T. alt: The Childhood of Krishna. Scen., F.: Dhundiraj Govind Phalke. Int.: Mandakini Phalke (Krishna), Anna Salunke (Yashoda), Neelkanth, Sahadevrao Tapkire, Baburao Patil. Prod.: Hindustan Cinema Film Co.. 35mm. L.: 1353 m (incompleto). D.: 60’ a 20 f/s. Bn
1919 saw an upsurge in the nationalist movement in British India and was also an important year in Indian cinema – just six years after the first feature film, D.G. Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra, was screened. R. Nataraja Mudaliar of Madras made Keechaka Vadham, the first silent feature film from South India, and the recently discovered Bilwamangal, considered the first silent film of the Bengal film industry, also released the same year. In 1919, Baburao Painter used the first indigenously made film camera to shoot his first film Sairandhri and was given the title of ‘Cinema Kesari’ by the freedom fighter Lokmanya Tilak after he watched the film.
It was at this time that Phalke released the film Kaliya Mardan, which tells the story of the Hindu deity Lord Krishna’s childhood, starring his seven-year-old daughter Mandakini Phalke as Krishna. In 1910, Phalke watched a film on the life of Christ, which left a deep impression, moving him to write, “Could we, the sons of India, ever be able to see Indian images on the screen?”. Kaliya Mardan was a further expression of this desire to capture Indian mythology in cinema, following on from his earlier films Lanka Dahan and Shri Krishna Janma.
The film opens interestingly with what appears to be a screen test after an intertitle that reads “Study in facial expressions by a little girl of seven”: Mandakini is shown enacting different moods. The narrative of the film unfolds with scenes of Krishna’s mischievous pranks as well as his benevolence. The film was also remarkable for its special effects, especially the iconic underwater sequence depicting Krishna’s victory over the serpent Kaliya after an epic battle. The climax is a triumphal celebration during which it has been said that the audience would break out into devotional songs and raise nationalist slogans. Krishna’s vanquishing of the demon snake has been interpreted as being symbolic of the nationalist movement and the fight to overthrow the colonial British rule. The film was a great success and ran for 10 months in cinemas. This is the only Phalke film that is almost intact, thanks to the efforts of the archivist P.K. Nair, who painstakingly reassembled the film from fragments based on Phalke’s notations in a diary.
Shivendra Singh Dungarpur