16 February 1944: Dadasaheb Phalke, director and screenwriter, died

Popularly known as the ‘Father of Indian Cinema’, Dadasaheb Phalke was one of the most eminent directors and screenwriters in the history of Indian film industry. He was born on 30 April 1870 and breathed his last on 16 February 1944 at the age of 74 years. In his career of 19 years, he made 95 full-length movies and 26 short movies.

Dhundiraj Govind Phalke was born in a Marathi family. He belonged to the Chitpavan Brahmin family at Tryambakeshwar, which is at a distance of almost 30 km from Nasik, Maharashtra. His father was quite well known in the area as an accomplished scholar. In 1885, Dhundiraj Govind Phalke sought admission to Sir J. J. School of Arts and passed from the same in 1890. Later he joined the Kala Bhavan in Baroda, where he gained knowledge of various subjects like engineering, photography, sculpture, painting and drawing.

Dhundiraj Govind Phalke tried his hand at many professions. Initially he became a photographer, but had to leave the work as his wife and child succumbed to plague and passed away. He also worked as a draftsman with the Archaeological Survey of India for some time. But he wasn't satisfied and so tried his hand at printing business. His specialties were oleograph and lithography, and he gave his services for painter Raja Ravi Varma. He also started his own press and went abroad to know more about the same. However, his career at the printing press did not run long as there were discords with the partners.

The restless Dhundiraj Govind Phalke then decided to try his hand at filmmaking. After watching The Life of Christ, a silent film, Phalke decided to make moving pictures. He made his first film Raja Harishchandra in 1912 and it was shown to public at Coronation Cinema in Mumbai on 3 May 1913 for the first time. This was actually the commencement of the Indian film industry. All the departments for making Raja Harishchandra were handled by Indians and there were no foreigners included.

The success of his first movie gave Phalke the confidence of making many more movies, including documentary films, short films, comic films, educational films and so on. With the growing popularity of Indian films, many wealthy businessmen became interested in investing money in them. Getting finances also became easy now.

Hindustan Films is the first film company which was formed by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke along with some noted businessmen of Mumbai, who were partners in the same. The businessmen were taken into partnership so that the finances of the company did not suffer. Dhundiraj Govind Phalke created a model studio and also imparted training to various actors as well as technicians. However, the happy times did not last for long as there were incessant problems with the partners. His resignation from Hindustan Films took place in 1920 and he also announced his retirement from the world of cinema. However, when the film company ran into severe losses, Phalke was requested to join back, which he did. 

Some of his best films include Gangavataran (1937), Raja Harishchandra (1913), Shri Krishna Janma (1918), Savitri Satyavan (1914), Mohini Bhasmasur (1913), Kaliya Mardan (1919), Setu Bandhan (1932) and Lanka Dahan (1917). He breathed his last on 16 February 1944 in Nashik.

In 1969, the Government of India, in honor of the great director and screenwriter, started the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, which is given to a person in showbiz for lifetime contribution to cinema. This award is one of the most revered awards for the film fraternity in India. In 1971, a postage stamp depicting Phalke was also released by the Indian Post.


Also on this day:

1978 – Wasim Jaffer, Indian cricketer, was born

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