Director: Dhundiraj Govind Phalke; Writer: Dadasaheb Phalke; Producer: Dadasaheb Phalke; Cinematographer: Dadasaheb Phalke; Cast: Mandakini Phalke, Neelkanth, Purushottam Parchure, Yadav Gopal Takle, Narayan Pache
Duration: 00:46:55; Aspect Ratio: 1.364:1; Hue: 99.324; Saturation: 0.005; Lightness: 0.396; Volume: 0.047; Cuts per Minute: 9.632; Words per Minute: 2.408
Summary: Introducing Phalke as the ‘Pioneering Cine-Artist of the East’, the most complete Phalke film extant opens with a series of shots demonstrating the 7- year-old Mandakini Phalke’s acting skills through a series of facial expressions. The playmates of Krishna (Mandakini) are insulted by a female villager who splashes water on them. They take revenge by stealing butter from her house. When they are beaten up by the woman, they again take revenge. Krishna receives a gift of fruit and gives it away, ‘an act which foreshadows his future benevolent inclination’. The film’s most elaborately plotted sequence has Krishna entering the room of a wealthy merchant and his wife at night and tying the man’s beard to his wife’s hair. These exploits lead to a large crowd complaining of Krishna’s antics to his foster parents. The film ends with Krishna vanquishing the demon snake Kaliya in a fierce underwater battle, intercut (cf Shri KrishnaJanma, 1918) with the faces of anxious observers. Krishna eventually rises triumphant with the slain demon’s tail on his shoulder, garlanded by the now liberated wives of the demon. Only 4441 ft of the original film survive.
Suresh Chabria writes: ‘Kaliya Mardan is a celebration of the lila or divine play of the child Krishna. It begins with a marvellous prologue in which the child actress enacting Krishna (Phalke’s daughter Mandakini who had earlier essayed this role in Shri Krishna Janma) is shown in her everyday clothes before she is dissolved into the character she is playing. After an inter-title–‘Study in facial expressions by a little girl of seven’–she enacts a few of the nine rasas or aesthetic sentiments of the Indian classical arts—humour, anger, wonder etc.
The narrative of Krishna’s childhood then unfolds through a juxtaposition of static tableaux with complex sequences of parallel cutting from one location or group of characters to another. Towards the end of the film, the great underwater sequence shows Krishna quelling the serpent-king Kaliya. This is followed by the ritual of aarti in a tableau vivant which reproduces the high point in Hindu temple ritual. According to the veteran exhibitor and film historian B.V. Dharap, this was the signal for audiences to break into spontaneous kirtan (singing of devotional songs) and shouting nationalist slogans. Kaliya thus symbolised to them not only the traditional concept of adharma or evil in Hindu mythology but colonial rule as well.
With its characteristic blending of the real and the imaginary and the use of Western film techniques with a distinct Indian ethos, Kaliya Mardan is the first definitive masterpiece of Indian cinema.’. From Suresh Chabria ed. Light of Asia: Indian Silent Cinema 1912-1934, New Delhi: Niyogi Books/Pune: National Film Archive of India, 2013, pg 55-56.