The first Indian feature film, ‘Raja Harishchandra’ by Dadasaheb Phalke, was released on May 3, 1913, at Coronation Cinema in Mumbai. Now after 99 years, it was another historic moment for Indian cinema when on August 29 the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) released the silent film in DVD format at its theatre. The NFAI spent Rs 7 lakh on the DVD project.
3 gems of old in DVD
The DVD also contains ‘Kaliya Mardan’, another classic silent film that Phalke made in 1919, and Kalipada Das’ film ‘Jamai Babu’. All three films in the DVD have background music, which was created at composer Narendra Bhide’s Don Studio in the city.
The DVD release was attended by NFAI director Pradeep Pathrabe, NFAI founder-director P K Nair, Indian film history scholar Prof Suresh Chhabria, music composer Rahul Ranade and Bhide.
The low-key programme was also attended by film buffs, who purchased many DVD copies. “It was a privilege to make ‘Raja Harishchandra’ and ‘Kaliya Mardan’ available to film lovers with the DVD release,” Pathrabe said. “We have invested Rs 7 lakh towards the entire cost of these three films, which are in the custody of NFAI.
‘Raja Harishchandra’ and two other films were released in a DVD after clearing all legal formalities to convert the originals into the DVD format for the general public. We have received a positive response from the descendants of Phalke and this made the project possible.”
NFAI budget funds
Pathrabe said no extra funds from the Centre were sought for the DVD conversion. “The DVD was made with our own routine budget funds, without taking any help from the Centre, and we have ensured the DVD is affordable by pricing it reasonably,” he said. “With the present stock of 12 to 16 silent films in NFAI, we shall soon release more films that are popular and have a high demand.” Prof Chhabria, who has widely researched Indian film history and is a consultant to NFAI, said there were more films of old that he could suggest for a DVD release.
“Old is gold and we have a quality collection of silent films,” he said. “I would suggest three more for a DVD release: ‘Murliwala’ and ‘Sati Savitri’ by Baburao Painter, both of which were made in 1927, and ‘Light of Asia’ made in 1925 by Himanshu Roy and Franz Ostia.” Nair was happy about the DVD release of the silent film classics. “The silent films of that era were never really silent, as they used to get a musical company of local artists to perform while screening the film,” he said.
He welcomed the effort made by Ranade and Bhide, saying they had given an effective musical impact to the vintage films. Ranade said he was very excited to have providing the background music for the films. “It was the most challenging work in my career and we used sitar, flute and violin, creating the effect of old sound by mixing with mono technology used till the 1960s,” he said. “It was transformed in such a way that it was sounded like coming from old speakers. I also studied Prabhat film music as a reference point.”
History in pieces
The film footage of ‘Raja Harishchandra’ exists in fragments — only 1,475 feet is available today. Sharayu Phalke Summanwar, Phalke’s great-grandniece in her book ‘The Silent Film’, stated: “It (Raja Harishchandra) was the first film by Dadasaheb Phalke, who made a total of 130 films in his lifetime. He worked against many odds, from having to work in an era of British rule and a World War to struggling with his own finances.”