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Raja Harishchandra

Raja Harischandra
Publicity poster for film, Raja Harishchandra (1913).jpg
Publicity poster for film show at the Coronation Cinema, Girgaum, Mumbai
Directed by Dadasaheb Phalke
Produced by Dadasaheb Phalke
Screenplay by Dadasaheb Phalke
Cinematography Trymbak B. Telang
Edited by Dadasaheb Phalke
Phalke's Films
Release date
  • 3 May 1913 (1913-05-03)
Running time
40 minutes
Country India
Language Silent
Budget ₹10,000
Box office ₹47,000

Raja Harishchandra (lit. King Harishchandra) is a 1913 Indian silent film, directed and produced by Dadasaheb Phalke, and is often considered as the first full-length Indian feature film. The film was based on the legend of Raja Harishchandra, recounted in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The film, being silent, had intertitles in Marathi language and its cast and staff were primarily Marathi people. Therefore, it is recognised as the first Marathi film along with the credit of being India's first full-length feature film.

The film marked a historic benchmark in the film industry in India. Only one print of the film was made. It was a commercial success and paved the way for more such films.


King Harishchandra is giving his son a lesson in archery. A crowd approaches the king who, at the request of the citizens, goes out on a hunting expedition. He goes on a long adventure that involves walking alongside a river and climbing down a forested hill. Tragedy strikes Harishchandra when he unwittingly interrupts the sage Vishvamitra in the midst of his yajna. To assuage the sage, the contrite king offers his kingdom and lays down his crown. Back at the royal palace, the queen is swimming in an indoor pond with her handmaidens. She and the young prince are informed about the changed circumstances and the sage exiles all three royal personages to arrange for his gurudakshina. The trio leaves the palace amidst crying factotums and much frantic gesticulating. The royal couple eventually meets again — this time at a cremation ground where the prince lies dead. The duty-conscious Harishchandra, however, continues to rebuff his wife. The sage is then shown to frame the queen for murder. And a judge decrees that the queen be beheaded by the king. Harishchandra refuses to leave the straight and narrow path of virtue and upholds his promise even when pushed to this extreme. Pleased, an incarnation of Shiva manifests itself on screen. The sage is also revealed to be a benign examiner of Harishchandra's integrity. The king gets his crown back and the rejuvenated little prince once again dons his finery.[1]


  • Dattatraya Damodar Dabke, King Harishchandra
  • Anna Salunke, Queen Taramati, Harishchandra's wife
  • Bhalchandra Phalke, Rohitashva, son of Harishchandra and Taramati
  • Gajanan Vasudev Sane, Sage Vishwamitra

Other artists in the film were:[2]

  • Dattatreya Kshirsagar
  • Dattatreya Telang
  • Ganpat G. Shinde
  • Vishnu Hari Aundhkar
  • Nath T. Telang


Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, popularly addressed in reverence, as Dada Saheb Phalke, who eventually came to don the title "father of Indian Cinema",[3] was the director, script writer and producer of the film. He started a studio in Dadar Main Road. He wrote the screen play, and created the sets for the film and started shooting the film himself. The film was Dada’s first feature film venture of full film length of 3700 ft (in four reels) about 50 minutes of running time, and it took seven months 21 days to complete the film.[4][5] The film was screened at the Coronation Cinema in 1913 before invited audience of the representatives of the press and guests. The film received wide acclaim and was a commercial success. Phalke followed it up by making films such as Satyavan Savitri, Satyawadi Raja Harish Chandra(1917), Lanka Dahan(1917), Sri Krisna Janma(1918) and Kaliya Mardan(1919).[3]

Phalke was greatly influenced by the style of painter Raja Ravi Verma in the making of his films. Just as Verma brought Hindu mythology on canvas, Phalke brought it in motion pictures.[6] He would make many films based on mythological stories from Ramayana, Mahabharata and others. Dadasaheb's wife cooked food alone, without any help, for the whole cast and crew, which were more than 500 people. She also washed the clothes and costumes, helped in the posters and production of the film, and co-operated with the cast, satisfying them with food and water.[4]

Harishchandrachi Factory is a 2009 film based on the making of Raja Harischandra. The title is based on the fact that, when the film was made, working in films was taboo, so Dada Saheb advised his artists to tell others that they were working in the factory of one 'Harishchandra'.[7]


While The Life of Christ was rolling fast before my eyes, I was mentally visualising the gods Shri Krishna, Shri Ramachandra, their Gokul and Ayodhya...Could we, sons of India, ever be able to see the Indian images on the screen?

 – Phalke on watching Jesus on the screen[8]

On 14 April 1911, Phalke along with his elder son Bhalchandra went to see a movie, Amazing Animals, at the America India theatre, Girgaon, Mumbai.[9] Surprised by seeing animals on the screen, Bhalchandra informed his mother, Saraswatibai, about his experience earlier that day. None of the family members believed them, so Phalke took his family to see the movie next day. As it was Easter that day, another film, The Life of Christ, was screened at the theatre.[9] While watching Jesus on the screen, Phalke envisioned Hindu deities Rama and Krishna instead and decided to start the business of "moving pictures".[9] After completing his two weeks trip to London to learn filmmaking techniques, he founded "Phalke Films" on 1 April 1912.[10]

During his London trip, Phalke had placed an order for a Williamson camera and Kodak raw films which reached Mumbai in May 1912. He set up processing room and taught his family to perforate and develop the film.[11] Though Phalke was certain of his idea of filmmaking, he did not find any investors. So, he decided to make a short film to demonstrate the techniques. He planted some peas in a pot with camera placed in front of it. He shot one frame a day for one and a quarter month. This resulted in a video of the seed growing, sprouting, and changing into a climber and lasted for about one and a quarter minutes. The short film was titled Growth of a Pea Plant and was shown to selective people. Some of them including Yashwantrao Nadkarni and Narayanrao Devhare offered a loan to Phalke.[12]


In his Marathi language magazine Suvarnamala, Phalke had written a story Surabaichi Kahani (A Tale of Sura). The story was his initial consideration for the filmmaking which depicted the ill effects of Alcoholism. After watching several American films that were screened in Mumbai, he observed that the films based on mystery and romance were liked by the audience. The family members suggested that the storyline should appeal middle class people and women and should also highlight Indian culture.[13] After considering various stories depicted in Hindu mythology, Phalke family shortlisted legends of Krishna, Savitri and Satyavan, and Harischandra.[11] A play based on the legends of Harishchandra was then popular on Marathi and Urdu stage.[14] Friends and neighbours had often labelled Phalke as "Harishchandra" for having sold all his belongings, except his wife's Mangala sutra, to fulfil his filmmaking dream.[12] So, Phalke finalised on the legends of Harishchandra and wrote the script for the feature film.[14]


Wanted actors, carpenters, washermen, barbers and painters. Bipeds who are drunkards, loafers or ugly should not bother to apply for actor. It would do if those who are handsome and without physical defect are dumb. Artistes must be good actors. Those who are given to immoral living or have ungainly looks or manners should not take pains to visit.

 – Casting call published in various newspapers[15]

Phalke published advertisements in various newspapers like Induprakash calling for the cast and crew required for the film. It was well received and huge number of applicants came in for the auditions. As the film was being made as silent, Phalke allowed dumb artists to do audition but he was not satisfied with the skills of performers. With increasing response to the advertisement but poor success rate for the selection, he discontinued the advertisements and decided to scout for the artists through theatre companies.[15]

Padurang Gadhadhar Sane and Gajanan Vasudev Sane were among the first artists to join "Phalke Films".[16] The former was doing female roles in a theatre company "Natyakala" and latter was performing in Urdu plays.[15] Both joined on the salary of 40 per month. Gajanan Sane introduced his acquaintance Dattatraya Damodar Dabke. Phalke was impressed with Dabke's good physique and personality and offered him the lead role of Harishchandra.[16]

In response to the advertisement, four prostitutes auditioned for the role of Taramati. Phalke rejected them for not having satisfactory looks and revised the advertisement to include "Only good-looking women should come for interview".[16] Two more prostitutes auditioned but left after two days. A young lady with "passable appearance", who was a mistress, auditioned and Phalke selected her for the female lead. She did rehearsals for four days. However, on the fifth day, her master objected her working in the films and took her away.[16] Phalke also visited the red-light area Kamathipura of Grant Road in despair. He was asked to pay high enumeration or marry the woman.[17] One day, while having tea at a restaurant at Grant Road,[17] Phalke noticed Krishna Hari alias Anna Salunke, an effeminate young man having slender features and hands.[18] Salunke was working as a cook or waiter at the restaurant on a monthly salary of ₹10.[18][19] He agreed to work in films when Phalke offered him a raise of five.[20][a]

Phalke took auditions of many boys for the role of Rohitashva, son of Harishchandra and Taramati, but none of the parents allowed their children to work in the film as the character would have to live in the forests and was to die. Finally, Phalke's elder son Bhalchandra was assigned the role.[16] He became the first child actor of the Indian cinema.[22] The film had an all-male cast as no woman was available for playing female leads.[23]

Classification as first Indian film

Some have argued that Raja Harischandra cannot be called the first Indian film as Dadasaheb Torne's film Shree Pundalik was released on 18 May 1912 in Bombay, one year before Phalke's film. However, Shree Pundalik is a cinematographic recording of a play, using a single, fixed camera; it is one of a number of such Indian films that predated Raja Harishchandra. Additionally, the cameraman for Shree Pundalik was a Briton, and the film stock was processed in London.[24][25][26]


The film premiered on 21 April 1913 at the Olympia Theatre, Grant Road for a selective audience that included famous personalities of Bombay (Mumbai) and editors of many newspapers.[27] It was first shown in public on 3 May 1913[28][29] at Bombay's Coronation Cinema, Girgaon, where crowds thronged the roads outside the hall, as it marked the beginning of the Indian film industry. The film was so successful that Dada Saheb had to make more prints to show the film in rural areas as well.[citation needed] The film was a grand success and soon established Phalke as a producer and paved the way for the Indian film industry.[30]

Extant prints

The original film was in four reels, and the National Film Archive of India, Pune has only the first and last reels, making the film a partially lost film. Some film historians believe that they belong to a 1917 remake of the film, named Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra.[31]

See also


  1. ^ Salunke would later reprised the same role in Phalke's 1917 film Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra and became the first actor to play the double role in Indian cinema by portraying the male lead Rama and his wife Sita, in Phalke's 1917 film Lanka Dahan.[2][21]


  1. ^ Raheja, Dinesh; Kothari, Jitendra (2004). Indian Cinema: The Bollywood Saga. Aurum Press. p. 17. ISBN 1-84513-016-2. 
  2. ^ a b Rajadhyaksha & Willemen 1998, p. 243.
  3. ^ a b Kirpal Sigh Annie Mathew. Middle School Social Sciences. Frank Brothers. pp. 8–. ISBN 978-81-8409-103-8. Retrieved 7 April 2013. 
  4. ^ a b The Beginning: The Silent Movie Era Archived 22 October 2007 at Wikiwix, Asia Studies, University of Berkeley.
  5. ^ Dawar 2006, p. 9.
  6. ^ Tamhane, Abhijit (28 April 2008). "एक मल्याळी चित्रकार 'मराठी' चित्रं रंगवतो..." (in Marathi). Maharashtra Times. Retrieved 8 June 2012. 
  7. ^ Plan to showcase making of India's 1st film Archived 25 August 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Dwyer 2006, p. 1.
  9. ^ a b c Watve 2012, p. 24–26.
  10. ^ Watve 2012, p. 33.
  11. ^ a b Watve 2012, p. 35.
  12. ^ a b "मुलाखत: धुंडिराज गोविंद फाळके" [Interview: Dhundiraj Govind Phalke]. Kesari (in Marathi). Pune. 19 August 1913. 
  13. ^ Watve 2012, p. 34.
  14. ^ a b Watve 2012, p. 36.
  15. ^ a b c Watve 2012, p. 37.
  16. ^ a b c d e Watve 2012, p. 38.
  17. ^ a b Watve 2012, p. 39.
  18. ^ a b Bose 2006, p. 50.
  19. ^ Dwyer 2006, p. 23.
  20. ^ Schulze, Brigitte (2003). Humanist and Emotional Beginnings of a Nationalist Indian Cinema in Bombay: With Kracauer in the Footsteps of Phalke. Avinus. ISBN 978-3-930064-12-0. Retrieved 5 April 2013. 
  21. ^ Majumdar, Neepa (2009). Wanted Cultured Ladies Only!: Female Stardom and Cinema in India, 1930s–1950s. University of Illinois Press. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-252-09178-0. Retrieved 5 April 2013. 
  22. ^ Gulzar, Nihalani & Chatterjee 2003, p. 29.
  23. ^ Jha, Subhash K. "10 pre-release big ones". Retrieved 8 June 2012. 
  24. ^ Damle, Manjiri (21 April 2012). "Torne's 'Pundlik' came first, but missed honour". The Times Of India. 
  25. ^ Mishra, Garima (3 May 2012). "Bid to get Pundalik recognition as first Indian feature film". The Indian Express. Retrieved 3 May 2013. 
  26. ^ Overview New York Times
  27. ^ Bhingarde, Santosh (21 April 2012). "भारतातील पहिल्या "प्रीमियर'चे आज शताब्दी वर्षात पदार्पण" (in Marathi). Mumbai: Sakal. Retrieved 8 June 2012. 
  28. ^ Today in History 3 May, NDTV.
  29. ^ "Anurag Kashyap shoots in Amitabh Bachchan's home". The Times Of India. 
  30. ^ Ramesh Dawar (1 January 2006). Bollywood Yesterday Today and Tomorrow. Star Publications. pp. 1987–. ISBN 978-1-905863-01-3. Retrieved 5 April 2013. 
  31. ^ Raja Harishchandra National Film Archive of India.


External links