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Harishchandrachi Factory: India’s latest Oscar blunder?

harishchandrachi-factory.doThe last few months have seen much frenetic activity around Paresh Mokashi’s Marathi film Harishchandrachi Factory, primarily because it was picked as India’s official entry to the Oscars. While a lot of dinnertime conversation seems to revolve around this film and its supposed uniqueness, it is likely that most of this excitement in the air is based on some reviews about this film and its supposed archival value, because very few people have actually seen it. The question therefore is, is the film really the right choice to send to an international forum as our selection of the best film made in India this year. The answer, is, no.

Harishchandrachi Factory is a film based on two years in the life of Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, popularly known as Dadasaheb Phalke, more popularly known as the father of Indian cinema. The film, which is roughly 90 minutes long, recreates the moments in Phalke’s life when he suddenly grew enamoured of the motion picture and decided to make one for himself.

The good news is that the film is lighthearted, entertaining, and has some very good performances. The rest is mostly bad news.

Mokashi’s fundamental idea with this film – to capture just the time when Phalke got attracted to the motion picture till the time he made Raja Harishchandra – is one of its biggest flaws. Mokashi limits the potential of his own narrative by choosing such a narrow focus and sticking to it. Raja Harishchandra was released in 1913, a period of modern Indian history that is preoccupied with the idea of freedom, and is full of important political figures. The ripe political scene could have worked as a healthy backdrop to the events captured in the film, especially since Phalke himself was deeply moved by the freedom struggle, but apart from one offhand mention of Tilak’s release from jail towards the end of the film, this context is ignored.

Not only is the context ignored, the film betrays a great deal of naiveté about colonial, racial relations. There is hardly a moment where any tension is visible or even implied between Indians and their British rulers. If this film is to be believed, Phalke faced no racial trouble when he went to England to learn about and buy filming equipment. Once again, the film refuses to use even the material it already has to its fullest potential. In the film, all the screenings of motion pictures, whether British or later Indian seem to be preceded by performances by white (possibly British) singers. The possibilities of suggesting racial baggage in scenes where white singers are performing for a brown audience and then taking a bow are immense, but it remains an ignorable detail in Mokashi’s film.

In fact, if the narrative of this film, and its allegiance to realism is taken at face value, the coming into being of Indian cinema was on the brink, waiting to happen and that’s why things just fall into place, almost magically. The film glosses over, mostly in its use of comedy, the problems Phalke must have faced in the mammoth task of merely understanding how a picture is made to move and tell a story. Comedy can and has been an effective tool in conveying pathos in narrative in general, but it isn’t that aspect of humour that Mokashi’s film uses, instead it works towards erasing how trying that process must have been. I should mention, at this point, that while the larger issues are not dealt with, Mokashi has included some cultural details effortlessly. For instance, men playing women and how they were trained to adopt the body language is an interesting detail that has been worked into the film.

Coming to the aesthetic of the film, it is surprising how evidently constructed the film’s look is. Its sets are, well, sets and very obviously so, leading me to consider for a while that it may be a formal devise used by the filmmaker in an attempt to bring the audience’s attention to the fictionality of cinema and the cinematic world and its apparatus. However, the film showed such a serious lack of complexity that I discarded that idea.

The discontent I feel with regard to Harishchandrachi Factory stems not from its completely misunderstood and misplaced Oscar potential – after all the director didn’t tailor-make the film for the Academy – but rather from what all it could have but chooses not to be. Mokashi doesn’t agree with the label of biopic for this film, and one has to respect that, and given that the film, like most lighthearted films (comedies, for instance) doesn’t really make space for understanding the psychology of the central character, he might even be right. However, in opting to do away with the complexities of the process involved, it is closer to the biopic mode that Mokashi has brought his film. And that genre has moved miles in the recent past. A figure like Dadasaheb Phalke and the idea of the first Indian film is sadly wasted in Harishchandrachi Factory, especially since the director has forgotten the era he has made the film in. We live in an age of incredibly easy access to knowledge, and no one relies on a feature film for information on a person as integral to cinema’s history as Dadasaheb Phalke. A simple Wikipedia page has more information, which is also more fascinating in its detail, on him than this 90 minute film.

Coming back, however, to the Oscar question, the selection of this film has once again demonstrated our reliance on our local and immediate excitement over a film, that often stems from a sense of political and social correctness (Taare Zameen Par) or like in this film, a sense of national and historical pride. And this is exactly why we pick films on their themes rather than their aesthetic and send them off to international forums. We forget that a cultural context that we watch these films in will not be the same for an international selection committee, and secondly, we have to compete with every cinema producing nation in the world in order to just be nominated for an Oscar, and most countries have the better sense of basing their entries on art rather than a personal feel-good factor. Unless, therefore, political ties between India and the US interfere with the Oscars (and US foreign policy is often made evident through their Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars), Harishchandrachi Factory has a dim chance of even making the hallowed five nominees at the Academy for the coming award season.

47 comments

1 Ebrahim Kabir { 10.31.09 at 7:14 pm }

When did India ever make a right choice for the Oscar?

2 Harsh { 11.02.09 at 3:38 pm }

Hi,

With full respect to your opinion, I take opportunity to disagree with you entirely on this matter. The very negative points you mentioned are precisely the positive points about the movie. The movie has deliberately ‘scripted’ to make this into a small adventure story. This is where the film breaks rules. And that is why the movie is great.

I have tried to mention, what i felt in my first ever blog.

http://hppandit.blogspot.com/

Thanks,

Harsh

3 vetti { 11.21.09 at 10:54 pm }

Harsh, you don’t have the slightest understanding of the cinematic language — evidenced in your blogpost. You seem to be the kind that enjoys Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Mandarin version) without subtitles and still ‘enjoys’ it. Unlike you, I don’t even respect your opinion.

4 chintan { 12.18.09 at 12:31 pm }

Hey Guys,
Check out the video of Harishchandrachi Factory, a movie based on India’s First Feature Film by Dadasaheb Phalke
http://www.youtube.com/utvmotionpictures#p/u/1/weaRPbXYGiI

5 Justin { 12.23.09 at 2:09 pm }

I completly disagree with this review, I have watched it in New jersey ..and its an ameeezzing film! just loved it!
deserves an oscar 2010 foreign film nomination for sure

6 Sunil B { 12.23.09 at 2:38 pm }

Hi Kuhu,

I can see the whole hearted negativity in this blog. Thanks for being a true color Indian. We all are at the best when comes to ‘Leg pulling’.
Nobody has stopped nobody from making films. However our Bollywood A listers are still in hope of Oscar for all those rosy larger than life Cinema (I prefer to call picture), I apprciate Mokashis efforts in bringing something new to the cinema and to in his first adventure with film making.

Kuhu : Get out of Lagaan hangover for oscar. Not every film need to show that British angle.

7 Ramesh Tekwani { 01.09.10 at 8:40 pm }

The film is very enjoyable. Worth a repeat. If I do not like a film I walk out, switch off, change the channel. I do not sit and torture myself trying to look for faults. One man’s jalebi is another man’s pretzel. If I like a film I encourage people to see it. If I do not, I do not blast the film. I pray that I am an exception and that other
would like the film enough.

8 Parth Patil { 01.21.10 at 8:12 am }

hi kuhu,
so do you mean to say that we should make films according to likes and dislikes of Americans? Indian directors should make films keeping in mind general Indian viewer, and not a few American juries. and in this process if they like efforts of some Indian film-maker and s/he gets an Oscar its well and good, but the Academy awards certainly should not be the Gold Standard.

9 Kuhu Tanvir { 01.21.10 at 9:45 am }

@Parth: No, i absolutely do not mean that, and I agree that the Oscars are not the only standard for judging excellence. That said, it is an international forum, and the category that Indian films would compete in is one in which countries send the best of their cinema, and HF is really far from the best we have produced.
My knee jerk reaction would also be one of indignation where I say the Oscar means nothing, but when I think about it a little bit, I feel that it may not be a bad barometer for seeing where we stand. Who gets the award is immaterial, but the nominations are not. If you take a look at the film The White Ribbon (surely someone will now find me Eurocentric for this view), you might get a sense of what I am trying to say. It pushes the boundaries of cinema both aesthetically and in its story. Does HF do that? Does it even acknowledge the irregularities in the persona of Phalke as he consciously framed it himself?

10 Prasad Kulkarni { 02.01.10 at 4:47 pm }

Its an amazing movie…there is no need to show British angle/freedom struggle if we are addressing anything from pre-independence era. Why shud he bring issues like Racism in this film? ofcourse it cud have been dealt with but Paresh mokashi wanted to make a really public centric movie on this really important topic which was never ever dealt with. And regarding the quality of sets this very question was asked to Paresh when i was interviewing him…he said very honestly…this Films was made on a very very shoe string budget and they tried to bring as much authenticity on the sets and much went in researching the topic and wat was left was used very wisely on sets.

11 Sushant { 02.04.10 at 10:23 am }

well, HF is a really good movie, something new from what we are used to see… there is no doubt in that, but i do agree with Kuhu, its not something we should be sending to Oscars, from an international viewpoint the movie fails to convey the struggle…

हलत्या चित्रांचा विजय असो !!!

12 Rupesh Gujarathi { 02.14.10 at 6:59 am }

Now since the movie is released, would u like to withdraw ur article. It is certainly a good movie. R u just discremenating because this is a marathi movie? What is there to see in MNIK, nothing new, basic theme is same as newyork. Anyways good use of english at least. But for sure ur facts are mostly incorrect.

13 Anoushka { 02.14.10 at 3:46 pm }

I do not agree to the negative points mentioned. They are worth. The spectrum of the film is short but most important not only for Mr. Phalke but the entire $ 11.68 billion worth Indian film industry.
It shows a time when a man followed his dream. Brought cinema to India. Made first Indian motion film, best put the first Indian super hit film. Not to forget the supported of extra ordinary people like his wife, kids, friends…

The film is a tribute to this visionary. Whatever is made is worth praise. In fact it’s a shame that it takes 96 yrs to make a film on the person who has rightfully done real service to ‘ART OF FILMAKING’

14 Kuhu Tanvir { 02.15.10 at 6:42 am }

@rupesh: what connection do my comments have with the release of the film? i said it is not oscar-worthy and as far as that is concerned, the result is there for all to see.
@anoushka: i think it is time we open our eyes to the circumstances under which phalke was declared (by himself, mind you) the father of indian cinema. all early filmmakers have a major contribution to the development of cinema in the country, but now that it has been proven that others had done all this work before him, maybe we need to at least acknowledge them. Ravi’s article on the work done by stephen hughes on early indian filmmakers is worth a read: http://blogs.widescreenjournal.org/?p=1816

15 Kalpesh Mahulkar { 02.17.10 at 8:14 pm }

*Send “Harishchandrachi Factory” to OSCAR its deserves…*

16 Biju Namboothiri { 03.02.10 at 9:10 am }

Dear Kuhu,
Your take on the movie is absolutely lopsided, to say the least. I dont know whether you understand the nuances of comical timing , or whether you understand the language in which it was made, or the entire purpose of making this movie. If the director wanted it to be another piece of ‘boring’ history that the masses detest, he could have done it easily, judging from the movie that he has made. But it was not his intention. He had a story to tell, and he said it in his own unique style.
Secondly, Oscar is NOT a barometer of where we stand vis a vis world cinema. Sending an entry to the Oscars is good, but criticising our work because ‘they’ could not see our point , is very stupid, especially when the overall quality of the movie was quite extraordinary.
Cinema is about entertainment and entertainment only. I know a lot of pseudo intellectuals who like to disect movies into irrelevant parts. You either like a movie or you dont. It doesnt matter if some jury thinks otherwise. Personally I would like to see more of such movies being made.Oscar or no oscar, people need entertainment.

17 Neela Paranjpe { 04.17.10 at 11:30 am }

I just watched the film and it is superbly done. The scope of the film was not freedom fight and fighters, it was how Dadasaheb Phalke went after his dream and succeeded to fulfill it. But some of Indians want to emphasize only racial tension, bad treatment by British people, like sugar cane is passed through the crusher while juicing it. They enjoy when the poverty in India is shown, the humiliation of Indians by British is shown, they just do not want to come out of that rut and feel disappointed when it is not shown in the movies.

This movie is very well done, the continuity is maintained very well, the tempo is well balanced. Not a single scene is felt as if its a stretch of imagination. Bottom line is you identify with the movie. So I will say, go and see the movie and it wasn’t a bad choice of movie to Oscar. Very well done.

18 vinayak { 04.19.10 at 4:48 pm }

There are two different things here.

First one is about whether this is good movie. I watch movie as a whole experience instead of just judging one aspect of film making. Paresh Mokashi made concious effort of making this film into light hearted movie and he conveys point very well without making too much fuss about it.

Second point about Oscar; it is similar award to Filmfare award. It is driven by popularity of a movie in US context. It is not international award per say. I dont know why India send movies for Oscar at all.

I watch many movies in foreign languages such as French, Italian, chinese and Spanish. Some of them are great movies; but they have western context which is easy for Jury to understand than movies made with eastern context.

As far as quality of set etc is concerned, then a movie made with 1% budget is still very well made.

19 Suraj Kumar { 04.28.10 at 7:36 pm }

I don no about others opinion, but i found this movie absolutely hilarious , that movie rocks, i never feel bored, no negative feeling just plain simple and short explanation of how first indian movie was made.

20 Shu { 06.07.10 at 11:20 pm }

What’s the point of whipping the movie so badly? Why expect indepth analysis, political themes and whatnot from a movie, strong points of which lie totally elsewhere? Oscar material or not, it’s a sweet movie and while I thought the story tasted a bit bland, I l-o-v-e-d the way it’s made/shot/edited. My first Marathi movie ( i think) and I totally enjoyed it.

Why did it annoy you so much? You take it almost personally, it seems. Like you’re afraid that Oscar selection committee will get a wrong idea of Indian cinema or something.

Relax.
Cheers from Moscow.

21 RAHUL { 07.14.10 at 12:36 pm }

hello friends,in my opinion HF is a superb movie that every indian must watch.Academy award is in no way a measure to fathom the greatness of a movie because there are lot of flaws in their judgement.I think that kuhu is mostly wrong and only partially right reviewing this movie.the film is better than tonnes of oscar movies.

22 aurofilm { 09.14.10 at 6:29 am }

The film (35mm film projection) was screen to a packed audience (international, children and adults) in the auditorium of Auroville (near Pondicherry) some months ago. Everybody (almost!) enjoyed it. We received great feed back and will definitely show it again after a little while!!
We had shown “Raja Harishchandra (1913 or 1917? print kept by NFAI Pune) just before and every body was stunned. Paresh Mokashi has done a great film, choosing to make a ‘biopic’ in the comedy style. It’s quite daring -and we understand some people did not like it, well… but it does not mean the film is bad!
Surya for Aurofilm, Auroville

23 Rajesh { 06.26.11 at 7:17 pm }

HF is great movie I have watched many times. Only those movies which shows our poverty, slums etc. Are capable of getting awards e.g. Salam Bombay, Slumdog milionnire.

24 Rajesh { 06.26.11 at 7:23 pm }

in his real life Dadasaheb Falke never faced racism or bitter remarks from whites but they helped him with equal wormth. all this stupid issues were not relevant with subject of the film and was not the part of movie.

25 Ashwini Bendre Shah { 08.14.11 at 10:54 am }

Kuhu,

This is the most harshest review I have ever read of such a great film. It is much much better than all the stupid Bollywood films made n also the stupid south Indian films full of disgraceful vulgar dancing. I’m proud to be a maharshtrain because a maharshtrian had a vision to make the first Indian motion picture. The trillions worth film industry business is now taken over by talent less , cunning ppl. Who only want to think abt is the profit n not the content. So please stop writing such a disgraceful articles/ reviews. Please you Stop watching Marathi movies, if u cant respect good work done by us maharashtrians. I have taken this as a personal insult.

26 Vrushali Sukhi { 09.04.11 at 3:53 pm }

Of course, I agree with you, Ashwini. The film is simply awesome. By now I have lost the count of the number of times I have watched the movie. And please, thankGod there wasn’t any angle of British rule – it showed everything from common man’s perspective and has really projected the beauty of that era. So better shut up ASAP, dear kuhuji.

27 Sanjit Narwekar { 09.16.11 at 8:51 am }

Just stumbled on this conversation. My objection to Harishchandrachi Factory is on one main count: it is inaccurate, and that is putting it very mildly, not only in its portrayal of Dadasaheb Phalke but also in the depiction of the era (not in terms of art direction which is immaculate).

Had the film been on some Dadasaheb Chalke I would have no objection to it but when you say Phalke you must base your film on actual facts and not on what will work well with the audience. It is, after all, documentation of the man you call the Father of the Film Industry. And it is not that Phalke’s life is not doumented. In fact, it is very well documented with several primary and ancillary sources. Phalke himself has written about his state of mind and the making of his first film in the four articles that he wrote for Kesari in 1919-20 as also the evidence he gave before the Indian Cinematograph Committee of 1927 (chaired by T.Rangachariar) which is matter of public record.

The sad thing is that Phalke is made out to be some kind of Chaplinesque figure. Phalke, when he made Raja Harishchandra was 40 years old, had suffered reversals in many businesses, was married with kids and was at the end of his tether as what to do next. As such he was a sombre disillussioned and embittered man who was worried about his future and not the fun-filled, wisecracking heroic figure that he has been depicted. He was haunted by self-doubt throughout the entire process of making the first few films. Not the joyride that has been shown — which dtracts from the man’s sheer determination anfd superhuman effort. And he has written about it extensively.

There are several other discrepancies. One example: he had given up magic several years ago and so, to show him staging a magic show at the beginning of the film (in 1911) is erroneous. Cinematic licence?

More than that, the entire set-up and characterisations are wrong. The film is set in 1911 — just two years before the release of Raja Harishchandra (1913). No Maharashtrian housewife of that era or even right up to the 1950s would behave like Mrs Phalke is shown to do with Phalke (hands on the hips and petulalnt). That was the era when women did not confront their husbands. When husbands said “mandali” to their wives in order not to take their names in public. The whole husband-wife relationship smacks of the 1990s and not the 1910s. And then the scene with the creditors who come enquiring after Phalke. She not only opens the door but goes on chattering with them as if they were old long-lost friends. No housewife of that era would have even come to the door. She would have sent her son and spoken from inside. This absolutely erroneous depiction of 1910 Marathi culture should have angered the “proud Maharshtrian” but instead it is defended in the name of Marathi asmita. Talk of misplaced sympathies.

These are just a few points. There are many many more and would require a full scale article. The film may entertain those who have a scant regard for history but for those who do, it hurts. I dare any filmmaker to make a film on a more recent filmmaker, say V.Shantaram, in a similar fashion, making him look like a buffoon, and not have the family onto him like a ton of bricks. Unfortunately there is no one left to defend Phalke now.

And please don’t ask me to shut up asap like you did to mr kuhuji. I am a Maharashtrian, fully aware of both Maharashtrian and film culture. My book on Marathi Cinema — which documents 125 years of Marathi film history from 1870 to 1995 — bagged the Swarna Kamal in 1996 and was nominated as the five best books on cinema in post-independent India.

I don’t like this culture of using your antecedents and asking people to shut up. I am sure we Indians are more tolerant of other views than any other race. Our history shows that we have allowed other ideas and cultures to intermingle. So, if you have a real logical answer give it but don’t say shut up because you have no right to smother other points of view which may be contrary to yours.

28 Kuhu Tanvir { 09.16.11 at 9:03 am }

i am glad that someone, a maharashtrian that too, has been the one to prove that the criticism is not against a person or a community but a film that is poorly conceived.
and may be you should write an entire post (half of it can be picked up from here itself), because this film needs attention beyond the crazy hype.
also, i’m a woman, not a ‘mr.’!! but worry not, many have made this mistake before you!

29 Sanjit Narwekar { 09.16.11 at 9:17 am }

Originally Posted By Sanjit NarwekarJust stumbled on this conversation. My objection to Harishchandrachi Factory is on one main count: it is inaccurate, and that is putting it very mildly, not only in its portrayal of Dadasaheb Phalke but also in the depiction of the era (not in terms of art direction which is immaculate).

Had the film been on some Dadasaheb Chalke I would have no objection to it but when you say Phalke you must base your film on actual facts and not on what will work well with the audience. It is, after all, documentation of the man you call the Father of the Film Industry. And it is not that Phalke’s life is not doumented. In fact, it is very well documented with several primary and ancillary sources. Phalke himself has written about his state of mind and the making of his first film in the four articles that he wrote for Kesari in 1919-20 as also the evidence he gave before the Indian Cinematograph Committee of 1927 (chaired by T.Rangachariar) which is matter of public record.

The sad thing is that Phalke is made out to be some kind of Chaplinesque figure. Phalke, when he made Raja Harishchandra was 40 years old, had suffered reversals in many businesses, was married with kids and was at the end of his tether as what to do next. As such he was a sombre disillussioned and embittered man who was worried about his future and not the fun-filled, wisecracking heroic figure that he has been depicted. He was haunted by self-doubt throughout the entire process of making the first few films. Not the joyride that has been shown — which dtracts from the man’s sheer determination anfd superhuman effort. And he has written about it extensively.

There are several other discrepancies. One example: he had given up magic several years ago and so, to show him staging a magic show at the beginning of the film (in 1911) is erroneous. Cinematic licence?

More than that, the entire set-up and characterisations are wrong. The film is set in 1911 — just two years before the release of Raja Harishchandra (1913). No Maharashtrian housewife of that era or even right up to the 1950s would behave like Mrs Phalke is shown to do with Phalke (hands on the hips and petulalnt). That was the era when women did not confront their husbands. When husbands said “mandali” to their wives in order not to take their names in public. The whole husband-wife relationship smacks of the 1990s and not the 1910s. And then the scene with the creditors who come enquiring after Phalke. She not only opens the door but goes on chattering with them as if they were old long-lost friends. No housewife of that era would have even come to the door. She would have sent her son and spoken from inside. This absolutely erroneous depiction of 1910 Marathi culture should have angered the “proud Maharshtrian” but instead it is defended in the name of Marathi asmita. Talk of misplaced sympathies.

These are just a few points. There are many many more and would require a full scale article. The film may entertain those who have a scant regard for history but for those who do, it hurts. I dare any filmmaker to make a film on a more recent filmmaker, say V.Shantaram, in a similar fashion, making him look like a buffoon, and not have the family onto him like a ton of bricks. Unfortunately there is no one left to defend Phalke now.

And please don’t ask me to shut up asap like you did to mr kuhuji. I am a Maharashtrian, fully aware of both Maharashtrian and film culture. My book on Marathi Cinema — which documents 125 years of Marathi film history from 1870 to 1995 — bagged the Swarna Kamal in 1996 and was nominated as the five best books on cinema in post-independent India.

I don’t like this culture of using your antecedents and asking people to shut up. I am sure we Indians are more tolerant of other views than any other race. Our history shows that we have allowed other ideas and cultures to intermingle. So, if you have a real logical answer give it but don’t say shut up because you have no right to smother other points of view which may be contrary to yours.

I am sorry that should be Ms Kuhu. I realised a little later that it was a lady and my apologies to her.

30 Sanjit Narwekar { 09.16.11 at 4:23 pm }

@Kuhu Tanvir – my apologies for the mistake once again, kuhu.

31 Kuhu Tanvir { 09.16.11 at 4:29 pm }

@Sanjit Narwekar – not an issue sanjit!

32 Hakim { 12.15.11 at 12:10 am }

Well whoever the writer is, please understand that one movie is selected to send to Oscars our of many crappy Indian movies, and for that year HF was no doubt the best candidate. So, you think no movie should have been sent to Oscars? Or did you have better movie in mind that year? I feel like you are the worst kind of critics out there.

33 satyajith { 02.03.12 at 6:41 pm }

Dear writer this is a movie not a novel the way director depicted the character is amazing .i would suggest to remove this blog

34 Vrushali Sukhi { 04.27.12 at 2:46 pm }

@Sanjit Narwekar – Sorry for using the word “shut up”. Firstly, this entire thing is not meant to be some drab documentary. Rather, it aims to just have a light hearted take. It was made for the audience, not for some acamedician. I agree that some aspects have been tampered with, but please, its obviously not some encyclopedia entry and just try to see the positive side – the younger generation will atleast know about the birth of Indian cinema. Secondly, comedy has always had the upper hand in marathi cinema. And the smaller aspects are obviously not going to be noticed. After all HD is a perfect mix of reality and audience’s wants.

35 Kuhu Tanvir { 04.27.12 at 3:31 pm }

@Vrushali Sukhi – I feel like I have to intervene in a slightly dictatorial way. Everyone’s views are taken on board and there is really no need to insult someone who holds a view different from yours. Afterall your view goes against mine and I have approved it and displayed it on my blog.
secondly, I have to say that this claim to knowledge about what the audience wants is slightly troubling. I hate to sound like a broken record, but there is no ONE audience. Academics are as much a part of the audience as anyone else. And to assume that non-academics are all fools who can’t tell a good film from a bad one is also problematic.

36 Sanjit Narwekar { 04.29.12 at 10:04 am }

@Vrushali Sukhi – I am all for light-hearted takes but light-heartedness at the cost of historical accuracy and someone’s reputation? When you make a film — even if it is a feature and not a “drab” documentary (whatever that means) — on a real person it has to be accurate or the family can take you to court. I casually discussed this film with Kiran Shantaram (son of the legendary V Shantaram, on whom I made a 60-minute “drab” documentary in 2010) and he was very categorical about it: “I will take anyone who distorts my father’s personality in a feature film to court. Why should my father be shown as a joker just to entertain the audience?” So, why should it be any different for Phalke? Or is it just because there is no one to defend him?
The real test is: Would you, Ms Vrushali, allow a distorted film to be made on your father in which he is shown as a buffoon — even in jest — because the audience wants to be entertained? Now answer that one with your hand on your heart. Was Mr Phalke whom all of you claim to admire for starting the Indian film industry a buffoon or a jester? HD makes a mockery of his intense heart-breaking struggle to make the first film. And is that the image you want to project on an international level? Is this what you are proud of? Dear friends: see how Hollywood depicts it pioneers. See the recent Hugo — the story of George Melies in a fictional format. See how Scorsese has brought out the magical moments of the pioneer’s life without showing him to be a buffoon.
Sadly, catering to the lowest common denominator has been the bane of Indian cinema from its inception. Were Satyajit Ray and Bimal Roy making drab documentaries or writing encyclopaedic entries. You surely are in august company. One B.C.Roy, then Chief Minister of West Bengal, thought Ray’s Pather Panchali was a “drab” documentary but that one film put Indian cinema on the world map. Just because someone wants interestingly-told, plausible and realistic stories he becomes an academic, a pseudo-intellectual — it is almost like a curse!!! And because you are willing to swallow the worst kind of pre-digested mindless pap you become the audience whose smallest desire becomes a command!!! What kind of convoluted logic is that?
Goddard used the jump cut in Breathless and the “audience” of that time, more used to continuity editing, asked: what kind of cinema is that? But today every B-grade filmmaker uses the jump cut to add a sense of speed to his film without raising an eyebrow. Great cinema gets made when you run counter to audience expectations and wishes. Grow up guys and demand to be treated as the intelligent audience that you are!!!!

37 sri { 07.17.12 at 7:26 pm }

Sorry, I disagree. The movie fulfilled its goal of depicting how a entertainer such as Phalke, who got enamoured by film-making; influenced by the western world cinema, enabled India to have its own film industry. The political scenario had little effect on his objectives and it was correctly not shown as a part of his biopic. A review has to be on what is and not what could have been in my view.

38 Sanjit Narwekar { 07.18.12 at 3:46 am }

@sri – Very true! A review has to be about what the film is and not what it should have been and that’s exactly what I have said: the film is inaccurate!!! Not once did I suggest what the movie should be. I only pointed out the discrepancies between what Mr Phalke’s frame of mind at that time actually was and what has been shown in the film. And sorry I disagree with the movie’s makers.
Also, how can the “political”/”social” scenario not affect the man? Can you show Pandit Nehru or Mahatma Gandhi in isolation to the social political atmosphere of the country? Is not the man moulded and shaped by the milieu in which he works? And isn’t he a reflection of the milieu. Can Gandhi or Nehru be separated from the freedom movement? And can Phalke be separated from the arts and cultural mileu of that time? Or from the political milieu.
Please remember that Phalke was very much influenced by the freedom movement of the time and his avowed aim was to create a “swadeshi” movement in films and he, in fact, even approached Lokmanya Tilak for help. So you cannot say that “the political scenario had little effect on his objectives”. On the contrary his objectives were SHAPED by the political scenario. Read Phalke’s evidence given to the Indian Cinematographic Committee in 1928 and his articles in Kesari and Navyug in 1919-20.
Do disagree but with the proper facts. This is not an emotional mohalla argument where you can state a preference without substantiation. So sorry, even I disagree!!!

39 Ezra John { 08.16.12 at 5:39 am }

I am surprised how a journalist like you can write some pathetic reviews on good films like these. You constantly harp on the fact that this movie is ‘over-hyped’ which I feel is an absolutely baseless idea. I wonder how you do your research and what are your credentials to become a film critic. I teach at a renowned film institute of India and this film is taught to our students. Infact the mass media students of cbse at +2 level also have this film in their course which they enjoy and learn. I came across this article while searching reviews for HF and came to this page. I feel you have absolutely written trash about a wonderful film and where you are questioning the very decision of authorities in your heading whether this film should have sent it for the Oscars or not. I do not know what exposure you have in films before you choose to become a so called “film critic”. I would only like to suggest that you should write more responsibly and with proper research work as Cinema and Cricket are two things which Indians hold very close to their heart and which even the Comments have proved it. Regards @Kuhu Tanvir -

40 Sanjit Narwekar { 09.07.12 at 11:42 am }

@Ezra John – I really must admire Kuhu’s patience and magnanimity in publishing this reaction when her credentials as a film critic and everything else about her have been called into question. Really!!! I wonder what we can do when these people who claim to have studied at the best media schools and teach at the very same media schools do not even show courtesy in public discourse, let alone logic and argument. Calling names seems to have become the substitute for argument. I have so many friends from Jamia Millia and thought that the institution inculcated some tehzeeb in its students and teachers but apparently not. But then I suppose that is the signs of the times. If this is the level at which we must discuss cinema then I rather not be a part of it. Kuhu please stop forwarding these reactions to me.

41 Kuhu Tanvir { 09.07.12 at 4:41 pm }

Sanjit, thank you for your kind words. As far as you getting updates is concerned, I don’t send them to you manually, they probably come to you by default because you may have opted for the “Send-me follow up comments” option. You’ll have to check in the email that comes to you if it is possible to untag yourself from the trail. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful.

42 Vishnu { 01.02.13 at 7:29 pm }

Originally Posted By vettiHarsh, you don’t have the slightest understanding of the cinematic language — evidenced in your blogpost. You seem to be the kind that enjoys Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Mandarin version) without subtitles and still ‘enjoys’ it. Unlike you, I don’t even respect your opinion.

@vetti

Vetti, Film snobs like you not only lack the film knowledge but due to you snobbishness you also lack basic human dignity.

43 Kishore Budha { 03.07.13 at 6:45 pm }

like bad pennies….

44 Kuhu Tanvir { 03.07.13 at 6:49 pm }

i’m surprised this post has generated so much debate.

45 Soumya { 03.17.13 at 7:29 am }

Neither am I a movie critic nor do I understand the technicalities of movie making. Just as a layman, I can say that the movie is wonderful and I enjoyed every bit of the movie. Every character has done absolute justice to his/her role. I am so glad that such movies are made. And to be honest, it does not matter if it made an entry to the Oscars or not. Its surely worth a lot more. It definitely has won a lot of hearts.

46 Kishore Budha { 03.17.13 at 9:42 am }

The film surely has a constituency who look upon the film and its protagonist with great nostalgic fondness and protectiveness.

Originally Posted By Kuhu Tanvir
i’m surprised this post has generated so much debate.

47 Nikhil { 03.27.13 at 4:32 am }

I think this article is quite flawed and the very points that are made are meaning less about deciding this movie for a oscar. Why will oscar film reviewers think about the era in 1913 (why is there a need to portray it ?). The motive of film was to show how dadasaheb created the first indian film, not the vagaries of Indian freedom struggle (there are lot many movies to show them) and who gives a shit when they are in a mindset of watching the way first indian feature film was created.

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