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How did Dadasaheb Phalke promote Raja Harishchandra 105 years ago?

Apart from printing newspaper advertisements and pamphlets, Dadasaheb Phalke also devised a strategy to present a live trailer of the film to the public.

Keyur Seta

Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, better known as Dadasaheb Phalke, gave India its first home production, Raja Harishchandra, on 3 May 1913. The silent film was released in Bombay's (now Mumbai) Coronation Theatre.

Like any other form of art, cinema constantly undergoes changes. From silent films, to colour, high definition, 3D and animation, cinema has evolved in many ways in the past 105 years.

One of the important processes that has evolved over time is the marketing of films. While stars now appear anywhere and everywhere, suddenly becoming vocal on issues just before their films are due to be released, one might think that promotion of films was an alien concept when Phalke made films.

However, the very first film of India, Raja Harishchandra, had its share of marketing too. How else could the new filmmaker attract crowds to witness something they had not even heard of?

Celebrating 105 years of the Indian film industry, we look at how Phalke promoted his first film.

A still from Raja Harishchandra

India's official entry to the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Harishchandrachi Factory is a film based on Phalke and his family’s struggles while making Raja Harishchandra. In the film, director Paresh Mokashi shed light on the marketing and promotion tools implemented by Phalke.

After completing pre-production, production and post-production of the film, Phalke finally managed to get Raja Harishchandra released.

As part of the film’s publicity, he got an advertisement published in newspapers. The makers felt this would be enough to see people flock the Coronation Theatre. After all, this was the first Indian film ever made. Unfortunately, the newspaper advertisements didn't help much.

The audience at the first screening comprised more of the artistes from the film, than the general public, most of whom were British. The film sold a total of 75 tickets in the first five shows.

The film was appreciated by the few people who watched it, but it was no where close to earning any money. Phalke soon realised he would need to up the ante and chalked out a publicity strategy.

Though it was suggested that a few scenes from the film be reshot, the Father of Indian cinema refused and instead focused on letting people know about the film in other ways than just print advertisements.

A large number of pamphlets were printed and while these were handed out, those distributing them would also make announcements about the film.

The challenge was not making people aware about the film, but explaining the concept of a film itself.

In Harishchandrachi Factory (2010), Phalke (Nandu Madhav) asks a newspaper vendor to distribute the pamphlets and also inform people about Raja Harishchandra. The role of the newspaper vendor was played by the then little known Amey Wagh.

Further, Phalke also introduced the idea of a trailer. No, these were not video promos. Instead artistes would perform a scene from the film on the streets for the public. This gave the public an idea of what to expect inside the theatre.

It is time we acknowledged the Father of Indian cinema's role in introducing the idea of film promotion and publicity 105 years ago.

Watch Phalke's Raja Harishchandra: