First Indian talkie Alam Ara, which scripted a new chapter in the field of entertainment in the country, should have been preserved like the iconic Taj Mahal, Celluloid Man director Shivendra Singh Dungarpur says.
The pioneering film was released on March 14, 1931 at Bombay’s Majestic Talkies taking the audience by storm and even set the tone for song-and-dance routines, now a hallmark of Bollywood cinema. But, no known print of this movie currently exists. “Today is the 85th anniversary of ‘Alam Ara’ and it’s a sad commentary that we as a country have not been able to preserve even a single print of that film, not even in poorly-kept condition. ‘Alam Ara’ pioneered something extraordinary and it should have been preserved like the majestic Taj Mahal,” said Dungarpur.
The filmmaker’s groundbreaking documentary Celluloid Man released in 2013 highlighted the loss of Indian cinematic heritage while lauding the titanic efforts of legendary archivist P K Nair through whose efforts the first silent film “Raja Harischandra” was salvaged and preserved at the NFAI, which he founded in the 1960s.
Dungarpur, also founder-director of Mumbai-based Film Heritage Foundation, said “as archivists we still believe the film is somewhere out there in the universe.” “And, one of the goals of our foundation, besides, preserving cinematic heritage is to find ‘Alam Ara’, because its finding will open a new window into the understanding of evolution of Indian cinema,” he said.
Directed by Ardeshir Irani and produced by Imperial Movietone, the film starred Master Vithal and Zubeida and also introduced “singing in Indian films”.
The film became an instant rage and the song ‘De de khuda ke naam pe’ rendered by Wazir Mohammed Khan became the talk of the town. One of its early posters introduced the films as “All Living. Breathing. 100 per cent Talking.”
“Isn’t it ironic the film is presumed dead today. A film that should have been locked up in a safe vault as a jewel has been squandered away by our collective apathy. We as a country should feel embarrassed about it,” Mumbai-based filmmaker Nitin Chandra rued.
He even shared on Facebook a film poster from 1931 pronouncing the release of Alam Ara as the first talkie.
Nair, who recently died, had during the release of Celluloid Man also decried the loss of cinema theatres like Majestic Talkies where Alam Ara was screened.
“The theatre was a piece of history and should have been preserved as a landmark. But, it has made way to a commercial complex,” he had said.
Search giant Google had dedicated a special doodle to the film marking its 80th anniversary on March 14, 2011.
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