18 May 1912: The birth of Bollywood with the release of India’s first film

India’s film industry – AKA Bollywood – is huge. Every year, it churns out three times the number of films made in Hollywood. And in 2012, it sold 2.6 billion cinema tickets, compared with Hollywood’s 1.4 billion – quite a feat, given that India has just 13,000 cinema screens, compared with America’s 40,000.

True, the box office take is dwarfed by Hollywood’s – just $1.6bn compared to $10.8bn. But the average Bollywood blockbuster costs just $1.5m to make – in Hollywood, it would set you back up to $50m.

And it all started on this day in 1912 with the release at the Coronation Cinematograph in Bombay of Dadasaheb Torne’s, Shree Pundalik, the first film made in India. It was a 22-minute long silent movie, a recording of the popular Marathi play Pundalik.

Torne was just 21 or 22 when he convinced his friend to put up the money for the film and camera. Unfortunately, they didn’t know how to use the camera, so the British camera company sent a man – known only as ‘Johnson’ out to do it for them.

However, the film’s role in Indian cinema is still disputed. Many people still think the honour of the first Indian film should go to Dadasaheb Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra, which premiered a year later.

For many purists, the fact that Torne’s movie had a British cameraman and the film was processed in London disqualifies it from being a truly ‘Indian’ film.

Other objections are that, at only 22 minutes long, the film is too short to be a feature film; and that effectively it is just a play that was filmed.

In 2013, the dispute made its way to the Bombay High Court, when Torne’s descendants filed a ‘public interest litigation’ to get their father’s contribution to Indian cinema fully recognised.

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