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Alam Ara – India’s first Talkie Film (Sound Film)

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On March 14th, 1931 at Majestic Cinema in Bombay (Mumbai), people went crazy over a film’s release  causing such frenzy and stampede that

the police had to be summoned to control the massive crowd. Why wouldn’t they? For the film ‘Alam Ara’ directed by Ardeshir Irani was the first Talkie Film (Sound Film) of Indian Cinema.

Besides being the first talkie, Alam Ara is also credited with the first song of Indian Cinema, ‘Dil de khuda ke naam par’, sung by Wazir Mohammed Khan who played a fakir in the film. The film also marked the beginning of filmi music in Indian Cinema – something that continues to be the highlight of Indian films till date.

Rani Zubeida, who acted in 36 silent films, played the female lead in ‘Alam Aara’ becoming India’s first talkie actress. The star cast of ‘Alam Ara’ included the legendary Prithviraj Kapoor and L.V. Prasad.

Since there were no soundproof studios available at the time, the shooting of ‘Alam Aara’was done mostly at night, to avoid daytime noises, with microphones hidden near the actors.

The film is a love story between a prince and a gypsy girl, based on a Parsi play written by Joseph David. The story is about the king of Kumarapur’s two queens, both of whom are childless. A fakir’s prediction that the good queen Navbahar will bear a son comes true, eliciting the intense jealousy of the wicked queen Dilbahar. Dilbahar, in revenge, attempts to have an affair with General Adil, chief of the army but the latter spurns her. In retaliation she has him imprisoned. Adil’s wife dies giving birth to Alam Ara (Zubeida) who grows up in a gypsy camp. One night she goes to the palace in search of her father, when a charm aroud her neck reveals her true identity. There she meets the young prince (Vithal) and they fall in love. In the end, Adil is released, Dilbahar punished and the lovers married.

The talkies era silenced a whole generation of artists, film-makers and technicians. Many studios unable to switch over to sound closed down; Anglo-Indians who did not speak fluent Hindi or Urdu were the worst hit. Those who could not sing were also hit as there was no playback and direct recording meant artistes had to sing their own songs.

India’s first talkie film seems destined to stay silent forever as there is no known copy of the film today. The National Archives of India says that they do not possess a print and couldn’t locate one as far back as 1967.Only photographs of the movie are with the National Archives of India.