Rarely have I come across marathi films which have portrayed the great human qualities of enthusiasm and resourcefulness in a way that Paresh Mokashi’s movie ‘Harishchandrachi Factory‘ has depicted. As I was walking out of the theatre yesterday after watching a matinee show of this movie, I couldn’t help but admire not just Mokashi’s work but also the vision and spirit of Dhundiraj Govind Phalke (popularly known as Dadasaheb Phalke) who was the founding father of Indian cinema, a person lightyears ahead of his time.
‘Harishchandrachi Factory’ – First Theatrical Trailer
Without giving away too many spoilers, I’ll try to convey my impressions about the movie and the life and times of Dadasaheb Phalke. Mokashi could have very well made a documentary-type film about the legendary Director-Producer-Scriptwriter, but by inducing the element of comedy and sarcasm in the movie, he has perfectly captured the personality of Phalke – a sort of Charlie Chaplin touch by the Director in illustrating social apathy through comedy. The movie never lingers on any incident for more than five minutes, which is great when you realize how much of his life they had to portray and the amount of research the creative team would have to do to achieve this. In fact many scenes (especially during Phalke’s first London tour) run in a sort of 2x speed, giving you the general idea about how Phalke went about learning the art of film-making without drifting away from the basic idea of the movie. The traditional setting of British-Raj ‘Bombay’ has been wonderfully rendered in the sets and costumes of the actors. The casting is good too, in fact this is one area in which the Marathi film industry is looking into seriously nowadays. Some scenes, like the shooting of (probably) India’s first ‘home movie’ when Phalke’s wife shoots a motion-picture of their three kids, or the scene where Phalke allays the fears of his crew by asking them to describe their workplace as a “picture factory” (using English words to add weight to their argument), add lightness to the story.
Phalke’s early ventures with different forms of stage entertainment, like still-photography and magic shows (using a pseudo-name which was an acronym of his actual surname), and his craving for knowledge of new stuff is excellently represented. The unwavering support he got from his family is rightly highlighted throughout the movie, especially in the dialogue where Phalke is leaving for his London tour and whispers in his wife’s ear – “He sagla tuzhyamule hou shakala..” (All this was made possible because of you). The fact that his wife not just looked after the meals for the entire crew but also looked after the editing and development of the actual film rolls shows how much she was involved in her husband’s dream! She was a perfect mix of traditional values and modern thinking. The way Phalke, against all odds, stuck to idea of creating a motion-picture and later crossed each hurdle in his path with a perennial smile on the face, faith in his mind and a solution in his head is simply awesome. For me, the portrayal of his resourcefulness is the main selling point of this movie. If ever you needed a strong-willed person to create a piece of history, you had that person in Dadasaheb Phalke.
The commitment he showed during the entire endeavor of making his first film was nothing short of spectacular, sometimes even choosing work before the health of family members. He had realized the fact that in a silent film, emotions on the actor’s face and the overall body language of the performer would be of utmost importance. This is illustrated in how he forced male actors doing female roles to practice draping the Indian ‘saree’ and work in it all day so that the movements and actions would come naturally to them.
At that time the idea of moving-pictures-on-a-screen was as bizarre as the modern idea of having human settlements on planet Mars. The way Phalke convinced other people, including some suspicious and cynical friends, and the way he marketed the finished product to the masses shows how he used his wit to his advantage. His wish to continue making films in India despite receiving lucrative offers from Producers and film-makers to make them in the United Kingdom shows his attitude.
For an industry which churns out a staggering amount of movies each year, you might have thought that a film about how the juggernaut started would have come long time ago. I think Paresh Mokashi has tried to fill that void with this movie. Believe me, it still seems unbelievable sometimes that not too long ago Marathi movies were generally shunned by big multiplex theaters. Movies like Amol Palekar’s ‘Anahat‘ changed this for the good and today Marathi movies are given slots in competition with mainline Hindi movies. Whether ‘Harishchandrachi Factory’ should have been included in the award category for Best Foreign Language Film at the Annual Academy Awards (Oscars) this year is up for debate. I personally think this decision is subjective, and depends upon the taste of the jury and the knowledge of the cultural background and chronological time in which the story is based.
I’m not complaining though, because if it would have been selected in the above mentioned category at the Oscars’, we would have had to wait for some time before it started playing in theaters here. In a funny sort of way I’m glad that didn’t happen!