Friday, February 12, 2010
Charlie Wilson, the former Democratic Congressman, died two days ago. The story of his assistance to the Afghan Mujahideen in their battle against the Soviet army was told in the amusing, under-rated Tom Hanks starrer, Charlie Wilson's War. Reading about his death, I wondered when we'd see irreverent biopics made in India. One, it turns out, had been produced already, but I only caught it last evening.
Harishchandrachi Factory depicts Dadasaheb Phalke's struggle to make India's first feature film, an obsessive quest that culminated in the release of Raja Harischandra in 1913.
The film is cinematically rudimentary, featuring boring frames held static for too long; music that appears to be on a loop in parts; pacing that could have done with variation; and good, but unexceptional acting. What makes Harishchandrachi Factory refreshing and engaging is its approach to Phalke's life and work. Paresh Mokashi, who wrote and directed the film, uses a light, deft touch in dealing with the moral scandal caused by the arrival of motion pictures. One of the best-known stories related to the making of India's first film is that male actors played female characters because even prostitutes refused to participate, fearing their reputation and standing would be besmirched. Phalke's trips to the red light district searching for King Harischandra's wife are among the funniest of many bizarre production-related episodes recounted by Mokashi.
Chalk up one more victory for the mini-renaissance of Marathi cinema we are currently witnessing.