Celebrating the Birth of Modern Bollywood


Music and dance have become as common to Bollywood as machine gun fire and sex to Hollywood. Interestingly enough the phenomenon is relatively recent. The first Indian film featuring sound, dubbed a “talkie,” was Alam Ara, which celebrated its 80th anniversary on March 15th, 2011.

Alam Ara, or The Light of the Word, was directed by Ardeshir Irani, who personally undertook the sound recording. The film was shot with the Tanar single-system camera, which recorded sound directly onto the film. However, postproduction technology was limited, which meant Irani often had to be creative to ensure quality of the recordings was good. Shooting was done mostly at night to minimize background noise, and microphones were artfully camouflaged in the scenery near the actors.

Film actors included Master Vithal, Zubeida, Jilloo, Sushila, and Prithviraj Kapoor. Majestic Cinema debuted Alam Ara, which ran for two hours and four minutes, in Mumbai on March 14, 1931. The film proved so popular that police had to be called in to control the crowds.

Even Google recently paid tribute to this legendary piece of art, featuring a popular film scene as their home page doodle for Google India on March 14th 2011.

The film is based on a Parsi play written by Joseph David. David later served as a writer for Irani’s film company. Sources also reveal that the film was inspired by the first movie version of Jerome Kern’s Show Boat (1929), released by Universal Pictures. The narrative of the film revolves around an ageing king of Kamarpur, and his two queens, Navbahar and Dilbahar. Rivalry ensues between the two women when a prediction is made that Navbahar will bear the king’s heir.

Irani is credited with foreseeing the importance sound would have on the cinema, and he allegedly raced to complete Alam Ara before several other contemporary sound films.

The movie’s feature song Dede khuda ke naam per is distinguished as the first song of Indian cinema. Overall, Alam Ara holds an important place in film history because it laid the foundation for modern Bollywood, which has become a worldwide phenomenon.

Author: NitaNaidoo

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