In Pictures: Pioneers Of Indian Cinema & Their Innovations

By Yash Thakur. Posted on June 17, 2015

For the longest time, the government did not regard cinema as an art and funding preservation wasn't a priority. Of the 1,700 silent films made in India, National Film Archive India in Pune has only five or six. In fact, by 1950, India lost almost 70-80% of its films. PK Nair, the renowned founder of NFAI, said in an interview that he has retrieved film reels from cowsheds and godowns of grocery store owners. Sensing the urgency of documentation and preservation in our country, Shivendra Singh Dungarpur founded Film Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization in 2014.

Check out this ongoing series of photographs released by FHF on the founders of Indian cinema and their innovations, 'both technical and cultural, that have shaped film-making and its history in this country.'

1. Save Dada (H. S. Bhatavdekar)

Commonly regarded as the first Indian to make a motion picture (film), Harishchandra S. Bhatavdekar is popularly known as Save Dada. One of his most famous film was about a wrestling match at the Hanging Gardens of Bombay in 1899, titled Wrestling Match and Monkey Dance in Hanging Garden. It is considered to be the first Indian factual film. In 1903, Save Dada covered the great Durbar held in Delhi to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII.

Save Dada2

Save Dada3

Above: Save Dada's camera; Below: still from the Delhi Durbar film that he shot

2. Hiralal Sen

A prominent name in the early photography business of India, Hiralal Sen is credited with creating India's first advertising films and possibly India's first political film. After making his first film (scenes from a play The Flower of Persia), Sen purchased an Urban Bioscope camera from the Warwick Trading Company in London and, in 1899 with his brother Motilal Sen, formed the Royal Bioscope Company and began producing his own films; though a fire in 1917 destroyed all of his films.

Hiralal Sen

The Urban Bioscope camera

3. Swamikannu Vincent & J. M. Madan

Samikannu Vincent was the first person to build a cinema theater in South India. He built the Variety Hall (now Delite Talkies) in Coimbatore in 1914.

Already a major theatre company owner and a wealthybusinessman, Jamshedji Framji Madan started his ‘bioscope’ shows, as the film exhibition troupes were called then, in 1902. Among the most popular attractions exhibited by the travelling cinemas were actualities like the famous Boer Wars films, Queen Victoria’s funeral and the earliest story films of the cinema. He also produced Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra in 1917, a shorter version of the first Indian feature film. What is interesting to note is that historians believe that the presumed available prints of India's first feature film Raja Harishchandra (1913) are actually of the short. 

JF Madan

Jamshedji Framji Madan

4. Abdulally Esoofally

Abdulally Esoofally of Bombay, already a veteran of several tours across Southeast Asia with his itinerant cinema troupe, returned to the subcontinent in 1908, putting up his travelling cinema shows along its roads. His stock-in-trade was a projector, a folding screen, a tent and a staff of twenty-five workers. Along with Ardeshir Irani, he ran Alexandra Theatre in Bombay for over forty years.

Abdulally Esoofally

Abdulally Esoofally2

Above: Image of a tent cinema like the ones of Esoofally; Below: Image of Alexandra theatre from an earlier time

5. Anandrao Painter

Between 1910 and 1916, Anandrao Painter and his artist cousin Baburao Painter were the leading painters of stage backdrops in Western India. They became avid filmgoers following Raja Harishchandra. Purchasing a broken Williamson camera from Bombay, the brothers decide to expose and develop the film themselves, besides studying the actual making and working of the camera. Based upon this knowledge, they decided to make their own film camera, though unfortunately Anandrao passed away in 1916. Baburao Painter made a fully indigenous camera in 1918.

Anandrao Painter

Image of a Williamson camera, the like of which Anandrao Painter would have used


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