Sunday, September 16, 2012

How did talkies start in Indian cinema?

Have you ever wondered when and how sound was introduced in Indian cinema?
Today, let us take a look at the very beginning of Indian talkie films - and so, the beginning of film music as well. It is difficult to imagine a mainstream silent film, but that was the only kind of films made till 1931. But at first, let us take a peek at silent films and firsts in such films....
Did filming start right away as feature films or cinema? No, as you might have probably guessed, it began as a personal home project.  Harishchandra Sakharam Bhatwadekar was the first man to shoot a film of a wrestling match at Mumbai, titled "The Wrestlers", in 1896. He was a portrait photographer by profession.
In 1912, the first feature film, Bhakt Pundlik, was made by Dadasaheb Torne. But this film was semi - British made, released simultaneously with a English film, 'A Dead Man's Child'. The harsh censor board had not let this film to get released, and hence it lost the honour of being the first talkie film.
Dadasaheb Torne

Poster of Bhakta Pundalik (1912)
The first fully Indian full - length feature film was the famous Raja Harishchandra (1913) made by Indian film pioneer Dadasaheb Phalke, the first film director of India and also the film's hero. It was an enormous achievement by him. At that time, women did not act in films and the heroine's role was played by Phalke's male friend, Salunke. This was a marking point in Indian cinema and is remembered till date. Here is a link to the immortal classic, saluting the great Dadasaheb Ji and all of his earnest co - workers, and thanking the uploader of this footage:

 Screenshot of first Indian film Raja Harishchandra (1913)

Dadasaheb Phalke , Salunke, others in Raja Harishchandra (1913)
The great Dadasaheb Phalke continued his contribution towards films with many religious movies like Mohini Bhasmasur (1913), Satyavan Savithri (1914), Lanka Dahan  and Satyawadi Raja Harishchandra (both 1917) and Shri Krishna Janma (1918). Mohini Bhasmasur (1913) was the first film to have true actresses - the first Indian film actress was Kamlabai Gokhale. Lanka Dahan (1917) was the first big box - office hit of India. Kaliya Mardan (1919) made by him starred his daughter Mandakini Phalke.
  Kamlabai Gokhale, first Indian actress who acted in 1913

Ganpat G. Shinde in Lanka Dahan (1917)

Mandakini Phalke in Kaliya Mardan (1919)
Other significant silent films are: Sinhasta Mela and Sant Tukaram (1921), Sukanya Savithri and Brick Laying (both 1922), The Cathecist Of Kil Arni (1923), Prem Sanyas/Light Of Asia (1925), Murliwala (1927), Daughters Of Today and Shiraz (both 1928), Pitru Prem, Qaya Palat and A Throw Of Dice/Prapanch Pash (all 1929).
Now that we have gone through the development of some silent films, let us see how talkies came to the film arena. The first ever sound film was Alam Ara (1931), directed by Ardeshir Irani and produced by Imperial Movietone. This film was first released at the Majestic Theatre at Bombay, and became so famous that police had to be brought to control the crowd. But unfortunately, the print of this film is non – existent, even after several searches, after the 2003 fire at National Film Archive of India (NFAI). In fact, it is so unfortunate that not even a song sample is available. Recording of songs was not done for the first few films made, hence the film remains the only source, and is not available. This is a great loss to the cultural history and development of the industry and the country's achievements. The film had a story written by Joseph Munshi and Munshi Zaheer, edited by Ezra Mir and cinematography was by Wilford Deming and Adi M. Irani.
Movie poster of the first Indian talkie, Alam Ara (1931)
The sensational film starred Master Vitthal, Zubaida, Zillo, J. Sushila, Prithviraj Kapoor, Elizer, Wazir Mohammed Khan, Jagdish Sethi and L. V. Prasad. Music was by Pherozeshah Mistri and B. Irani. Zubaida Ji was the first ever heroine and played the title role of Alam Ara, and Wazir Mohammed Khan Ji, who played a Faqir (mendicant), was the first singer in India films, and sang the very famous “De De Khuda Ke Naam Pe”. It was a blockbuster and set up a trend for many talkies to come. Songs were recorded live because of the absence of playback recording system. All actors, of course, sang their own songs. It was mostly shot at night to avoid external disturbances, because there were no soundproof equipments.
Master Vitthal and Zubaida, leading pair of Alam Ara (1931)
Alam Ara was inspired by the first movie version of Jerome Kern's Show Boat (1929), released by Universal Pictures. The film’s plot was based on a Parsi play about the love of a prince and a gypsy girl, written by Joseph David, who later wrote stories for Irani’s later films. In this story, there is a historical, royal family ruling Kumarpur. The main characters are its king and his two  wives Dilbahar and Naubahar who do not go along well. A Faqir (Wazir) predicts that Naubahar will be the mother of the king’s heir and the tension among the queens increases. Vengeful Dilbahar tries to have an affair with the kingdom's chief minister Adil. The affair turns unsuccesfull and a Dilbahar imprisons Adil and exiles his daughter, Alam Ara (Zubaida). Exiled Alam Ara is brought up by Gypsies. Returning to the Kumarpur palace, Alam Ara meets its charming young prince (Master Vitthal) and falls in love with him. The story has a happy ending with the release of Adil, punishment of Dilbahar and marriage of Alam Ara with the prince.
Master Vithal and Zubaida in a still from Alam Ara (1931)
The music of this film was also very famous. Here is the list of songs:

  • “De De Khuda Ke Naam Pe" by Wazir Mohammed Khan
  • "Badla Dilwayega Ya Rab Tu Sitamgaron Se" by Zubeida
  • "Rootha Hai Aasman Ghum Ho Gaya Mehtab" by Zillo
  • "Teri Qatil Nigahon Ne Maara"
  • "De Dil Ko Aaram Aaye Saqi Ghulfam"
  • "Bhar - Bharke Jaam Pila Ja Sagar Ke Chalanewala"
  • "Daras Bina Mare Hain Tarse Naina Pyare"
    Miss Zubaida in a still from Alam Ara (1931)
    As some readers may have guessed, all of the songs are in Urdu. Master Vitthal Ji did not know Urdu well and was to be substituted by Mehboob Khan (who later became a famous director). Vitthal Ji filed a case against the director and won it, willingly learnt Urdu and contributed to the film’s success. But this film was only the beginning, there was much, much more to come from the great Hindi/Urdu film industry of Bombay, its films and music….we will talk about these in the posts to comeSmile 
    Wazir Mohammed Khan singing first Indian film song, "De De Khuda Ke Naam Pe"
    Still from Alam Ara (1931): Master Vitthal, Wazir Mohammed Khan and Zubaida in the climax scene