Article Hindi

Pictures: Rare stills from India’s first talkie, Alam Ara

We celebrate the revolutionary film which was released this day 87 years ago with a look at some rare photographs.

Sonal Pandya

India’s first talkie, Alam Ara (1931), may be lost to history. The Film Heritage Foundation writes on its website that the original film was sold for its silver. But in history books, the film has a special place as the first-of-its-kind, the film that brought sound to Indian cinema.

Based on a Parsi play by Joseph David, Alam Ara was premiered at Bombay's Majestic cinema on 14 March 1931. The film, directed by the Imperial Film Company's Ardeshir Irani, was two hours and four minutes long. The cast consisted of Master Vithal, Zubeida, Prithviraj Kapoor and Zilloo.

The fantasy film is set in the kingdom of Kamarpur where the king has two wives, Navabahar (Zilloo) and Dilbahar (Susheela), both opposites. Navabahar is good and kind whereas Dilbahar is jealous and petty.

A fakir (WM Khan) predicts that prince Kamar's (Master Vithal's) life will be entwined with a fish which has a necklace around it.

Dilbahar's treachery makes sure that Navabahar doesn't get it. The young prince Kamar falls dead when Dilbahar captures the necklace.

Alam Ara (Zubeida), a young woman living in the forest, comes to know that her father Adil (Prithviraj Kapoor) has been imprisoned on false accusations by Dilbahar. She sets out to free him and meets the young Kamar who comes alive. Naturally, the two are captivated by one another. Alam Ara’s bravery leads to happiness being restored in the kingdom when Dilbahar’s devious ways are revealed once and for all.

Author Tilak Rishi wrote of the pioneering film in the book, Bless You Bollywood, saying, “On the day of its release, surging crowds started gathering near the Majestic cinema in Bombay right from early morning. The booking office was literally stormed by jostling mobs to secure tickets and all traffic was jammed on the roads leading to the theatre. For weeks together the tickets were sold out and the mad rush to watch the first talking film continued till more movies came in.”

It is said that filmmaker Irani was inspired by the Hollywood film Showboat (1929) to make Alam Ara. The film had seven songs, but the song ‘De De Khuda Ke Naam Par Pyare’, sung by Wazir Mohammed (WM) Khan, became a huge hit.

Alam Ara was shot at night in indoor studios to avoid outside noises. Jyoti Studios also happened to be near the railway tracks, so shooting at night was beneficial. The crew worked with a single system Tamar recording equipment and microphones were hidden in innovative ways to capture the sound on set.

Here are some more stills from the landmark film: