It is generally believed that Indian film production began in 1913, with the release of Raja Harishchandra, made by Dadasaheb Phalke. However, it might surprise you to know that it is not exactly true.
Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar was the first Indian to make a film, or a motion picture, in India, way back in 1899. Read on to know the real story.
The first cinema was shown in India on 7 July 1896. The credit for this goes to Lumiere Brothers. It was shown in Mumbai at Watson Hotel, to British audience. Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar was one of the viewers. He was a local photographer and popularly known a Save Dada. He was very much impressed with cinema and resolved to make films in India. The rest, as they say, is history.
H.S. Bhatavdekar was born in Bombay, now called Mumbai, on March 15, 1868. His family were Maharashtrin Karhade Brahmins and lived in Mumbai.
He started his professional career as a portrait photographer. He also had a business dealing with cameras and film equipments. He was very popular, and affectionately called Save Dada.
Career in Film Making
On 7 July 1896 when Bhatavdekar saw the first film made by Lumiere Brothers, he was wonder-struck. He decided to make such films in India, and immediately ordered a cine camera from UK.
In 1899, Bhatavdekar made his first movie, titled ‘The Wrestlers’, which was the first film by an Indian film-maker. He filmed a wrestling match in Hanging Gardens at Mumbai. The film was sent to UK for processing, and then brought back to India. During this time he also bought a projector and screened foreign-made films.
He began making films on day-to-day life in Mumbai city, and also shot important events. He also began screening the films that he made.
In 1902, he shot a film titled Sr. Wrangler Mr. R.P. Paranjpye. It showed the return of the mathematics scholar and Minister of Education in Bombay Presidency, R.P. Paranjpye from Cambridge, England and his landing in India by ship. This can be considered as the first Indian news film.
In 1903, he made ‘Delhi Durbar’, a short documentary, which showed Lord and Lady Curzon on an elephant at the coronation of King Edward VII in Calcutta, now called Kolkata. In 1911, he also made Coronation Darbar in Delhi which showed the coronation of King George V as the Emperor of India. This film is considered to have historical significance.
With his reality films which covered the events, he can be called the first documentary filmmaker of India. His films became India’s first newsreels. Bhatavdekar continued to shoot and screen Indian films. He also bought the Gaiety Theatre in Mumbai and showed films. Later he sold his assets and equipments to Karandikar of S.N. Patankar’s company, before retiring from cinema.
Filmography as a Director and Cinematographer
He made six films by 1903, much before Raja Harishchandra, which was released in 1913. These short films and documentaries were:
- 1899 – The Wrestlers
- 1899 – A man and his monkeys (short film)
- 1901 – Local Scenes: Landing of M. M. Bhownuggree (short documentary)
- 1901 – Atash Behram (short film)
- 1902 – Sir Wrangler Mr. R. P. Paranjpe
- 1903 – Delhi Durbar of Lord Curzon (Documentary short)
- 1903 – Delhi Durbar (Documentary short)
Although Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar was the first Indian filmmaker, he has not been given due credit or recognition. His first short film came in 1899, whereas Dada Saheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra came in 1913, thirteen years later. However the point to note is, cinema as we know now, is about feature films which contain story and professional actors and actresses who play the roles. Bhatavdekar’s films were reality films, better known as Documentaries. Despite this distinction, for the sake of records, Bhatavdekar will always be remembered as the Pioneer and First Filmmaker of India.
Written By: Raj Kumar Hansdah