SAKHARAM BHATAWDEKER - SAWE DADA
History does not record when and where Harishchandra Bhatawdekar saw his first film but
the fact remains that he was enthused enough to want to get into the business. He began by
exhibiting imported short films in the houses of the wealthy families of Bombay.
Obviously, the business of private shows flourished and there was a good reason for that:
Ladies from good Indian families rarely ventured out of the house, least of all for such
dubious entertainment as the cinema. Yet, they must have hankered to see what was
undoubtedly the talk of the town. Bhatawdekar's ingenuity thus paid rich rewards. The
dream of making his own product was just a short step ahead. By late 1898 Sawe Dada had
imported a Riley camera from London for 21 guineas and made a series of short films which
are milestones in the history of Indian cinema.
There are indications that Sawe Dada was toying with the idea of
making a film on Lord Krishna. But before he could take any concrete steps in the matter,
his younger brother Ramakrishna, who was to have been his collaborator in the proposed
film, passed away leaving him shaken to the core. He never recovered from the shock and
turned his back on filmmaking, preferring to return to his original business of still
photography. There is no doubt that he must have made a few aborted attempts at filmmaking
for he sold his Lumiere camera only as late as 1907 at a throwaway price of Rs 700.
Sawe Dada left the film business never to return to the
limelight except for a brief while in 1956, during the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of the
Indian Talkie. At that time he was publicly felicitated at the Cross Maidan in Bombay for
his pioneering contribution to Indian cinema. Two years later he passed away on February
20, 1958 at the ripe old age of 91 years leaving behind nothing except an oral record.
The actual films have long been destroyed and not even in
photographs of that period exist. Between 1905 and 1912 a number of topical short films
were made by new and emerging companies and individuals. Among those prominent in the
making of short topicals, as they came to be called, were S.N. Patankar and Narayan G.
Deware in Bombay; Jamshedji Framji Madan as also the pioneers Hiralal Sen and Jyotish
Chandra Sarkar in Calcutta; R. Prakasa and C. Rangaiah in Madras. By the end of the first
decade, the random filming of scenes had given way to the making of short topical films
with a sharp news focus. Filmmakers also began to realise the potential of the new medium
and its ability to go beyond mere recording scenes.