Sharayu Phalke Summanwar, 62, is no actor. Nor is she a screenwriter, editor or casting director. After finishing her economics degree at Lady Shriram college in 1970, she became a banker, and now leads a quiet retired life in Pune with her husband. She does, however, have one rather interesting connection with the film world. “Bapu, as we called my great-grandfather, was Dhundiraj Govind Phalke’s older brother,” she said.
The great grand-niece of the father of Indian cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke, as he is commonly known, is in the capital for the Centenary Film Festival.
A play, The Forgotten Film, is being staged, based on her book titled The Silent Film.
The play depicts his struggles to make his first film, and getting an indigenous film industry to stand on its feet. “There was almost no one in the first 10 years of the Indian film industry who he didn’t train himself – be it actors, screenwriters, even set creators,” said Summanwar.
Phalke’s feats are firmly part of film folklore.
After training at the famous JJ School of Arts in Bombay, he worked as a photographer for the Archaeological Society of India.
Later, he started his own printing press in Bombay, but resigned after differences with his business partner.
That was when he saw the silent film, Life of Christ. Being the son of a priest, he was familiar with mythological stories.
“He didn’t see Jesus, Mary and Bethlehem in Life of Christ, but Krishna, Radha and Ayodhya… that’s how he decided on a religion-based theme for his first film.” Raja Harishchandra marked the beginning of Indian cinema in May 1913.
He was perhaps the first Indian to taste success and failure in show business.
Though his films were extremely successful, Phalke ended his life broke, disillusioned with an industry that with one hand had given him fame and fortune, and with another taketh all away.
“He could never reconcile with the money-making aspects of an industry he had begun,” said Summanwar.
“He was a great nationalist and visionary,” she added. Many say the plot of Kaliya Mardan (1919) carries a two-toned message – the oppressor Kaliya being overthrown by Krishna – to parallel the struggle for independence.
After this long journey, what’s next for Summanwar? “I would like to write a second edition of the book – I’m 100% sure there is 100% more to write about Dadasaheb”.