Sunday, November 7, 2010

Satya Harishchandra, The Facts And The Myths

Bishnu Gautam
 
Beating all higher profile Bollywood movies, a Marathi-language movie ‘Harishchandrachi Factory’ is India’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2010 Oscars. It is the second Marathi language movie nominated as India’s official entry for the Oscars after Shwaas (Breath) in 2004. Although Shwaas failed to make the shortlist, despite lobbying by Indian film star Amitabh Bachchan and cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar, ‘Harishchandrachi Factory’ is expected to create history as it is a film about Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, the father of Indian cinema.
According to AFP, Paresh Mokashi, a theatre artist, had the idea of making the film after reading the biography of Phalke. Mokashi is both the writer and director of the film, and it is his debut film as a director.
Phalke, a photographer by profession, had made ‘Raja Harishchandra’ in 1911 by putting Rs. 35,000 on his own. His film based on a king of Hindu mythology had become a hit on the eve of World War I when it was released in 1913.
Nepalese filmmakers who worked in the Bombay film industry were familiar with Phalke’s work. According to Tulsi Ghimire, Phalke had made the silent movie with the help of a hand-made camera.
"Then Phalke had been to the USA to buy a camera, but the shopkeeper there told him that he would sell him the camera only if he was ready to take the entire shooting unit with him. He then bought only the lens and came back home. Later he made a camera on his own and shot the movie," Ghimire said. "The handmade camera is still in the Kolapur Museum in Maharastra, India."
Interestingly, if ‘Raja Harishchandra’ is the first Marathi-language Indian movie, ‘Satya Harishchandra’ is the first Nepali-language movie. D. B. Pariyar made the Nepali-language Satya Harishchandra in 1951 in Kolkata, 38 years after Raja Harishchandra was made. Though the names of the two movies are slightly different, they were made on the same character of Hindu mythology. Because the names sound similar, some filmmakers think that ‘Satya Harishchandra’ is an Indian movie dubbed into Nepali.
Also Nepalese film makers are divided over recognising ‘Satya Harishchandra’ as the first Nepali language movie. They claim ‘Aama’ (Mother) is the first Nepali language movie as it was the first movie produced in Nepal. ‘Aama’ was made at the initiative of the then Prachar Bhivag (Publicity Department) to promote the newly introduced Panchayat polity in 1963.
Recently, at an interaction, filmmaker Nir Shah reportedly argued that Maitighar was the first Nepali movie. But directors like Chetan Karki and others did not agree. Indeed, Maitighar was the first Nepali film produced by the private sector in around 1965. B. S. Thapa had directed this black and white hit. Maitighar, one of the important junctions in Kathmandu, takes its name after the very movie as the unit of the historic movie was housed around the site some 45 years back.
Again coming to Satya Harishchandra, knowingly or unknowingly, the first Nepali language movie has been drawn into a controversy, which does injustice to D. B. Pariyar. Some argue that the film cannot be the first Nepali movie as it was made abroad on Indian soil, while others claim that Pariyar had only dubbed the film from an Indian language movie.
"Certainly, D. B. Pariyar made Satya Harischandra but I am not certain whether it was dubbed from an Indian movie or was a genuinely made film," noted director and scholar Chetan Karki said.
According to him, D. B. Pariyar had made the film in a studio at Trollygunj of Kolakata where five or six studios were in existence then. It was an indoor-shot movie, and the print did not mention the name of the studio.
Karki argues that since all the artists and technicians of the movie were Indian nationals and it was produced in India by an Indian of Nepalese origin, Satya Harishchandra could not be the first Nepali movie. "However, forgetting the contribution of Pariyar to Nepali movies would be doing injustice to him," Karki said.
The film starred Prem Najir and Sulochana, both Indian nationals.
"Intensive research is a must to see if D. B. Pariyar had made or dubbed the movie," Karki said.
There have also been people who claim that the palace was never ready to recognise Satya Harishchandra as the first film as it was produced by a Dalit. This argument found particular place in the write-ups during the anti-king movement of Jana Andolan-2.
However, filmmaker Tulsi Ghimire claims that Satya Harishchanadra was a genuine Nepali film made by late Pariyar and had received financial support from the then crown prince to make the film.
"The then Crown Prince Mahendra had supported Pariyar with Rs. 51,000 when the former was returning to Kathmandu via Kolkata. It was a big help then," Ghimire said.
According to Karki, Chalchitra Santhan had a print of the film, but no one bothered to watch it.
The whereabouts of the nitride print of the movie which was with Chalachitra Sansthan is not known now.
"Once it was taken to the palace, and I do not know whether the palace returned it to the Sansthan or not," Karki said.
Even the Film Development Board does not have the print and other materials on Pariyar and his movie, according to Yuba Raj Lama, former member of the Board.
Regarding the name of the movie that is similar to the movie made by Phalke and others, Ghimire talked about the myths prevailing with ‘Harishchandra’ and ‘Mirabai’ in Bollywood and other film industries of India.
"There was a belief that a film industry that did not start with a film on Harishchandra would not sustain, and any film made on Mirabai cannot become a box-office hit. And if we look at the film industry of India and Nepal, the myth seems to have worked." he said.
According to him, the first film made in any language of India - Gujarati, Marathi, Hindi - was on Harishchandra.
"The progress the Nepali film industry has made over the years makes me believe in this myth," Ghimire said. He added that the Bollywood movie – Mirabai - flopped even when it starred beauty queen Hema Malini.
Karki, however, said that as the story of Harishchandra was popular in all the societies of India and Nepal, many chose it to make a film on it.
"It is a mere coincidence that the two films have similar names," Karki said. He even claimed that Phalke’s was not the first Indian movie.
"Many films were made in India before the Marathi-language ‘Raja Harishchandra’. However his was the first movie to have the characteristics of a feature film," Karki said.
Now that Mokashi has made ‘Harishchandarchi Factory’ on the father of Indian movies, Nepalese filmmakers should think of making a similar film on late Pariyar, the father of Nepalese movies. Those who do not take Pariyar as the father of Nepali movie can make a movie on Hira Singh Khatri, the director of Aama. And it is not difficult to collect materials on Pariyar because his family members are still living in Kolkata, and some of his relatives are in Darjeeling. According to Ghimire, the actress of the first Nepali movie was seen working in her shop in Kolkata about a decade back.

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