Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, famously known as Dadasaheb Phalke, was a renowned Indian filmmaker and screenwriter, popularly dubbed as the ‘Father of Indian Cinema’.
From an early age, he was artistic in nature and displayed great interest in the creative arts. He pursued arts for completing his graduation and later took up various jobs such as that of a photographer and a draftsman. He also tried setting up his printing business but closed it down when problems arose with his partner. The turning point in his life came when he saw a silent film and was deeply moved by its poignancy. He decided to become a filmmaker and viewed it as his mission to present Indian mythological characters on the moving picture screen. Eventually he released the first full length Indian motion picture, ‘Raja Harishchandra’, the most important milestone in Indian cinematic history. His persistent faith and pioneering efforts laid the foundation of Indian cinema. He was a visionary who foresaw the potential of the film medium and also made people realize its cultural and financial worth. Through his relentless commitment and earnest efforts, cinema has become an inevitable part of Indian culture in today’s world. Named after him, the ‘Dadasaheb Phalke Award’ is the most prestigious award in the realm of Indian cinema which is bestowed every year to honor distinguished contribution to the film medium.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on April 30, 1870 at Tryambakeshwar, Maharashtra, India into a Marathi Brahmin family. His father was a proficient Sanskrit scholar.
He received his early education from Sir J. J. School of Art, Mumbai in 1885. In 1890, he completed his school education and then attended the Kala Bhavan in Baroda.
He learnt about sculpture, engineering, drawing, painting and photography in Kala Bhavan.
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He started his career as a photographer in Godhra but left it after the demise of his wife and child. Later, he worked as a draftsman for the Archeological Survey of India for a brief period of time.
Then he opted for the business of printing and started his own printing press. He traveled to Germany to inquire about the latest technology and machinery for his press.Alongside, he also worked for the Raja Ravi Varma, the famous painter of Indian mythological gods and goddesses, and learnt more about art.
After watching a silent movie ‘The Life of Christ’, he was immensely inspired and envisioned Indian gods on the screen. This event became a turning point of his career and marked the beginning of the dream of cinema-making in India.
After watching the silent film, he borrowed some money and made the first motion picture of Indian cinema titled ‘Raja Harishchandra’, in 1912. The movie was publicly shown on May 3, 1913 at Mumbai's Coronation Cinema. It was an unbelievable experience for public and he received much appreciation for his work.
After the success of his first film, he made many movies and short films. Some of his renowned works were ‘Mohini Bhasmasur’ (1913), ‘Savitri Satyavan’ (1914), ‘Lanka Dahan’ (1917), ‘Shri Krishna Janma’ (1918) and ‘Kaliya Mardan’ (1919).
Soon silent films developed into a potential medium and also proved their financial viability. Therefore entrepreneurs approached him and he opened a film company ‘Hindustan Films’ in partnership with five businessmen from Mumbai.
The primary agenda of the businessmen was to gain profits while he solely focused on the creative aspect of filmmaking which led to difference of opinions and he resigned from the company in 1920. Although after some time, he returned to the film company and directed some films, he never really understood or appreciated the profit aspect of filmmaking and eventually left the company again. His last silent movie was ‘Setubandhan’ (1932).
In 1937, he directed his first sound film ‘Gangavataran’ which also proved to be the last film of his career. With the introduction of sound in cinema and the new diversified ways of filmmaking, his work lost admiration and eventually he took retirement from filmmaking.
In his 19 years of film making career, he made 95 movies and 26 short films. His other motion picture works include ‘Rajrishi Ambarish’ (1922), ‘Ram Maruti Yuddha’ (1923), ‘Guru Dronacharya’ (1923), ‘Ashwathama’ (1923), ‘Shivajichi Agryahun Sutaka’ (1924), ‘Satyabhama’ (1925), ‘Ram Rajya Vijay’ (1926), ‘Bhakta Pralhad’ (1926), ‘Hanuman Janma’ (1927), ‘Draupadi Vashtraharan’ (1927),‘Parshuram’ (1928), ‘Sant Mirabai’ (1929) and ‘Kabir Kamal’ (1930).
His most remarkable and unprecedented contribution to the world was Indian cinema. His debut film, ‘Raja Harishchandra’ (1913), a work based on Hindu mythology, is considered to be India's first full-length motion picture which laid the foundation of filmmaking in India.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married his first wife in 1885 but unfortunately she died in 1900. Later he married Saraswatabai and raised a family with her. His wife was very supportive of his profession.
He passed away on February 16, 1944, in Nashik, Bombay, British India, at the age of 73.
In recognition of his lifetime contribution to the Indian cinema, the ‘Dadasaheb Phalke Award’ was instituted in 1969 by the India government. The prestigious award is the highest official recognition for film personalities in India and is presented annually by the president of India for remarkable contribution to Indian cinema.