The talkies have arrived, bring in the police!

Alam Ara, the first Indian movie to contain sound, was released today in 1931. It became so successful that police had to be called to control audiences outside theatres.
Poster of the film Alam Ara; Source: Public Archives

Poster of the film Alam Ara; Source: Public Archives

The ornament of the world, or so the title went. Alam Ara was to truly be a gem in Indian cinematic history, however Ardeshir Irani, who directed the movie, never imagined how successful it would be when it was released in the Majestic Cinema at Bombay, back on the 14th of March, 1931.

The movie would be received too well, for police had to be called to maintain the crowds. For 8 weeks, the movie ran housefull. Sadly, the film is lost to us today - in fact, as far back as 1967, there exists to be no record. But why should there be one in the first place?

Alam Ara, a love story between a prince and a gypsy girl, set in an imaginary land, was successful not because of its plot, but because of its production - for this movie was the first Indian talkie - a movie with sound, so that everyone could hear it.

Taglines ran "All living. Breathing. 100 per cent talking", and people were not disappointed. While the movie itself was an adaptation from a play, the sound system was Tanar, and since there existed little knowledge of how to proof mics for sound, there were numerous difficulties.

Firstly, the system recorded the sound directly onto the film, necessitating more takes. Secondly, since the studio was near rail tracks, the movie had to be shot between 1-4AM in the night, because the system was overloaded by train sounds in the daytime.

And finally, there was a lack of actors speaking Hindustani language, as most of them spoke other languages.

Despite all these challenges, the film still made it through. And even though it might be lost to us today, its legacy certainly has not - within 4 years of its release, virtually all movies would be released with sound, and the trend of the talkie taking over had started.


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