chapter  2
The devotional film
Pages 34

Although it is widely accepted that India’s first entirely Indian-made film was Raja Harischandra, some sources, such as Rajadhyaksha and Willemen (1999) give precedence to R.G. Torney and N.G. Chitre’s Pundalik (1912), a devotional film about a saint from Maharashtra. A contemporary advertisement from Coronation Cinematograph, Sandhurst Road, Girgaum, says, ‘Almost half the Bombay Hindu population has seen it last week and we want the other half to do so before a change of programme takes place.’1 Gokarn (n.d.: 8) cites a review from the Times of India, 25 May 1912 – ‘Pundalik has the power to arrest the attention of the Hindus. As a religious drama, it has few equals.’ (The Coronation advertisement’s mention of the accompanying programme ‘New screaming comics’ suggests devotion was not the only object of the evening.)

Whichever of the two films was made first, it is not disputed that the mythological (see Chapter 1) and the devotional are the founding genres of Indian cinema. This chapter discusses the devotional genre, films about spiritual devotees (bhaktas and sants), drawing on India’s rich premodern bhakti traditions.