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13 Entrepreneurship Lessons from the Father of Indian Cinema: Dadasaheb Phalke besides being a filmmaker, Dadasaheb Phalke demonstrated immense qualities of an entrepreneur which serve as great learnings

By Sanjay Mehta

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The Indian film industry is one of the largest in the world, and films continue to provide the staple dose of entertainment and mental release for a vast majority of the country.

Considering the importance of feature films in our society, it is essential to recognize the role played by Dadasaheb Phalke, referred to as the Father of Indian Cinema, for having made the Marathi film, Raja Harishchandra, way back in 1913, and which is considered to be India's first feature film.

But while he was clearly a creative genius to have made this film, the purpose of this article is to relate his life to that of an entrepreneur, as besides being a filmmaker, Dadasaheb Phalke demonstrated immense qualities of an entrepreneur, and which serve as great learnings. A lot of this understanding of his entrepreneurial skills comes from the film, Harishchandrachi Factory, which was released a few years back, and which has made a comeback of sorts in the OTT circuit now, and hence became a talking point all over again.

So, what are the big learnings from Dadasaheb Phalke's life?

  1. Study, in depth, whatever vertical you desire to get into: Phalke went and saw cinema (coming from abroad) many, many times. He literally wore himself out doing so, so much so that he collapsed one day in the cinema house. He also almost lost his eyesight while pursuing the study of cinema.
  2. Fully dedicated team with a missionary zeal: In case of Phalke, his team was his family. His wife was unquestioning, supported him completely, and so did their children.
  3. Courage: Entrepreneurship demands a certain dare; nothing ventured, nothing gained: As an example, Phalke took off to go to London (in those days!) with just a name that he had. Strange land, new people, no connections – none of these worried him at all. The focus was what he wanted to achieve.
  4. Believe in yourself: Back your convictions with your last dollar, the shirt off your back: If ever this was true, it was in the case of Phalke. Household items like cupboards and utensils were sold to support the project. And with full support of his team – his wife and children!
  5. Have a big vision: When the vision is clear the means will follow. On one occasion, Phalke and his wife counted out their entire savings, and it came to all or INR 59. And their need was? INR 10,000! So what was the attitude then? "We will find a way"!
  6. Have perseverance: And it gets more interesting because when you've bet your last dollar, go and bet some more: After having used up all of his resources in India, the conclusion was that Phalke needed to go to London for some final training. There was nothing left to sell. Well, they found a way. He borrowed against his insurance policies and used that money to go to London!
  7. Don't worry about failures: An entrepreneur never worries about rejection: Phalke kept on pestering the cinema operator, who brushed him off numerous times, until he finally relented, and allowed Phalke inside. Where Phalke could see the operation and learn from it. Similarly, when he went to London, Phalke just strode into the cabin of the Britisher and said, "I am from india. I want to make motion cinema. Can you help me?". No thoughts about rejection!
  8. Actions impress more than words: Once Phalke got his motion camera, he took ample shots of his family. He kept shooting daily progress of a growing plant. All interesting stories that he kept showing people, and with those demonstrations, got more and more people excited about his project.
  9. Go with your intuition: More people will question your ideas; stay with your own gut feel. The resistance he most often got was that "when there are live people, drama and music, why would anyone watch a moving picture, without sound, on a flat piece of cloth"? Imagine, if he had listened to those doubting folks!!
  10. Be completely true: Be transparent with your team. Phalke would share just about everything with his team. However, the one time when he was going to London, he told her that he knew some people there. The reality was that he didn't! He chose to not worry her too much, even while he embarked on the adventure.
  11. Think out of the box: Phalke was struggling to get women to act in his film. And he wanted only women to play the roles of women, and not get men to do so. Hunting for an answer, Phalke went to the red light district and found some women there, who were willing to act.
  12. Direct Marketing – you are your own best salesman: Just because you have built it is not a reason that customers will show up at your door. You still need to sell it! When his first show was a flop, he was not discouraged. He got flyers printed and sent out his cast and his team, to distribute the flyers – a true form of direct marketing. And the rest, as they say, is history.
  13. In a startup, everyone's an all-rounder: Phalke's wife would process the film as well as cook and clean the utensils. The cast would also do kitchen chores. And they all painted the sets too.

As you can visualize, Dadasaheb Phalke was a pioneer, an adventurer, a great thinker.. and a startup entrepreneur! The movie, Harishchandrachi Factory, about his life, makes for inspirational viewing, for all these reasons.

It may be important to know that Phalke was offered a great deal of money to induce him to go to the UK to make films there. However, he refused as he wanted to stay in India and make films here. Thanks to that decision, the Indian film industry got birth then, and it has become this massive industry now.

Sanjay Mehta

Joint CEO of Mirum India

Sanjay Mehta is amongst India's earliest internet entrepreneurs. In 1997, he co-founded Homeindia.com, an e-commerce venture that sold ethnic Indian products to customers across the globe. After ten years of bootstrapping, Sanjay divested out of the venture in 2007. Not able to curb the entrepreneurial instinct, Sanjay began his second and most successful venture in 2009, Social Wavelength, now known as Mirum, which is one of the leading digital agencies in India.

 Apart from being part of India's Digital Power 100 and a speaker at various industry events in India and abroad, Sanjay is also a published writer, having co-authored the book "If I Had To Do It Again - An Internet Entrepreneurs' Wisdom in Hindsight", which chronicles the highs and lows of his entrepreneurial journey during Homeindia.com days.

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