Dadasaheb and the Bollywood Dream Machine

A Scene from Raja Harishchandra, by DadaSaheb Palkhe

India’s romance with the silver screen began on May 3, 1913 at Bombay’s Coronation Cinema. Raja Harishchandra, India’s first full-length feature film was released to the public by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke fondly known as Dadasaheb Palkhe (April 30, 1870 – February 16, 1944. Dadasaheb’s work was greatly influenced by the art of Raja Ravi Varma, the great Indian painter.

Dadasaheb Palkhe, started his career as a small time photographer in the town of Godhra before he was driven away from his hometown for practicing this new art form as the camera was seen as a life snatching lens. Aggravated by his anguish, Dadasaheb went through a brief state of paranoid disillusion. This was until he met German magician Carl Hertz. Carl was one of the 40 “magicians” employed by the Lumiere Brothers.

The Lumière Brothers, Louis Jean and Auguste Marie Louis Nicholas had developed an ingenious invention, the motion picture camera. The first paying show was in Paris at the Grand Café in the Boulevard des Capucines.. Soon after, they went on tour with the cinématograph, and in 1896 visiting Bombay, London and New York. That fateful night Carl Hertz’s was presenting to an audience, brimming with Bombay’s elite, at the enchanting Watson’s Hotel and Dadasaheb Palke was present. That night the moving images had an immediate and significant influence on popular culture in Bombay.

Palkhe was mesmerized by this new medium. Acknowledged as the father of Indian cinema, Phalke dedicated his life to this medium and made more than 100 films and 30 short films in a span of 25 years. From its humble beginnings, Cinema in India has become a resounding industry, with a list of glorious traditions and accomplishments. In the 93 years of its existence, Indian cinema has produced the largest number of feature films in the world (about 850 to 900 every year). More than 25 million Indians see Indian films every day.

Many see Indian cinema as a significant medium to promote national unity and integration. During the period of the Indian freedom struggle, cinema inspired sentiments of nationalism en masse. This medium is arguably, the single largest disseminator of popular culture and plays a significant role as a medium of entertainment, information, education and as a catalyst of social change in India.

In an inexplicable way, Dadasaheb Palke’s vision and dreams gave birth to this astonishing dream factory we call Bollywood.

DadaSaheb Palkhe

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