14 January 2010 | VirginiaK_NYC
How the World's Bggest Film Industry Got Its Start!
I love movies about the movies, and this one is a standout.
Often I've thought about the dawn of cinema - that first heady round, the rush of making a picture that moved. Here's an appropriately joyful - and funny! - glimpse of that moment in India, home of the world's biggest movie business, the story of the making of India's first full-length film.
It starts when the man known as Dadasaheb Phalke sees a film for the first time -- British, short, Jesus dying and rising from dead, in a no-frills sort of way -- and gets the idea of making a movie like this for Indians, about Indian culture. It ends with the completion and recognition of the full-length Rajah Harishchandra, an historical film of a virtuous long-ago king. (The present film's title means "Harishchandra's Factory": in India in about 1913, if you've got a job on a film, what do you tell your neighbors who've never seen one? Phalke's advice -- say you work at a "factory" -- the foreign word will impress them and keep them out of your hair.)
The character of Phalke, as played with warmth and charm by Nandu Madhav, would be optimistic "to a fault," except that his persistence is so right, even when he goes to London alone and unannounced to get the advice and equipment he needs. He is in some ways the preoccupied technician/professor type, and in a pitch-perfect decision, director/writer Paresh Mokashi gives us a larger world that meets his somewhat blinkered but brilliant obsession with more or less unfailing appreciation and support. Local appreciation may be slower in coming, but of course we know that it did.
The story, all very solidly researched, is carried more by our itch to see his film get made and shown than by any manufactured tension about too many bad things happening. And by our anticipation of the next comic moment - expect special delight once casting problems arise where no woman will go near the camera, and mustache-retention problems arise when compromise casting for ladies' roles is accomplished.
The husband-wife partnership shines, Vishawai Deshpande's lovely and grounded Mrs P learns to develop film, and whatever is in her heart lets her survive furniture sales and big risks without resorting to nagging. Especially elegant, the matter-of-fact cooperation between Phalke and British film guys, who "get" him more or less right away, the way artists worldwide have pretty much always loved each other and their work in fellowship, irrespective of national tensions and problems.
Finally - production values are high, this looks as beautiful as it should and - for any worried western viewer - this is not a musical!! it's a "regular movie."