Which is the first Hindi talkie? Definitely not Alam Ara!
Today I wrote one detailed column on 100 best performances of Bollywood all-time. So, I just thought of giving a brief description of Hindi talkies. It was a time when Bollywood used to be another name of Indian movies, and India’s first film, Raja Harischandra released in 1913 was a silent film. So Raja Harischandra can’t be tagged as a Hindi film. It is a known fact to everyone, Alam Ara released in 1931 was the first Indian talkie. But I got surprised to know that Alam Ara was originally an Urdu film. So today I broke a myth, a wrong message I have always believed so.
Suddenly a second thought struck in my mind. If so, which is the first Hindi talking film? Which is Hindi’s first talkie? I used Google to get the details. But only less information was available in net. Most sites claim Alam Ara to be first Indian talkie, and first Bollywood talkie too. But it doesn’t mean it’s the first Hindi talkie. Am I not right?
Early talkies in the 1930s – A mixture of Hindi and Urdu
The first Indian talkie Alam Ara had 7 songs and dance sequences, a trend that has not changed even after 80 years. Early 1930s marked the rise of Indian cinema with ‘Talkies Fever’, and different regional film industries also started flourishing in. Music and dances were given great importance to attract the crowds, and a trend of Urdu-Hindi mix movie making was initiated in the early 1930s. In short, Hindi-Urdu quickly became standardized as the language of the talkies in Indian sub-continent. Now also Urdu Shayaris have a great influence on Bollywood songs, and the most popular lyricists are Urdu poets too. Actually it took many years for Hindi cinema, to get out of the grip of Urdu language, though a full glimpses can be still noticed.
Shirin Farhad (1931) – The first Hindi talkie
Though Shirin Farhad can’t be claimed to be an exclusive Hindi film, it was first one of this kind. Urdu-Hindi mix was quite popular that time, and even dramas too, and Shirin Farhad belongs to this genre. The movie was produced by Madan Theatres of Kolkata, thus beginning a series of Hindi-Urdu talkies. In fact they released a Bengali talkie, Jamai Shasti within three-weeks of release of Alam Ara. It was followed by Shirin Farhad – a musical film, based on a legend from Shahnama, and the movie was a roaring success. Very soon Farhad beat Alam Ara’s collection records at box office.
The movie talked in Hindi, with glimpses of Urdu, but it can better be called as a musical. Dialogues written by Aga Hasr Kashmiri and songs sung by Jehanara Kajjan and Master Nissar attributed to the success of first Hindi talkie – Shirin Farhad. They also played the lead roles in the film. Film’s crystal clear recording done at RCA Photophone was yet another reason. The film is said to have 42 songs, hence clearly a musical! Double system sound was used for the recording. The film had originally been staged as a Parsi play, and was very successful. The movie also had a Persian version produced by Ardeshir Irani.
A series of regional talkies released, all belonging to mythology genre
As told above, a few regional talkies also got released somewhat at the same period, majority in south Indian languages. Bhakta Prahlada in Telugu, Kalidas in Tamil and Dhruva Kumar in Kannada thus became the first talkies of respective south Indian languages. First Marathi talkie, Ayodhyache Raja and Gujarati talkie, Narasinh Mehta too were released soon. Thus it also began a trend of mythology themes in Indian cinema.
With the success of Shirin Farhad, a series of musicals got released. Indrasabha released in 1932 still holds the record of highest number of songs – 70, a record that’s not going to be broken soon. Dancers were also seen in leg-revealing costumes, which was not common those days. Early 1930s also witnessed a few onscreen kisses, long before Indian censor board put a few restrictions on smooches onscreen.