of many other techniques now commonly used in the modern movie-making. It is sad that such a prodigy was not appreciated very much in the public due to his low-key or low profile nature.
2. Raja Harishchandra
It was the first full-length Indian feature film, made in 1913 and released commercially in May that year, by Dadasaheb Phalke. It was 3700 feet as compared to 1500 for Pundalik, made in 1913 Phalke had attended a screening of ‘The Life of Christ’ at P.B. Mehta’s American-Indian Cinema and was inspired to make films himself. He was convinced of the possibility of establishing an indigenous film industry by focusing on Indian themes.
Phalke brought an impressive string of qualifications to the cinema: painter, printer, engraver, photographer, drama teacher, and magician. The last distinction is particularly notable. He explained that his decision to make Hindu mythological films was due not only to his religious-minded audiences, but also because such subjects allowed him “to bring in mystery and miracles.”
The film was about an honest king. For the sake of his principles he sacrifices his kingdom and family before the gods, who are impressed with his honesty and restore him to his former glory. The film was a success, and Phalke went on to make more mythological films till the advent of talkies, and commercialization of Indian films lessened his popularity.
At the time when Phalke’s first films were released in Bombay, it was said that the cinema was displacing traditional entertainments, such as the theatre and circus, because of its astounding popularity. When Phalke took his films to Poona in 1913, they were screened at a theatre which normally exhibited performances of Tamasha, a western Indian dramatic form.
In Raja Harischandra, the priest as comic character—a staple of the western Indian stage—was used. Moreover, it was because of the development of the theatrical tradition that Phalke was able get the women performers he sought for his female roles—even prostitutes had refused to associate themselves with films. A lay-off in a theatrical company briefly secured for him the services of Durgabhai Gokhale and her daughter, Kamalabhai, the first women actresses of the Indian cinema.
The ‘First’ Indian cinemascopic film
Kagaz ke phool (1959)
The cinematographer of Kaagaz Ke Phool was the legendary V.K. Murthy and it has the distinction of being the first Indian film made in wide 75 mm CinemaScope.The film also won critical acclaim in direction, lyrics and poetic songs. S.D. Burman and Kaifi Azmi poured their heart and soul in the music and lyrics of this film respectively.
Produced, directed and acted by Guru Dutt in 1959, the film was a box office disaster of its time but was later resurrected as a world cinema cult classic in the 1980’s. Technically the film is perhaps his best film. The camera work with its use of light and shadows is magical. The frames have been beautifully composed keeping in mind the cinemascope format. The relationship between the director and his protégé is delicately handled on a very human plane. The film making scenes are shot with meticulous attention to detail. The ambiance of the film studios is most effectively created. The songs in the films are very popular – ‘Dekhi Zamaane ki Yaari’ and ‘Waqt ne Kiya Kya Haseen Situm’, the latter being perhaps the best ever song sung by Geeta Dutt.Ironically, today ‘Kaagaz ke Phool’ enjoys a cult following and goes house full whenever re-released.
The film tells in flashback the story of Suresh Sinha (Guru Dutt) a famous film director. His marriage to Bina (Veena) is on the rocks because her wealthy family sees Filmmaking as a job lacking in social status. He is also denied access to his daughter Pammi (Naaz) who is sent to a private boarding school. On a rainy night Sinha meets a woman Shanti (Waheeda Rehman) and gives her his coat. She comes to the film studio to return the coat and disrupts the shooting walking in front of the camera. Seeing the rushes Sinha is sure that she is a star in the making and she is cast as Paro in Devdas.
Shanti becomes a star and she and Suresh, two lonely people, come together. They are spoken about in gossip columns and even Pammi’s friends make life miserable for her. She pleads with Shanti to leave Sinha’s life and Shanti withdraws becoming a school teacher in a small village. Her withdrawal leads to a decline in Sinha’s fortunes and he finds himself down and out. Shanti is forced to return to films since she has a contract with the studio but cannot help him, as he is too far-gone. Finally Sinha remembering his glorious past dies in the empty film studio in the director’s chair, a lonely and forgotten man.
The ‘First’ talkies film
Alam Ara (1931)
March 14, 1931 was a historic day for Indian cinema. Ardeshir Irani of Imperial Movietone released Alam Ara, the first full-length Indian talkie film at the Majestic cinema in Bombay. This film very effectively broke the golden silent era and laid a milestone that marked the steeping into the new talkie era as well as rang the death knell to silent films.
Alam Ara (The Light of the World),was the first Indian sound film. Irani recognized the importance that sound would have on the cinema, and raced to complete Alam Ara before several other contemporary sound films. Alam Ara debuted at the Majestic Cinema in Mumbai (then Bombay) on March 14, 1931. Both the movie and its music were widely successful, marking the beginning of filmi music in Indian cinema.
The film was based on a Parsi play written by Joseph David. David later served as a writer at Irani’s film company. The story centers on an imaginary, historical royal family in the kingdom of Kumarpur. The main characters are the king and his two warring wives Dilbahar and Navbahar. Their rivalry escalates when a fakir predicts that Navbahar will bear the king’s heir.
Dilbahar, in revenge, attempts to have an affair with the kingdom’s chief minister Adil. The affair goes sour and a vengeful Dilbahar imprisons him and exiles his daughter, Alam Ara (Zubeida). In exile, Alam Ara is brought up by Gypsies. Upon returning to the palace at Kumarpur, Alam Ara meets and falls in love with the charming young prince (Master Vithal). In the end, Adil is released, Dilbahar is punished and the lovers marry.
Apparently this film is no longer available in any format and even the National Film Archive does not have a copy.
The ‘First’ color film
Kisan Kanya (1937)
Kisan Kanya was a 1937 Hindi feature film which was directed by Moti B. Gidvani and produced by Ardeshir Irani of Imperial Pictures. It is largely remembered by the Indian public on account of it being India’s first indigenously made colour film. Film pioneer Ardeshir Irani, who had produced notable films as Nala Damayanti (1920) which was India’s first international co-production(with Italy) and India’s first talkie ‘Alam Ara’ (1931)conceived the idea of producing a color film. The result of his efforts was the color film ‘Kisan Kanya’ made with the Cinecolor process whose process rights Irani had obtained from an American company.
Ardeshir Irani became the father of talkie films with the release of Alam Ara on 14 th March, 1931. He is also accredited with the first Indian English film ‘Noor Jahan’ in 1934. He completed his hat-trick of earning fame when he made first colored film of India: ‘Kisan Kanya’ in 1937, although the trend of colored films started very late. His contribution does not end only with giving voice to the silent cinema and colors to the black & white films, he gave new courageous outlook to film-making in India and provided such a wide range of choice for stories in films that till date there are films being made which have a theme relating to one of the 150 films made by Irani. He made movies not only in Indian languages but also in English, German, Indonesian, Persian and Urdu languages. He wanted to make his Imperial Company a real universe company because he was the representative of Universal studios (USA) and the Universal was his all time ideal.
Kisan Kanya was based on a novel by Saadat Hasan Manto and focussed on the plight of poor farmers.The story revolved on the life of a poor peasant Ram (Nisar) who was being ill-treated by his landlord Ghani. Eventually, Ghani is murdered and Ram becomes the prime suspect in the eyes of the public.The film performed moderately at the box-office.