100 years of Indian cinema: Top 10 films of the silent era

The first film made by an Indian was Raja Harishchandra, which was shown to the public on May 3, 1913. As we enter the 100th year of India cinema, we take a look at the silent era (from 1913 to 1930) of the movies and present to you our top 10 films from this period

Raja Harishchandra, 1913: Even though the first film that went into making was Shree Pundalik by Dadasaheb Torne, in 1912, it was considered a British production. The first full length feature film made by an Indian that was shown to the public was Raja Harishchandra, produced and directed by Dadasaheb Phalke. Since it wasn’t considered appropriate for women to work in a film, even the female characters in this Marathi movie were played by male actors. Phalke was influenced by the style of painter Raja Ravi Varma during the making the film.

Lanka Dahan, 1917: Dadasaheb Phalke went on to make several films after Raja Harishchandra including Mohini Bhasmasur (1913), Satyavan Savitri (1914) and Lanka Dahan (1917). But Lanka Dahan was the one that went on to become India’s first big box office hit! Based on the narrative of Sita’s abduction by Ravan, it was screened from 7am to midnight at the West End Cinema in Girgaum, Mumbai. Interestingly, the roles of Ram and Sita were played by the same actor, A Salunke!

Keechaka Vadham, 1917: Mythology was one of the favourite subjects of filmmakers during this time. The success of Madan and Phalke inspired makers from other regions to make films too. Keechaka Vadham, based on the Mahabharata, was the first feature to be made in the south.

Shankuntala, 1920: The film, directed by Suchet Singh is based on Kalidas’ famous novel. It didn’t completely stick to the original work. Singh chose to go with a more liberal mind set owing to his foreign education. Patankar Friends and Company, a rival production house, came out with a more desi version, which had more mass appeal than Singh’s film. It got a big release but a cold response. But with time it became the most memorable film of Singh.

Bhakt Vidur, 1921: By 1920, filmmaking had transformed into an industry. In the wake of the commercial possibilities, Kohinoor Studios released their film Bhakt Vidur, based on a chapter from Mahabharata.

Bilat Ferat, 1921: The same year saw the release of Bengali filmmaker Dhiren Ganguly’s film Bilat Ferat (England Returned). It was the first Indian love story made for celluloid.

Pati Bhakti, 1922: Directed by JJ Madan, this movie made actress Patience Cooper the biggest star of that time. Patience played the role of Leelavati who advocated that women should be completely devoted to their husbands. It was the first film to get embroiled in a controversy over censorship issues. The censor board demanded an obscene dance number to be removed from the film.

Prem Sanyas, 1925: Directed by Himanshu Rai and Franz Osten, it was the first Indo-European co-production. German technicians and Indian actors came together for this one and managed to steer clear of the usual exotic depiction of Indian culture which up until then was the western filmmakers favoured. The film was shot in Lahore which of course is in Pakistan now. Himanshu Rai’s wife, Devika Rani played the lead actor and did the set decoration for this film which was also titled Light Of Asia.

Devdas, 1928: This was the first film adaptation of the Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay novella, Devdas. Directed by Naresh Mitra, it was well scripted and had a distinct touch of Bengali sensibilities.

Gopal Krishna, 1929: Though Netaji Palkar was the first movie made by V Shantaram, Gopal Krishna was the film that went on to become more popular. Based on the childhood of Lord Krishna, the film used excerpts from Hindu mythology to represent the conflict between India and the British.

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