I recently watched a 2009 movie called Harishchandrachi factory. It’s in Marathi, with subtitles in English. Directed by Paresh Mokashi, and with theatre personality Nandu Madhav in the lead role, it has won some awards – you can check that up for yourself on the net. I am no movie critic, so I shall write only about my gut reaction, as nothing more than an ordinary cinema buff. This is the story, in highly dramatized form and with a strong leavening of humour and slapstick, of how the (controversial-) first ever movie in India – Raja Harishchandra – got made, way back in 1913, thanks to the nearly crazy passion of one man, Dhundiraj Govind (aka Dadasaheb) Phalke, along with the almost unstinted support of friends and family, and launched what became arguably the biggest film industry in the world. It has received mixed reviews (see this article, along with the comments), but I enjoyed it immensely, and would like to thank whoever left the movie with me (I forget sometimes, there are so many of them).
Well yes, if you like, it’s a feel-good movie. It reminded me of Life is Beautiful, though it leans far less on fantasy. It told me that one needs passion if one really wants to achieve something; that one needs to shrug off a lot of criticism and ridicule and opposition, and that one’s real friends are those who stick to one through thick and thin. Nothing new here, but it’s good to be reminded as one wages one’s own struggle through life. Looking at the way the family – wife and young sons – not only braved through all sorts of hardships but actually managed to enjoy themselves, I felt reassured that I have always been right; people need money and fame far less than warmth, cooperation, goodwill and satisfying work to be happy. Blessed is the family which rows together like this – even if the reality was not half as rosy as portrayed in the movie. The movie also shows, once again, that much can be achieved on a small budget and with a cast full of amateurs if the director knows his job.
I not only have a personal penchant for movies which remind us of times of yore, but I wish that more and more such movies would be made, because people in this country are becoming increasingly ahistorical with the passage of time. It is important to know one’s history, and few people would ever bother to read history textbooks of their own volition, so film-makers are doing yeoman service when they make movies like this. More power to their elbow.
One thing that I liked about the movie was the way Chaplinesque gestures and movements have been blended with very Indian background music. Another was the fact that the man’s long-suffering yet always cheerful and supportive wife reminded me of the Bible saying ‘He who has found a good woman has found a good thing’. The older I grow, the more I appreciate what that means, and how few of us are so lucky. The third thing was that it set me musing anew on education. I have always taken the story of Eklavya very seriously, you see, and I can vouch, on the other hand, from a whole lifetime of teaching experience that you can’t teach anybody who is unwilling to learn. As in October Sky, as Will Smith said in his interview to the Reader’s Digest, if someone really wants to learn something, be it making a movie or flying a space shuttle, s/he will find out ways to master it; otherwise, no amount of schooling and tutoring ultimately amounts to anything. I wish the world would begin to realize this eternal truth and start paying less attention to formal education, which produces molehills out of mountains by the tens of millions! Finally, the movie made me marvel at how easily people only a few decades ago could feel enchantment. Is it only me, or do many others also feel that all our super hi-tech wizardry cannot affect us similarly any more, whether we are watching The Matrix or Avatar or Inception?
The movie also motivated me to read up on Dadasaheb Phalke. It seems that he made several successful movies after Harishchandra in the silent era, but faded out once the ‘talkies’ became all the rage. Strange that a man of his versatile talent couldn’t cope – or was it that he was not interested in the new format at all?
Anyway, watch this movie. And let me know how you liked it.