First Indian talkie 'Alam Ara' turns 75 ...


By Harish C. Menon, Indo-Asian News Service

Mumbai, (IANS) Seventy-five years after "Alam Ara", the first Indian talkie, ushered in an entertainment revolution in the country, the Indian film industry has grown in volume and is riding on a technology wave.

The introduction of sound into cinema came on March 14, 1931 - 18 long years after the first feature film "Raja Harishchandra" was made by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke or the legendary Dadasaheb Phalke.

"I must have been around 18-20 when I watched 'Alam Ara'. I was already into acting by the time," said veteran theatre and cine actor A.K. Hangal, most memorable for his role as the blind muezzin in "Sholay" (1976).

"Though, to think about it now, the quality of the sound and editing was pathetic and jarring, we were all nevertheless stunned," Hangal who watched the movie at Peshawar, now in Pakistan, told IANS.

Prior to that, Hangal reminisced, there was only music and that too played by musicians sitting right next to the cinema screen and playing according to the images.

"Alam Ara", which literally means Light of The World, was produced by Ardeshir Irani under the banner of Imperial Film Company of Mumbai, then Bombay. A single sound system was used in making the film.

Ever since, it has been nothing less than an explosion, with the Indian film industry growing to be the biggest in the world. It produces around 1,000 movies a year on an average - more than double the number of those produced in the US.

According to unofficial estimates, the Indian film industry has an annual turnover of over Rs.60 billion ($1.33 billion) and employs more than six million people. Around 14 million Indians visit cinema halls on a daily basis.

Although by 1920 there was a regular industry bringing out films - starting with 27 films a year - by the time "Alam Ara" was released in 1931 there were more than 200 films being released every year.

Popular yesteryear Bollywood star and scion of virtually the industry's first family, Shamsher Raj - better known as Shammi Kapoor - is exactly the same age as "Alam Ara" - which also starred his father, the legendary Prithviraj Kapoor.

"I do not remember my father speaking much about 'Alam Ara', but I can guess the kind of impact it created," Kapoor said.

"Indian cinema has since come a long way and has constantly evolved. It has been getting fine-tuned all through, especially with the infusion of technology," said the star of such blockbusters like "Junglee" (1961), "Kashmir Ki Kali" (1964) and "An Evening in Paris" (1967).

Caste and class based black and white "socials" of the 1930s, 40s and 50s gave way to glamour, colour and generous doses of romance by the 1960s and then to a period of tumult and anger in the 1970s.

According to officials of the National Film Archives of India, Pune, there have been anywhere between 33,000-35,000 talkies released in the country since "Alam Ara".

"That was a time when cinema had not developed a language of its own. It was mere theatre captured on camera. Yet there was a lot of novelty and aura just like how people felt with the advent of television," said ace film and theatre director M.S. Sathyu of "Garam Hawa" (1973) fame.

"And now technology has taken over. There is less of content and more of confusion. Very few movies show what the true India looks like or feels," Sathyu said.

Criticising the current crop of Bollywood directors, Sathyu said their reach was much higher despite being thematically barren.

"One of the latest flicks that I saw amateurishly equated violence with revolution and invoked people like Bhagat Singh for it. Isn't it the most bookish interpretation of history by uneducated people?" Sathyu asked.

"Indian Cinema is surging ahead without a head on the wings of technological prowess and nothing else," he concluded.