Fenil and Bollywood

Movie Review: HARISHCHANDRACHI FACTORY by MINTY TEJPAL

Posted on: October 24, 2009

By Minty Tejpal (MUMBAI MIRROR; October 24, 2009)

Harishchandrachi Factory, the Marathi feature film that is India’s nomination for the next Oscar awards, is a delightful little gem of a movie, which seems to have emerged against all odds. The period film is directed by a new writer-director, it has no stars, an obviously tight budget with zero frills, but it does have a powerful story told with a spirit, exuberant enough to make it a winner, regardless of whether the foreign experts judge it so or not. The only bad news, if that is, the film is only going to release in India next year, so that’s a pity. However, as my mummy said, good things in life are worth waiting for.

As you may be aware, Harishchandrachi Factory is the inspired story of the pioneering Dadasaheb Phalke, who made India’s first ever motion picture, and is thus considered the father of Indian cinema- Bollywood ka baap. The story starts in the year 1911, a distant time when another Raj was still ruling India, and Mumbai was yet called Bombay, whether the new Raj likes it or not. We meet the quirky Dundiraj Govind Phalke, a middle aged father of two boys, who is jobless after abruptly stopping his printing press business following a quarrel with his partner. He has since dabbled in various failed jobs, and right now he is playing a corny magician to a bunch of school kids, using his elder son as part of the act. A magician with a stage name of Kelpha, the reverse of Phalke! Absolutely delightful.

One day, Phalke stumbles onto a roadside tent displaying a new attraction. Curious, he goes inside to check – and ends up seeing a moving picture being transmitted on a white curtain. Like the rest of the small audience, he is absolutely transfixed by the seeming magic. Remember, it’s an era when cinema was yet unheard of, while common people were scared to even pose for a still photograph, since a camera was rumored to steal one’s very soul. Undeterred, Phalke decides to make his very own movie. Doubted by his friends and brother, but ably supported by his strong wife, Phalke proceeds on his quixotic journey to make India’s first motion picture. In the bargain he sells his belongings, recruits his friends and family as cast and crew, even travels to London to learn the craft and finally returns to direct his movie titled, Harishchandra.

The film is full of unique special moments and each of the ensemble cast, specially the wife (Vibhavari) and two kids do an absolutely stellar job. Paresh Mokashi follows the Bicycle Thief style of minimal storytelling and uses simple elements to create a period feel. This is no lavish costume period drama, but instead a story smartly told with minimal props, like a tramcar, horse buggy along with superb music (Anand Modak) which really sets the early 1900s mood. Harishchandrachi Factory also has a very strong touch of Chaplinesque humor, specially the dialogueless montage sequences. But where the director triumphs, is in keeping the tone of the film light and breezy, from dialogue to performances. There is no moralising or great vision to be seen, and instead the film is treated like a mad journey.

The very character of Phalke, superbly played by actor Nandu Madhav, has a charming, child like curiosity, and doesn’t even seem to take himself seriously. Purists may disagree with this oddball depiction of Phalke, but it sure makes for great cinema. After a few years of controversial Oscar nominations from India, finally, here is a film that no one should argue with. Hopefully.

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2 Responses to "Movie Review: HARISHCHANDRACHI FACTORY by MINTY TEJPAL"

Awesome film… waiting for release to watch it again!

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