A Factory of Films

Time Week 9

05/03/20

Today was the beginning of a new Time project.

We started off the class by setting up the projector and speakers. This meant something was about to be shown to us. And I guessed right– we were going to watch a film. Not just any film, but a film showing the beginning of all movies themselves. The movie I am talking about is called Harishchandrachi Factory- a well-known Marathi classic. I’d watched this movie before and remembered parts of it, thanks to my very maharashtrian grandparents playing it on Zee Marathi when it aired on TV. I was very thankful that the movie was something I’d previously seen and also in Marathi.

The watching experience itself was very delightful. I was like that one friend showing you a funny video on their phone and going back and forth between the screen and your reaction,to see if you’re responding correctly. I was trying to see if my non-maharashtrian and outstation classmates understood the movie, and how they reacted to the dialogues differently. Marathi is a language with a lot of subtle taunts and sarcasm (obviously speaking from personal experience), and a lot of the humour in Marathi shows and movies depends heavily on allowing this sarcasm to shine through. I could say “Really?” and “Oh really?” in ten different tones in Marathi and each would have a different intent and emotion behind it, with varying levels of sarcasm. And I say all this because it is something used as humour in the film too. And jokes using this intonation would be something that only people who understood Marathi would laugh to, while others wouldn’t.

One very important thing that makes the movie understandable is the usage of modern language instead of something that would be used back in 1919. If that kind of language were used, it would become difficult for even someone like me to understand everything without subtitles. I liked that it was a perfect mix of the new and the old. Knowing that the movie was shot less than ten years ago, it still felt like I was looking at old Mumbai, and experiencing the life of a common Marathi family back in those times.

The second half of the class was more about deconstructing the movie and talking about things we liked and disliked. The story was pretty straightforward, describing the life of Dr Dadasaheb Phalke,and more about his erratic and passionate approach towards making films. It has a lot of insignificant side characters, but each have their own impact in the 5 minutes that they’re on screen. One such character was the Ajji living beside the family, making taunts and comments every single time Phalke does something new. I can confirm that this character is based on every Marathi gossip Aajibai that exists in the world. It only has to be a grandma. All of them throw shade like nobody’s business. Another crowd favourite was the dumb man who comes to ask for a job in Phalke’s movie. This might seem like just another character added for comic relief, but he is actually a comedy legend in the Marathi television industry, known as Bhau Kadam. I’ve grown up watching his comedy skits while eating dinner, and at this point even if he keeps a straight face it will make me laugh(I literally type this as my mother watches a video of his on Youtube). One of the most humorous scenes involves someone on set sending a message through Bhau for Phalke, and Phalke screaming,” WHY WOULD YOU POSSIBLY SEND THIS MAN TO DELIVER A MESSAGE?!”

Besides being a humorous narration of how Phalke made the first film in India, the story also subtly hints and breaks down social issues prevalent at the time. Phalke’s wife is shown to be his strong support system, and unlike most women at the time, she is actually well versed in her husband’s profession, and a master in the processing room and making film. At the same time, she is the one expected to handle an entire household and go through childbirth alone, while her husband sails off to London, using her jewelry to take a loan. But she bears all of it with a smile, as most women at that time would have to. Another interesting point was Phalke desperately wanting a woman to cast as Tarabai in his film. But this was impossible given the era. During this time, musical plays were very common in Maharashtra. And all the female roles would always be played by males. They would either be a female, or play the role of a eunuch or ‘naachya’. This situation is taken as Phalke asking his theatre friend to give him a few male actors for the female roles. Here a social barrier is broken, as all these boys are instructed to observe female behaviour and emulate the same and accept their feminine side. A beautiful contrast shows Phalke’s wife being the boss and developing the film, with all the boys in the kitchen making stew, cooking phulkas, or just being in distress.

Another important point is the fact that Phalke chose a mythological story to make his first movie. Also that his first experiment ever was showing the time lapse of a plant. This represents the mentality of filmmakers at the time ,who were trying to show the audience things that they already connected to while making their project, and mythology and nature made really good candidates. Seeing that sound was not used in film at the time, the filmmaker would rather have the audience themselves complete the scenes since they already know the story.

This movie really helped me understand the context of how movies were made in the past. The fact that Phalke decided to continue making movies in India instead of staying in Britain really stuck with me. He could’ve easily made thousands of pounds there, but the fact that he believed that it should become a solid industry in India, knowing that it did not have a market here and people believed it to be ‘witchcraft’ and “English influence” in a time of political tension speaks volumes about his dedication to his craft. After it was finished, I was stuck there thinking, that if this man didn’t set the foundations like this back then in 1919, then we wouldn’t have an Amitabh Bachchan today accepting the Dadasaheb Phalke Award!

Overall, it was a lovely way to begin our project for the next few weeks: Movies through Time.

The era I got assigned was 1936-1950.The 5 movies I got were:

  1. Acchut Kannya
  2. Sikander
  3. Mela
  4. Miss Frontier Mail
  5. Babul

I had never heard of these titles before! Over the next few weeks, we were to watch these films and deconstruct them.And thus began a strange journey, taking me back to the very beginning of Indian Cinema.

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