Raja Harishchandra is a 1913 Indian silent film directed and produced by Dadasaheb Phalke. It is often considered the first
full-length Indian feature film. Raja Harishchandra features Dattatraya Damodar Dabke, Anna Salunke, Bhalchandra Phalke, and Gajanan Vasudev Sane and is based on the legend of Harishchandra, with Dabke portraying the title character. The film, being silent, had English, Marathi, and Hindi-language intertitles.
Phalke decided to make a feature film after watching The Life of Christ (1906) at a theatre in Bombay, now known as Mumbai. He went to London for two weeks to learn filmmaking techniques and founded Phalke Films Company. He imported the hardware required for the filmmaking and exhibition from England, France, Germany, and the United States. Phalke shot a short film Ankurachi Wadh (Growth of a Pea Plant) to attract investors for his venture. He published advertisements in various newspapers calling for the cast and crew. As no women were available to play female leads, male actors performed the female roles. Phalke was in charge of scriptment, direction, production design, make-up, film editing, along with film processing. Trymbak B. Telang handled the camera. Phalke completed filming in six months and 27 days producing a film of 3,700 feet (1,100 m), about four reels.
The film premiered at the Olympia Theatre, Bombay, on 21 April 1913, and had its theatrical release on 3 May 1913 at the Coronation Cinematograph and Variety Hall, Girgaon. It was a commercial success and laid the foundation for the film industry in the country. The film is partially lost; only the first and last reels of the film are preserved at the National Film Archive of India. Some film historians believe these belong to a 1917 remake of the film by Phalke titled Satyavadi Raja Harishchandra.
The status of Raja Harischandra as the first full-length Indian feature film has been argued over. Some film historians consider Dadasaheb Torne’s silent film Shree Pundalik as the maiden Indian film. Torne’s film was released on 18 May 1912 at the same theatre as Raja Harischandra. An argument has also been made in favour of Raja Harischandra that Shree Pundalik is a cinematographic recording of a play, using a single, fixed camera and it was filmed by a British cameraman with the film stock processed in London. The Government of India recognises Raja Harischandra as the first Indian feature film. In 1969, it introduced the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the country’s highest award in cinema, to commemorate Phalke’s contribution to Indian cinema.