India’s First talkie ‘Alam Ara’ is now 93-year-old: Only its memory survives not the movie—Amrit Gangar | Hindi Movie News

One of India’s top film historians and curator Amrit Gangar talks about our first talkie ‘Alam Ara‘. He says, “Indian cinema’s irony is that it largely lives in collective memory and the first source, the movie itself. The massive repertoire of ‘songs’ form the great ‘oral and aural’ ‘archive’ that moves this ‘memory’ towards writing history which always remains work-in-progress.’’
He adds, “However, India’s first ‘talkie’ or ‘sound film’ ‘Alam Ara’ was first released in Bombay’s Majestic Theatre in the Girgaon area of South Bombay (Mumbai).Situated on the road named after Jagannath Shankarseth aka Nana Shankarseth is not far from the erstwhile Imperial Film Company’s studio where ‘Alam Ara’ was shot and produced. Located near Grant Road railway station on Mumbai’s Western Railways, the road is now named after Khan Bahadur Ardeshir M. Irani (1886-1969).’’
He further adds, “Imperial Film Company was established in 1926 (during the silent era) following Irani’s two previous companies, viz. Majestic Film Company (1923) and the Royal Art Studio (1925), which reminds us of his being a student of the Sir J.J. School of Art.’’
Gangar also tells us why the print of ‘Alam Ara’ didn’t survive. He says, “The year 1931 is not a long history, so the question is why didn’t its prints survive to this day? While in search of the answer I find my introductory booklet (in Gujarati) on the National Film Archive of India handy. While writing it, I spent some time at this grand repository of Indian cinema in Pune and interviewed its former Director and the legendary archivist, P.K. Nair (1933-2016). It was interesting to listen to what he told me about India’s first talkie ‘Alam Ara’. To seek and obtain the prints of this film, Nair Sahab went to the Imperial Film Company’s studio, Ardeshir Irani. He said, “I was then searching for the surviving prints of films in all the labs in Mumbai, during that time, I went to meet Ardeshir Irani at Jyoti Studio (where previously the Imperial Film Company was located). Irani told me that the Alam Ara prints must be lying in some corner somewhere! But listening to him, his son said, they had not a single print of Alam Ara.”
About his father, he said, “The old man has lost his senses!” Sighing, Nair Sahab told me that all his hopes about retrieving Alam Ara were shattered. Alas! till today, we don’t have a trace of this film, except its few stills and a memory of its song De de khuda ke naam par pyaare… sung by Wazir Mohammed Khan. Incidentally, this song pioneered the use of a chorus.‘’
He adds, “Alam Ara was released on 14 March 1931 at the Majestic Theatre, Bombay to great popular success. Written by Joseph David and music composed by Ferozshah M. Mistri, it established the use of music, song, and dance as the mainstay of Indian cinema. Many were attracted by the success of Alam Ara but they lacked the knowledge of sound recording and were in a dilemma. Nevertheless, there was a competition between Imperial, Krishna, and Madan to produce the first talkie. Soon after Alam Ara, Krishnatone’s Ghar ki Laksmi was released, followed by Shirin Farhad of Madan Theatres Ltd. Though the Indian talkie era had dawned in 1931 with Alam Ara, the silent films were continued to be made till 1934.’’
Gangar adds how The advent of sound changed the creative strategies of filmmaking. He says, “The sound recordist became more important than the cameraman. The stars who could sing well were more acceptable than the bodybuilders. Dialogue writing and delivery occupied more space of significance. ‘Alam Ara’ included the lead cast of Master Vithal and Zubeida. But you know, the hero of the first talkie did not talk? It sounds strange but it’s a fact nonetheless that when moving pictures took to the tongue, the hero did not talk. Those who have seen would stand testimony that Master Vithal, the hero of the first Indian Talkie Alam Ara did not have a single word of dialogue throughout the whole film. This fact was mentioned in a journal when, in 1956, Indian sound film was celebrating its Silver Jubilee.‘’

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