How I Collected the Phalke Films? / P K Nair

The National Film Archive of India (NFAI) was officially set up as a media unit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt of India, in Feb 1964, with a token budget of Rs. 25000/- . We were asked to take over the 123 State/National award winning films from 1954 kept in the custody of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) at their White House office godown in Bombay. These formed our initial collection. All of them were Released Positive prints, which had already had some screenings. They were not brand new prints. However, their quality was much better than some of the later prints we prepared from the producers’ original negatives. I was connected with the NFAI since its inception even while I was working as the Research and Reference Asst at the FTII. I took charge as Assistant Curator in November 1965. My first priority was to look around for the earliest film material on India lying around within and outside the country.

Phalke Films

The information about the availability of a reel of a Phalke film with his daughter Mandakini Phalke in Pune was given by (Late) Ram Gabale, then Vice-Principal of FTII. From her we got the first reel of Raja Harishchandra. Later in 1969 we got to know from Shri Sudhir Nandgaonkar, a Film Society organiser and a mutual well-wisher that one more reel of Raja Harishchandra was lying with Neelkanth Phalke, the elder son of Dadasaheb Phalke, staying at Dombivali, a suburb of Bombay. I went all the way to his residence and got acquainted with him and personally collected the reel which turned out to be the last reel of Raja Harishchandra. Thus we had the first and last reels and the remaining second and third reels were still missing. He asked me to check up with his younger brother Prabhakar Phalke at Nasik who may be having some more reels of Phalke films. He also asked me whether we had some of the early German films in the NFAI. He was particularly interested in The Patriot, starring the famous German actor Emil Jennings. He told me his father was very much interested in this film and also other German films of that period. This gave me the impression that Dadasaheb was an avid filmgoer and the great German films of the twenties must have influenced him. A month later I went to Nasik taking a newspaper taxi at midnight and arriving early morning. I went straight to Prabhakar Phalke’s house, the same house where Dadasaheb used to live. I was struck by the insignia of a motion picture camera carved at the top of the wooden door at the entry of the house. I had a detailed talk with Prabhakar. He gave me a wooden box containing a whole lot of bits and pieces of Phalke films including the whole of Kalia Mardan (1917) and a handwritten note book with its corners moth eaten presumably in Dadasaheb’s own handwriting. He did not ask for any compensation for the film material. When I open the reels I found there were small rolls of films –all bits and pieces. I brought them to Poona by the same paper taxi reaching the NFAI early morning. The notebook helped me to connect the joints and pieces in the order in which Dadasaheb had originally conceived Kalia Mardan. It took us a good deal of time to make a complete print of Kalia Mardan. Recently when I was in Nasik for the shooting of Celluloid Man I noticed the whole place had been changed to a commercial complex with no trace of the house. I wish someone had taken care of at least the main door of the house with the camera insignia as a historical piece.

(Published in FFSI NEWS, April 2015 Issue)

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