Director: Dhundiraj Govind Phalke; Writer: Dadasaheb Phalke; Cast: D.D. Dabke, Purshottam Vaidya, Mandakini Phalke, Bhagirathibai, Neelkanth
Duration: 00:11:49; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 65.916; Saturation: 0.005; Lightness: 0.300; Volume: 0.303; Cuts per Minute: 12.011
Mandakini, the film-maker's daughter, played the child god Krishna, repeating her role in Phalke's next mythological, Kaliya Mardan
(1919). Beginning with the invocation of 'almighty god', the only available sequence of the film (576ft), which may in fact be its last episode, opens with a shot of a river from behind the backs of a group of people, echoing the position of the audience vis-a-vis the miraculous appearance of young Krishna rising out of the water astride the demon snake Kaliya. Phalke then cuts 180 degrees across the axis to the audience of the scene, an editing pattern he repeats several times, locking the two spaces into each other at right angles. The viewer enters Yashoda's space as she rocks the sleeping Krishna's crib and irilagines the god as Gopala, generating a fantasy space in which the evil Kamsa imagines Krishna threateningly duplicated many times around him. Kamsa then imagines himself dead as his severed head rises up out of the frame and descends again, a matte effect that was one of the film's highlights. The end has people of all castes paying obeisance to the deity and Phalke inserted the title-card: 'May this humble offering be accepted by the Lord'. Adverts included a reference to a 'spectacular' scene of 'the heavenward flight of Maya in the form of lightning'. Released to great acclaim in Bombay.
Suresh Chabria writes: ‘Shri Krishna Janma begins with a series of religious images which are perhaps the most invocatory in all Hindu mythology—the people beseeching the gods for succour and deliverance from the tyranny of demons. Vishnu rises from the cosmic ocean on the many-hooded serpent god Shesha and pledges that he will restore the balance of creation by being born as Krishna.
The framing of the human figures at foreground bottom of the frame identifies them with the spectator. Early cinema’s privileging of a ‘single view point and its posture of displaying something to the audience’ that Gunning and Gaudreault have discussed is here confirmed in the case of India’s early films as well. Phalke then cuts 180 degrees across the axis to the supplicants—an editing pattern which he repeated with memorable effect in the climax of Kaliya Mardan.
Unfortunately, only fragments from the original length of 5500 ft. have survived, but these include special effects of amazing virtuosity and sophistication which can be compared with the best of Méliès. The most famous of these is of the demon-king Kamsa’s hallucination. Destined to be destroyed by the child Krishna, in a vision he sees his severed head floating in a geyser of blood. It is part of Indian film lore that the blood in this trick shot was hand-tinted in red’. From Suresh Chabria ed. Light of Asia: Indian Silent Cinema 1912-1934, New Delhi: Niyogi Books/Pune: National Film Archive of India, 2013, pg 73-74.
The print attached was re-issued by the National Film Archive of India, to new music.
Shri Krishna Janma constitutes a series of highly familiar episodes in the young Krishna's life : told and retold all over India, their 'magical' scenes are intended to evoke wonder and awe, and a highly coded, strongly erotic identification with the benevolent play of the young god. The film seeks to make no intervention other than bringing that wonder cinematically alive. It seeks to interfere as little as possible in the transferences that consequently occur: the illusionary encounter of the gaze, as producer: the wish-fulfilment in the mythical 'coming alive'.
The first sequence shows the miracle of Krishna's victory over Kaliya, the demon snake :
Shot 1 is an invocatory shot of Krishna with the famed sudarshan chakra', it is purely frontal and iconic.
Shot 2 frames the stage of action : river water moving left-to-right defines a distinct horizon, and there is a vast audience within the frame, waiting, with their back to us.
Title : All human efforts having turned out futile, the Almighty God is never at a great distance when prayed for sincerely and wholeheartedly.'
Shot 3 continues from shot 2with the sharp layers of backdrop.of sky, water and the crowd or people with their back to us. And then we see the miracle itself. The demon snake rises and upon it is the figure of Krishna.
Shot 4 cuts a full 360 degrees along the perpendicular axis. We now see the audience frontally, presumably (though not necessarily) from Krishna's eye-view. It is a purely reciprocal acknowledgement of the people watching.
Shot 5 cuts back to shot 3.
Shot 6 cuts closer along the same axis, giving us a mid-long shot of Krishna and the hood of the serpent.
For full text from Ashish Rajadhyaksha, 'The Phalke Era: Conflict of Traditional form and Modern Technology': go herehttps://indiancine.ma/documents/BYO/23