Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 14-15 (July-Dec 1987) p. 47.


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The Phaike Era

Conflict of Traditional Form and Modem Technology

Ashish Rajadhyaksha

However, I had decided to establish this (film) industry in India.

Fortunately, I was successful where several others failed. So I decided to establish it on a permanent footing to provide employment to hundreds of worker-artists like me. I was determined to do my duty even at the cost of my life, i.e., to defend this industry even in the absence of any financial support, with the firm conviction that the Indian people would get an occasion to see Indian images on the screen and people abroad would get a true picture of India.

Mountains, rivers, oceans, houses, human beings, animals, birds, everything on the screen is real. The miracle of the visual appearance of objects is sometimes caused by the play of light and shadow. This is the magic of the film maker.1

WITH DADASAHEB Phalke's Raja Harishchandra (1913), Indian cinema took off in several directions : art form, medium of communication, possessing a reach never before possible and only

occasionally envisaged by purveyors of the popular. Film actually brought to the fore tendencies simmering in painting, music and theatre, and so exposed new cultural and political frontiers for a variety of movements already in tussle with each other.

Phalke's own history2, pre-cinema, makes fascinating reading and serves as a backdrop to film itself. Bom in April 1860, he spent most of his early life dabbling in several media, all of which were then undergoing fundamental technological change. At the age of 15 he joined the JJ. School of Art, which taught (and still teaches) according to the principles of British academic art, naturalist landscape painting and portraiture. Moving to Kalabhavan, Baroda, he did a five-year course in drawing and painting, becoming quite proficient in nature-study and stilHifes,both in oils and in water-colour. He bought his first still-camera there in 1890. Impressing his Principal with the results he obtained from it, he was sent to Ratlam where, under the tutelage of one Baburao Walavalkar, he leamt the processes of three-colour blockmaking, photolitho transfers, ceramics and, of course, techniques of dark-room printing.

For the next sixteen years Phaike attempted a variety of different professions : in Baroda he was a painter of dramatic props (and, it is said, won a competition in Ahmedabad for a set-design), in Godhra a photographer, then in

Journal of Arts & Ideas 47


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