From the magic lantern - Slices of early film history - The New Indian Express

From the magic lantern - Slices of early film history

Published: 11th December 2012 12:16 PM

Last Updated: 11th December 2012 12:16 PM

The journey of Indian cinema began a century ago with the release of Dadasaheb Phalke’s ‘Raja Harishchandra’ in 1913 which is recognised as India’s first, genuine, ‘swadeshi’ feature film. Giving film buffs glimpses of film history is an ‘interactive expo’ which has been set up at the Kanakakkunnu Palace as part of the ongoing IFFK 2012. It has been organised by the Films Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting

 Beginning with the centuries-old story-telling devices like ‘The Magic Lantern’ - where projection of glass-slide images in the lantern gave the illusion of movement - the expo takes the visitor through the pre-Phalke years of Indian cinema. Here, the spotlight is on the pioneers like Hiralal Sen, who set up the Royal Bioscope Company, Bengal’s first film production company, in Kolkata in 1898.

 A section of the expo is devoted to India’s silent film era, which lasted till 1934 and is said to have produced 1,329 films. Visuals from films such as Kanjibhai Rathod’s ‘Bhakta Vidur’ (1921) and P V Rao’s ‘Marthanda Varma’ (1931) are also put up. “Most of the films produced during silent era,” says one installation, “do not exist.”

 Then comes the evolution of sound and the subsequent emergence of the talkies, bringing in sound recorders and dialogue writers and song and dance on to the screen.   India’s first sound film was ‘Alam Ara’, released in 1931 produced by Imperial Film Co, while the introduction of playback was in 1935 in the Bengali film ‘Bhagya Chakra.’ 

 The expo also has installations on the various stages of evolution of cinema post World War II up to the present.  “We got a positive response when we put up a similar expo at the film festival in Goa,” said K Venugopal, senior manager at Films Division. “We hope to get one here as well.”

Early equipment on display

The expo also has on display early film equipment such as the 10 KW light used for shooting in the 1950s and the 800 mm lens camera. “The latter was used to film things from a distance, such as wildlife and sports,” said Ravinder Singh, cameraman and technician with the Films Division, Mumbai.

 The ‘Eyemo’ camera was a handheld camera that emerged  towards the end of the silent era to hold shorter lengths of film and saw limited use in film-making. “This was used more for documentation during the first World War,” said Singh. “Here, there are hand-wound spring motors that would have to be cranked up to last through the roll.”

 Other equipment on display include Nagma III, a portable audio recorder first used for film in 1961, and also animation devices like the Praxinoscope and Phenakistiscope, which demonstrate the illusion of motion.  The Praxinoscope is an animation device invented in France by Charles-Emile Reynaud in 1877. Here, there are a series of pictures on the inner surface of a cylinder which can spin. In the middle of the cylinder is a mirror so that when the cylinder spins, a person looking at the mirror feels that the images are moving.

 The Phenakistiscope also follows a similar principle - here, there is a disc with slots on the edges and there are images between the slots. If you look through the slots when the disc is turned in front of a mirror, the images seem to move. This device was invented by Joseph Plateau of Belgium and Simon Stampfer of Austria in 1830.  The expo has been set up as a curtain raiser to the National Museum of Cinema being set up by the Films Division in Mumbai.

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