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A scene from 'Alam Ara',
India's first talkie film.


Himanshu Rai's 'A Throw of a Dice' ( starring himself opposite Seeta Devi) is listed as a 1930 'silent film'. But then it was also shown as an 'experimental sound film' in London at a private screening. It had no dialogue, only 'sound effects', recorded and heard. Technically therefore 'A Throw of a Dice' must rank as a 'silent film'.
To the surpassingly beauteous Sulochana (Ruby Meyers)must go the credit for the Anglo-Indianisation of the swadeshi screen. Her film 'Madhuri' mounted the screen in 1928 as a 'silent film'. But it had such a striking dance sequence featuring Sulochana that an attempt was made in 1930 to turn this part of the film into 'sound' by synchronising the music to go with it.
The advent of the talkie was thus through a short film, represented by this dance sequence of Sulochana. It was in keeping with the nationalistic spirit of the times that this clip from her film 'Madhuri' was shown in September 1930, as a 'talkie short'alongside a synchronised 'sound picture' of a Khadi exhibition. There is no record of whether the Anglo-Indian Sulochana did that sequence attired in Khadi!


So over to the year in which Indian motion picture began to talk.
As the maiden Indian Talkie, 'Alam Ara' was 10,000 feet long and it cost Rs.40,000/- to put on screen. It had heroine Zubeida opposite the highest paid actor of the time : Stunt King Master Vitthal. But the film itself, the story of a sultan with two wives, has no action! 'Alam Ara' came at a time when its predecessor, the silent film, was at the zenith of its popularity. So 'Alam Ara' was not rated as a substitute of the silent film.
'Alam Ara' was just the first among 24 Hindustani 'talkie'films to mount the silver screen in 1931 as against 207 silent movies released that year.
'Alam Ara' brought the sound of music to the screen as Wazir Mohammed Khan becomes an March 14 1931, India's first exponent of the film song with 'De de Khuda ke naam pe pyare taaqat ho gar dene ki/Kuchch chahe agar to maang le mujse himmat ho gar lene ki'.
Sadly though, the full wording of this path breaking song is lost but Zubeida,the leading lady of the movie bought it to life in a show called 'Mortal men Immortal Melodies'transcreated in 1981 by Siddharth Kak.
Kajjan and Master Nissar became the sweethearts of the nation as Madan Theatres' 'Laila Majnu' and 'Shirin Farhad' (starring the pair as legendary lovers) become the first two talkie films to prove phenomenally popular. It is interesting to note that there was more than one 'Laila Majnu', more than one 'Shakuntala', made during this inaugural talkie year (1931) under different banners.
Also, to set off a 'Shirin Farhad' there is a 'Heer Ranjha'. Madan Theatres' came up with a further interesting title in 'Third Wife', while a film named 'Devi Devyani' was an early pointer to the two-in-one gossip legend who, some 35 years later, is to invade the privacy of film stars with a vengeance!

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Master Vitthal :
    He was the first archetypal 'hero'.
A wrestler who strayed into cinema because of his impressive physique, he was often referred to as the Douglas Fairbanks of Indian Cinema. Like Fairbanks, Vitthal was strong and brave and performed miraculous stunts.
    His heroism and crusades-he took up cudgels for the oppressed and the downtrodden, like the M.G.R. of later years-stirred the fancy of a generation seething with the desire to rebel against the British. His 'value based' performance almost always found instant empathy.
    Though he figured mostly in action thrillers, Vitthal appealed to a wide section of the 'cause' of his actions!


The Arrival of Cinema

The Pioneer