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Mar 29, 2010 at 03:03pm IST

Watch out for 'Harishchandrachi Factory'

Cast: Nandu Madhav, Vibhawari Deshpande, Ambarish Deshpande

Director: Paresh Mokashi

The Marathi film Harishchandrachi Factory, directed by Paresh Mokashi (and released with English subtitles), is an engaging account of the making of India's first motion picture in the year 1913 by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke or Dadasaheb Phalke, who has since come to be known as the father of Indian cinema.

In 1911, after abandoning his printing business, Phalke became obsessed with making his own film after he happened to chance into the screening of an English film in a tent theatre with his son. Soon after, Mokashi gives us a delightful scene in which Phalke along with his wife and two sons is seated on the floor of the same theatre, all of them completely mesmerized by the moving images, and Phalke with his back turned to the screen examining the beam of light projecting the pictures. It is evident he has come here many times now and today he's trying to figure out how this thing works.

The film follows Phalke as he travels to London to acquire a camera and the skills required to make a motion picture. It tracks him as he returns to his home in Girgaum in Mumbai and begins production on his mythological film, Raja Harishchandra.

Never a lofty biopic that romanticizes Phalke's struggle, Mokashi's film in fact is a humorous, light-hearted take on a challenging adventure filled with impossible hurdles. From raising money by selling his furniture, and casting men in female roles because no women agreed to act in the film, Harishchandrachi Factory looks for irony and laughs even in the darkest places. A portion in the story when Phalke combats near blindness is recounted evenly, without any trace of over-sentimentality or heavy-handed direction.

The film works primarily as a sweet comedy and leaves it entirely to the viewer to absorb and understand the enormity of Phalke's achievement. Mokashi's film is also the remarkable story of Saraswati Phalke's unconditional love and support for her husband. Easily the strongest character in the story, she's a pillar of strength, an ever-willing collaborator brought to life in a restrained yet solid turn by Vibhawari Deshpande.

Mokashi paints an entirely believable portrait of the early 20th century with able assistance from a sharp technical team that uses clever production design to set up the period. Working from a tight script that tells you as much about society in those times as it does about this man on a mission, Harishchandrachi Factory is an important film that should not be missed.

In the central role of Phalke himself, Nandu Madhav delivers a stunning, winning performance, infusing the character with his legendary restlessness, and practically stealing the film with his infectious charm.

Harishchandrachi Factory successfully recounts Phalke's passion and singular obsession with his dream, and does so with clarity and simplicity. It's an emotional roller-coaster ride that's hard to resist.

I'm going with four out of five and two thumbs up for director Paresh Mokashi's Harishchandrachi Factory; it's a fine first film by a filmmaker to watch out for.

Rating: 4 / 5

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