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Introduction to Indian Movies


Introduction to Indian Movies

1896 - 1910

Hiralal SenCinema was introduced to India on July 7, 1896. It began with the Lumiere Brothers' Cinematography, unveiling six silent short films at the Watson Hotel in Bombay, namely Entry of Cinematographe, The Sea Bath, Arrival of a Train, A Demolition, Ladies & Soldiers on Wheels and Leaving the Factory. The Times of India carried details of the "Living Photographic Pictures in Life-Size Reproductions by Mssrs. Lumiere Brotheres". In the same year, the Madras Photographic Store advertised "animated photographs". Daily screenings of films commenced in Bombay in 1897 by Clifton and Co.'s Meadows Street Photography Studio.

In 1898, Hiralal Sen started filming scenes of theatre productions at the Classic Theatre in Calcutta, inspired by Professor Stevenson (who had brought to India the country's first bioscope)'s, film presentation alongside the stage production of The Flower Of Persia; his debut was a contribution to this presentation. He continued making similar films to complement theatrical productions, which were shown as added attractions during intermission, in private screenings for high society households or taken to distant venues where the stage performers could not reach.

Lord and Lady Curzon on Elephant, Coronation Durbar, Delhi, 1903Harischandra Sakharam Bhatavdekar (H. S. Bhatavdekar) alias Save Dada, who had attended the show, imported a cine-camera from London at a price of 21 guineas and filmed the first Indian documentary, a wrestling match in Hanging Gardens, Bombay, in 1897. In 1901, he recorded the return from Cambridge of 'Wrangler' Ragunath P. Paranjpye, who had secured a distinction in mathematics from Cambridge University, and M M Bhownuggree, considered the first Indian news film. He also filmed Lord Curzon (the Viceroy of India)'s Delhi Durbar that marked the enthronement of Edward VII in 1903.

The commercial potential of cinema was also tested during the time. F.B. Thanewala's "Grand Kinetoscope Newsreels" is one successful case. J.F. Madan was another highly successful film producer, who released hit films like Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra and Bilwamangal; also, he launched Madan Theatres Limited, which became India's largest film production-distribution-exhibition company and the biggest importer of American films after World War I. His films were marked by a high degree of technical sophistication, facilitated by his employment of experienced foreign directors like Eugenio De Liguoro and Camille Legrand. This expertise was complemented by grand sets and popular mythological storylines which ensured good returns.

Cinema houses were set up in major Indian cities in this period, like one in Madras (in 1900 by Major Warrick), the Novelty Cinema in Bombay (where newsreels from the Boer Wars were shown) and the Elphinstone Picture Palace in Calcutta (set up by J.F. Madan in 1907). Apart from these, a number of film shows were arranged in tents; examples are: shows arranged by two Italians, Colorello and Cornaglia, in tents at the Azad Maidan Bombay, J.F. Madan's tent cinema at the Calcutta Maidan. Another popular mode of broadcasting films was the touring cinema. In 1904, Manek Sethna started the Touring Cinema Co. in Bombay and a year later, Swamikannu Vincent, a draughtsman for the railways set up a touring cinema going around small towns and villages in the South of India. Pathe, the famous film production company set up an Indian Office in 1907.


A scene from Raja HarishchandraThe first feature film made in India was a narrative named Pundalik, by N.G. Chitre and R.G. Torney. The first full-length Indian feature film was Raja Harishchandra (3700 feet as compared to 1500 for Pundalik), made in 1913 and released commercially in May that year, by Dadasaheb Phalke. Phalke had attended a screening of The Life of Christ at P.B. Mehta's American-Indian Cinema and was inspired to make films himself. He was convinced of the possibility of establishing an indigenous film industry by focusing on Indian themes. In this regard, he said Like the life of Christ, we shall make pictures on Rama and Krishna. The film was about an honest king who for the sake of his principles sacrifices his kingdom and family before the gods, who are impressed with his honesty and restore him to his former glory. The film was a success, and Phalke went on to make more mythological films till the advent of talkies, and commercialization of Indian films lessened his popularity..

In 1916, Universal Pictures set up Hollywood's first Indian agency (see Hollywood meets India, below). The first South Indian feature was Rangaswamy Nataraja Mudaliar's Keechaka Vadham, released in 1918.The following year, he made the film Draupadi Vastrapaharanam, featuring Anglo-Indian actress Marian Hill who played the role of Draupadi



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