Indian film industry is preparing to celebrate 100 years of Indian Cinema next year. May 3rd, 1913, the first full length silent film was released in India (it was made in 1912) – Raja Harishchandra, produced by Dada Saheb Phalke, the father of what today is known as Indian Cinema. Though European films had started screening in India as early as 1896-97, the indigenous Indian films took a decade to arrive. This takes us back to the memories of year 1995. The world of cinema celebrated its century in 1995, which in India was carried out as a routine function which many Bollywood lovers might reminisce as Madhuri Dixit dancing to her songs and Saif Ali Khan doing his then popular Ole Ole Ole without teaching anyone anything about the history of cinema, or may be much of the audience was too young to remember the lectures given there.
The cinema lovers know the actors, directors, music directors but there is the most important aspect of film and film technology without which these glamor industries would not have existed – the cameras and the projectors. Going into the history in always funny. Those who started it all never believed that it was a commercially successful venture.
The year 1995 honored the 100 years of first display of Cinematographe, the film camera which could record, develop and serve as film projector, by Lumiere brothers – August and Louis, French in origin and sons of a photographer. Though they worked under their father till 1892, after his retirement, they took to making motion pictures and patented Film Perforations and Cinematographe. The first footage using the Cinematographe was recorded on March 19, 1895 and it showed workers leaving the Lumiere factory. Lumieres have a significant serendipitous contribution to growth of Indian Cinema. More about it later.
The devices to record moving pictures had been created before Lumiere brothers too and Lumiere brothers were inspired by non-patented recording device of Edison. Thomas Edison invented a Kinetoscope in 1888 which one student of his, Dickson developed around 1889-1891. It is also said that the concept of a motion picture and Kinetoscope was first suggested by Eadweard Muybridge who gave a lecture on his device Zoopraxiscope in 1879. Though Zoopraxiscope or the ‘wheel of life’ was the first machine patented in the United States in the year 1867 by William Lincoln, but it was developed by Muybridge. It projected images from a set of rotating glass disks in rapid succession to give the impression of a motion and was meant for individual use. One single person could peep into the motion picture. This was soon given the help of Kinetophone – an attempt of Edison and Dickson again to give a sound-film system. In July 1893, Kinetoscope accompanied by its sound system was first presented at the Chicago World’s Fair. The first film using a Kinetophone was shot in Edison’s New Jersey studio sometime in late 1894 or 1895. Even though some documents suggest that the sound and picture were made synchronous by Edison, many noted historians write that Edison made no attempt to synchronize the sound and the picture. Most of the Kinetoscope pictures were shot as silent, predominantly march and dance, and the buyers were given an option of purchasing the music cylinders giving a rhythmic match to the pictures.
Even as Edison worked relentlessly to popularize his Kinetoscope among the upper classes of the society, many had started believing that the film projection system for the films to seen by many people together is the next step to be pursued and discovered. When Norman Raff communicated the customer’s zeal in having such film systems to Edison, the great investigator rebuffed the idea of developing cinema for masses -
“No, if we make this screen machine that you are asking for, it will spoil everything. We are making these peep show machines and selling a lot of them at a good profit. If we put out a screen machine there will be a use for maybe about ten of them in the whole United States. With that many screen machines you could show the pictures to everybody in the country—and then it would be done. Let’s not kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
” (Sigh! if only he had lived on to see the stakes involved in today’s film world).
It was around this time that the news of display of Cinematographe by Lumiere brothers harmed the popularity of Kinetoscope. The advent of a cheaper and simpler Mutoscope, another peep-show device won over Kinetoscope. The developments forced Edison around 1896 to look for projector technology and a Phantoscope was created. The rights to this system were reserved by Raff and Gammon and they redubbed it Vitascope and arranged with Edison to promote it with he named as its creator. The commercial failures of repeated attempts at developing Kinetophones to suit the growing demand by people of projection systems, the fire in his Kinetoscope lab, and the success of Lumiere brothers in France to come up with first successful film projection system (who ironically borrowed the idea of sprocket-wound film from Edison and that of projecting successive frames on screen from Reynaud) forced Edison to abandon the system and the credit of having the first film projection system went to Lumiere brothers.
The first public screening of the film at which admission was charged was held on December 28, 1895 at Salon Indien du Grand Cafe in Paris.The history making presentation featured ten short films including their first film – workers leaving the Lumiere factory whose duration was only 46 seconds. It featured other films like – Horse Trick Riders (duration 46 seconds), Fishing for Goldfish (42 seconds), Blacksmiths (49 seconds), The Garnder (49 seconds), Baby’s Meal (41 seconds), Jumping Onto The Blanket….lol (41 seconds) and Bathing in the Sea (38 seconds) alongside two other short recordings.
In 1896 when Lumieres went on to tour the world with their Cinematographe, they made Bombay one of their stops and it was here that Dada Sahib Phalke among others got to know about them. He also met German magician Carl Hertz, one of the 40 magicians employed by Lumiere brothers.
Ironically, Lumiere brothers did not see much future in cinema and declined to sell their camera to anyone. This upset many film-makers of the time. They famously stated that ‘cinema is an invention without a future’ and moved back to their original profession – photography.
By that time many other inventors had started taking interest in it and the modern versions of film projector system were developed.
Although Lumiere brothers were not the first ever to develop a system to show moving films or to develop the more practical and sophisticated versions of film projectors, they showed to the world the mass-use of the medium of cinema. It is now an accepted fact that Edison wanted to keep his original invention, the Kinetoscope, limited to the rich people and not to be seen as a movie in public. The availability of Lumiere’s films by paying tickets was the first ever presentation of the medium of cinema as an entertainment and money earning device.
Asteroid 775 Lumiere is named after the two brothers, and they are also credited with invention of Loudspeaker. And it was their influence which enlightened Dada Sahib Phalke, then a resident of British colony which India was, to make the first Indian film telling an Indian story.