Director: Dhundiraj Govind Phalke; Writer: Dadasaheb Phalke; Cinematographer: Trymbak B. Telang, Dadasaheb Phalke; Cast: D.D. Dabke, Bhalchandra Phalke, Anna Salunke
Duration: 00:15:11; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Lightness: 0.239; Cuts per Minute: 3.488
Summary: Phalke's remake of his 1913 film. The original version of this very successful theme was written by Ranchhodbhai Udayram, but made popular by Vinayak Prasad Talib's Urdu version for the Baliwala Victoria theatre group (1884) and Bhartendu's Hindi Satya Harishchandra (1885). The homage to the upright King Harishchandra (Dabke) who almost sacrifices his kingdom for his love of truth, opens with a Ravi Varma-like tableau showing the king, his wife Taramati (Salunke) and his young son, to whom he is teaching archery. Derived from the Sangeet Natak, continuity is defined through juxtaposition of spatial planes (e.g. the space of the family idyll and the space 'beyond', while off-screen space functions like stage wings) which allow the narrative to be condensed into spaces against, and into, which the viewer's gaze traces a logic of movement. The hunt proceeds into and conquers the space beyond. Then the king blunders into a contiguous area controlled by the sage Vishwamitra, a mystical space opposed to the king's physical one. To atone for his mistake, the king is banished. In his play, Talib had introduced an Indrasabha-like fairy to seduce the king into renouncing the kingdom. In the film, this figure surfaces in the form of the three furies caught in flames whom Harishchandra tries to rescue. The hunt sequence, as well as the reduction of Nakshatra, Vishwamitra's disciple, into a comic character, are faithful to the play. The king endures much hardship before a deux ex machina (here literally a god) emerges at the join of the horizon and the gaze (cf Shri Krishna Janma, 1918) to reassure everyone that the whole narrative was merely a test of the king's integrity. Only 1475 ft. of the original film appear to have survived.
Suresh Chabria writes: ‘Preceded by two lost eðorts at making a narrative film in India, the first or 1913 version of Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra is commonly reckoned as India’s first true, indigenous feature film. It was made in an improvised studio in Bombay by Phalke’s Films, a production company consisting mainly of Phalke’s family and friends. Phalke produced, directed, scripted, designed the sets and costumes, supervised the camerawork and processing, and created the special eðects. The film was released at Bombay’s Coronation Cinematograph on 3 May 1913 and thus launched India’s film industry which, within a few decades, was to become one of the most profitable, influential and popular in the world.
However, since the Pordenone retrospective where NFAI’s print of Raja Harishchandra was shown as made in 1913–as it had always been in India– new facts have come to light. V. Dharamsey has found conclusive evidence in contemporary sources to prove that the print actually consists of the first and last reels from Phalke’s 1917 remake produced after he moved to Nasik. The main proof is that while in the 1913 version an actor called Pandurang Sane played the role of Queen Taramati, this role is played by a diðerent and far better known actor, Anna Salunke, in the extant film. In fact, Salunke again appears prominently in two more Phalke films—Lanka Dahan and Kaliya Mardan.
Dharamsey was already convinced about this important, even momentous, finding in 1994, but it could not be included in the first edition as the book had already gone to press. I also exercised caution since more time was required to examine the evidence. Besides this, there was undoubtedly reluctance on my part–as also among several other historians and colleagues familiar with the film–to immediately accept the new dating. For to do so meant that the treasured reels one had long believed to be from the very first Indian film ever made, were, in fact, from the second version made four years later.
To return to the film itself, Raja Harishchandra is based on one of the most popular Mahabharata legends and unfolds in a series of tableaux that are typical of Phalke’s style. It narrates the exemplary story of King Harishchandra’s devotion to truth and duty for which he is prepared to sacrifice everything. For enthusiasts of Indian silent cinema, each surviving sequence carries tremendous nostalgia and significance, even though we now know that it was made in 1917. Among these are the opening royal hunt; Sage Vishwamitra’s fire sacrifice which King Harishchandra accidentally profanes and is consequently sent into ‘exile; his breaking of the news of their banishment from the kingdom to his queen, Taramati; their tearful departure from the palace; the tribulations and sufferings of Taramati and their son Rohidas in exile; the climax in the cremation ground where Shiva, the great God of Destruction, appears to prevent Taramati’s execution; and finally the family’s return to the palace which movingly brings the morality play to a happy conclusion. Each of these episodes is vividly etched in our collective imagination.
Phalke apparently made the second version to replace worn out prints and is said to have copied the original very closely. Thus what a contemporary review of the 1913 film states probably applies to the 1917 version as well␣‘...the result of his (Phalke’s) eðorts exceeds one’s expectation ... Dramatically the film is admirable ... one can freely praise the beauty and ingenuity with which he has succeeded in presenting effectively the most difficult scenes ...’ The latter remark obviously refers to the special effects which were to become Phalke’s forté and a distinctive feature of the mythological genre he pioneered.
Besides the two versions made by Phalke, Madan’s Elphinstone Bioscope Co. also released its own version Satyawadi Raja Harishchandra in 1917, which is the first feature film produced in Calcutta. Among the several subsequent renderings of the story is Prabhat Film Co.’s Ayodhyacha Raja (1932) too, directed by V. Shantaram which is the earliest surviving Indian sound film'. From Suresh Chabria ed. Light of Asia: Indian Silent Cinema 1912-1934, New Delhi: Niyogi Books/Pune: National Film Archive of India, 2013, pg 67-69.
Raja Harishchandra is valuable in the way it demonstrates some of these rules. The 'Puranic Tale of King Harishchandra', as the opening title proclaims, begins with a long opening shot...
From: Ashish Rajadhyaksha, 'The Phalke Era: Contradictions of Traditional Form and Modern Technology', pgs 72-76.
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Raja Harishchandra, his wife, and son are outdoors in what seems to be their garden. Raja Harishchandra might be teaching his son to shoot with a bow and arrow. The soon shoots and seems to have hit bull's eye, their helper, a woman, runs on Raja Harishchandra's command and brings back a small earthen pot which the arrow in it. The king seems very pleased with his son's mastery at shooting. Just then, a man runs in (who could be the gatekeeper) and informs the king on what seems likely to be visitors for him. The king allows them to see him. The vistitors touch his feet and ask him to come out with them. The king takes his bow and tells them, it seems, to go out and wait for him.