Writer-Director: Paresh Mokashi
Cast: Nandu Madhav
A famous historian once wrote: “History is never made without a touch of insanity. It is the insane who often end up being the history-makers.”
How true. Because to follow a rare dream with fervour and to challenge the blinkered conventional thinking with conviction requires that one bit of crazed passion bordering onto insanity. Dadasaheb alias Dhundiraj Phalke was one such crazy man who made history. Way back in 1913, he became the first Indian ever to make a full length commercial film called Raja Harischandra. Marathi film Harischandrachi Factory is a fascinating portrayal of the struggles of Phalke and his entire family while making this historic film.
Year 1910. It is a British-ruled India, still unsure of ever getting Independence. It is an India knee- deep in the quagmire of age-old conventions and prejudices. It is an India where the middle class can only dream about earning the daily bread for the family and 'respectfully' keeping out of trouble! But Dhunndiraj is an exception. A crazy man hell-bent on doing something out of the ordinary. Like opening a photography shop, like doing roadside magic shows, like throwing away a lucrative printing business offer. The relatives and friends fret and fume over his 'insanity' but his wife and two sons back him to the hilt. Their unquestioning love and loyalty keeps him game for trying to conquer uncharted territories.
Once Dhundiraj and his son visit a tent- theatre staging the latest imports from the West. 'The moving pictures' where one can see the horses running in the field and even Jesus Christ getting reincarnated. As the audiences leave spell-bound marveling at the latest technology, Dhundiraj's mind is racing ahead of time, making plans to learn the ropes of that film-making trade. Consumed by that single-minded passion, he throws himself fully into that task. Repeatedly visiting theatres, holding discussions with the projection- room operators and reading Western Cinema magazines through his weak, bespectacled eyes, Dhundiraj learns the basics of movies. But to know more, he has to cross the seas and go to England! Already he has sold off everything in his house, his wife is pregnant with their third child but still, off he goes with the help of his friends and the total backing of his better half.
Coming back to India after learning the art and science of movie-making, Dhundiraj has greater challenges ahead. He has to raise finance and more importantly to get a team of actors who would make his dream film Raja Harischandra come into reality. How would he do that while fighting against odds at every step? In an era where even prostitutes look down upon actors, would he be able to make his film?
Harischandrachi Factory begins rather sketchily but soon grips you in its relentless momentum. Its breezy lighthearted comic tone makes you break into a chuckle every now and then. At all times, the film keeps poking fun at that era's now grossly outdated social, cultural and artistic norms but does that in a classy subtle way. But what really makes it endearing is the human element of the story. The strong bond between the Phalke family members straightaway reaches and touches the heart. Nandu Madhav brings Phalke's devil-may-care, happy-go-lucky persistent passionate attitude alive on screen and Viibhavari Deshpande gives the wife Saraswati's role just the right balance of strength of character and tenderness. The two kids too give lovely natural performances.
The low budget production values do affect the period feel of the film in a visual sense but that flaw is washed away by the pitch perfect capture of that era's language and mentality. The greatest virtue of the film is its feel-good factor of a nobody triumphing against all adversities!
As the end- titles roll, we are told that India today makes at least 900 movies in different languages every year and that the Indian Film Industry provides livelihood to more than 3 million people! All thanks to that one crazy man – Dhundiraj alias Dadasaheb Phalke! When we come to know that debutant writer-director Paresh Mokashi did not know the ABC of film-making and had to mortgage his house before this movie, we have to say that the indomitable Phalke- spirit is till very much alive even in today's Indian film-makers!
Harischandrachi Factory is without a doubt a timeless classic capturing a memorable slice of movie history and despite its failure to get the Academy- nod, it was certainly every ounce a worthy Oscar entry!