Raja Harishchandra - First Silent Movie of Indian Cinema

Raja Harishchandra (Marathi: राजा हरिश्चंद्र Rājā Hariścandra) is a 1913 Indian silent film, directed and produced by Indian icon Dadasaheb Phalke, and is the first full-length Indian feature film.The film was based on the legend of Raja Harishchandra, recounted in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Although a silent film with intertitles in English and Hindi, its cast and staff was Marathi and it is therefore, often regarded as the first Marathi film as well.

The film marked a historic benchmark in the film industry in India. Only one print of the film was made and shown at the Coronation Cinematograph. It was a commercial success and paved the way for more such films.

The film opens with a scene of a tableaux patterned on the painting by Raja Ravi Varma, of Raja Harishchandra and his wife with their son. The film revolves around the noble and righteous king, Harishchandra, who first sacrifices his kingdom, followed by his wife and eventually his children to honour his promise to the sage Vishwamitra. Though, in the end, pleased by his high morals, the Gods restore his former glory, and further bestow him with divine blessings.

Cast of Raja Harishchandra

Dattatraya Damodar Dabke, a Marathi stage actor played the lead role of Raja Harischandra. The female lead role of Taramati, Harischandra’s wife was also played by a male actor called Anna Salunke and Phalke’s son Bhalachandra D. Phalke was the child artist who donned the role of Rohtash, son of Harischandra. Sage Vishwamitra’s role was played by G.V. Sane. The story was an adaptation from the Hindu mythology and was scripted by Ranchhodbai Udayram and Dada Saheb Phalke. Other artists in the film were:

  • Dattatreya Kshirsagar
  • Dattatreya Telang
  • Ganpat G. Shinde
  • Vishnu Hari Aundhkar
  • Nath T. Telang

Production of Raja Harishchandra

Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, popularly addressed in reverence, as Dada Saheb Phalke, who eventually came to don the title “father of Indian Cinema”, was the director, script writer and producer of the film. He started a studio in Dadar Main Road. He wrote the screen play, and created the sets for the film and started shooting the film himself. The film was Dada’s first feature film venture of full film length of 3700 ft (in four reels) about 50 minutes of running time, and it took seven months 21 days to complete the film.

The film premiered on 21 April 1913 at the Olympia Theatre, Grant Road for a selective audience that included famous personalities of Bombay (Mumbai) and editors of many newspapers. It was first shown in public on 3 May 1913 at Bombay’s Coronation Cinema, Girgaon, where crowds thronged the roads outside the hall, as it marked the beginning of the Indian film industry. The film was so successful that Dada Saheb had to make more prints to show the film in rural areas as well. The film was a grand success and soon established Phalke as a producer and paved the way for the Indian film industry.

Raja Harishchandra - First Silent Movie of Indian Cinema

Some film historians believe that they belong to a 1917 remake of the film, by the same name.