Chintan Girish Modi's writes about how our book 'Lights…Camera…Action! The Life and Times of Dadasaheb Phalke' gives Saraswatibai Phalke, India’s first film editor, her due.
Via The Indian Express
Via The Indian Express
Did you know that India’s first film editor was a woman named Saraswatibai Phalke? Apart from mixing film-developing chemicals, perforating raw film sheets at night by the light of a candle, and holding white bedsheets for hours in the blazing sun as light reflectors, she also cooked for a film unit comprising approximately 60-70 people. But not many know of her contribution to Indian cinema — she is largely known only for being wife to the much celebrated Dadasaheb Phalke, who directed India’s first silent film Raja Harishchandra (1913) Rupali Bhave’s new book for children, Lights…Camera…Action! The Life and Times of Dadasaheb Phalke, published this year by Pratham Books, seeks to rectify these omissions. It firmly establishes Saraswatibai as the renowned filmmaker’s creative collaborator. “In all the material I read, the information available about Saraswatibai gave me a feeling that she provided the support system that enabled Dadasaheb to achieve his vision. Not only did she support his work but also actively participated in it,” says Bhave, who is an actor, theatre facilitator and translator.
The book narrates how Saraswatibai suggested selling some of their belongings to raise money for Dadasaheb to travel to England and learn the craft of filmmaking from Cecil Hepworth, one of the founders of the British film industry. When he returned to India, and started talking about his plans to make films, some of his friends were terribly unsupportive. They even tried to get him admitted to a mental asylum. However, Saraswatibai stood by him; she sold her jewellery to bolster the finances for Raja Harishchandra. With these funds, Dadasaheb bought a camera and other equipment from Germany.
Bhave writes about how Saraswatibai was also involved in brainstorming ideas with her filmmaker husband. She recognised his passion, and did her best to encourage him, alongside managing her nine children. However, she had to put her foot down when he wanted to cast her as the female lead in Raja Harishchandra. Apparently, Saraswatibai said, “I am already involved in so many things! If I act too, who will do all the things I am doing now? I won’t act in the film.” Eventually, the female lead was played by a male actor who worked as a cook in a restaurant.
Bhave’s book has stunning watercolour illustrations by Sunayana Nair Kanjilal, combined with simple digital textures for the background. “I got a lot of references for Dadasaheb across his career,” says Kanjilal, “But Saraswatibai’s photographs were hard to come by, except one in her old age. In the book, I had to depict her as a young woman, so I simply tried to imagine what she must have looked like in her youth.” When Kanjilal tried to visualise Saraswatibai working, she was reminded of her own mother who was “quite proficient in carpentry and electronics, commonly considered a man’s territory.” She liked working on the book because “it highlights Saraswatibai’s contribution to the process of filmmaking at a time when women were not even working as actors. I was asked to emphasise her role in my illustrations too, and I was happy to execute that task,” says Kanjilal.
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