x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Amid centenary celebrations of Indian cinema come questions of credit

A Mumbai court has admitted a petition that questions the very basis of Indian cinema's centenary date.

A scene from Raja Harishchandra, which is recognised as the first Indian feature film, but family members of the filmmaker Dadasaheb Torne have gone to court contending that Torne's Pundalik be considered the first.
A scene from Raja Harishchandra, which is recognised as the first Indian feature film, but family members of the filmmaker Dadasaheb Torne have gone to court contending that Torne's Pundalik be considered the first.

As the film industry celebrates the centenary of Indian cinema, a Mumbai court has admitted a petition that questions the very basis of the centenary date and the status of Dadasaheb Phalke as the father of Indian cinema.

The family of Dadasaheb Torne has filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court claiming that Torne, a filmmaker and distributor during India’s silent cinema era, should be acknowledged as the pioneer of Indian cinema and that his silent film Pundalik (1912), which was released a year before Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra, be recognised as India’s first film.

The petition has been filed by Vikas Patil, a Pune-based entrepreneur associated with Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association (IMPPA), and Mangala Torne, Dadasaheb Torne’s daughter-in-law.

In their petition, Patil and Torne claim that Dadasaheb’s film Pundalik, which was a filming of a play of the same name, was released on May 18, 1912, at Coronation Cinematograph in Mumbai. The centenary commemorates the release of Phalke’s film on May 3, 1913, as the first in Indian cinema.

“We have demanded that Torne should be given his due recognition as the pioneer of Indian cinema. May 18, 1912, should be acknowledged as the date of release of India’s first film, and the film’s original negatives lying in the UK should be brought back to India and preserved,” Patil said.

They have included an advertisement of Pundalik, published in the Times of India on May 18, 1912, a review of the film that was published in the same paper on May 25, 1912, and an article about the film written by Dadasaheb Torne in a film weekly in 1953, as exhibits with the petition.

According to Torne’s son, Anil Torne, whose wife Mangala is the co-petitioner, his father was born in the coastal Sindhudurg district in Maharashtra in 1890 and came to Mumbai to work as a salesman with an electrical company.

Pundalik was a popular play staged in Mumbai those days. Dadasaheb became associated with the theatre company, where he met Nanasaheb Chitre, who owned Coronation Cinematograph,” says Anil Torne.

Dadasaheb and Chitre then suggested to the theatre company that they should try filming the play. Torne purchased the film camera from a British company, but no one knew how to operate it.

“The company then deputed their British technician named Johnson to shoot the film. They also gave my father the initial raw stock to shoot the film and later took it to UK for processing,” says Anil, 69.

Although film researchers and critics acknowledge that Torne released Pundalik before Phalke’s film, the debate is about whether the film can be classified as an indigenous full-length feature film.

One of the primary objections to Pundalik is the fact that it is the filming of a live play and not a multi-shot film like Raja Harishchandra. It is also shorter than a standard feature-length film of 40 minutes. Plus, since a foreign technician did the cinematography and it was processed outside India, critics contend that Pundalik cannot be called indigenous, while Phalke’s film does fall into that category.

After Pundalik, Torne also set up a distribution business and later worked with Ardeshir Irani as his studio manager. He was also an agent for the first sound machines that were imported in India and he supplied the sound machines used for Irani’s Alam Ara – the first Indian talkie made in 1931.

Torne set up Saraswati Cinetone studio in Pune and made 17 films in Marathi and Hindi.

“The first [film] to run for 25 weeks in a theatre was made by him. He is also credited with introducing the first ‘double role’ and using the first trick photography scenes in films made in 1932 and 1933,” says Torne’s son, who hopes that India’s High Court will give his father the recognition he deserves.

 

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