First Coloured Sound movie of Indian Cinema

Alam Ara (Hindi: आलम आरा, Urdu: عالم آراء ‎, translation: The Ornament of the World) is a 1931 film directed by Ardeshir Irani. It was the first Bollywood and Indian sound film.

Irani recognised the importance that sound would have on the cinema, and raced to complete Alam Ara before several contemporary sound films. Alam Ara debuted at the Majestic Cinema in Mumbai (then Bombay) on 14 March 1931. The first Indian talkie was so popular that “police aid had to be summoned to control the crowds.”

The film has long been lost and was not available as far back as 1967 according the National Film Archive of India, Pune.

The film is a love story between a prince and a gypsy girl, based on a Parsi play written by Joseph David. David later served as a writer at Irani’s film company. The story centres on an imaginary, historical royal family in the kingdom of Kumarpur. The main characters are the king and his two warring wives, Dilbahar and Navbahar. Their rivalry escalates when a fakir predicts that Navbahar will bear the king’s heir.

Dilbahar, in a fit, attempts to have an affair with the kingdom’s chief minister, General Adil (Prithviraj Kapoor). The affair goes sour and a vengeful Dilbahar imprisons him and exiles his daughter, Alam Ara (Zubeida). In exile, Alam Ara is brought up by Gypsies. Upon returning to the palace at Kumarpur, Alam Ara meets and falls in love with the charming young prince (Master Vithal). In the end, Adil is released, Dilbahar is punished and the lovers marry.

Cast of Alam Ara

  • Master Vithal
  • Zubeida as Alam Ara
  • Jillo

Both the movie and its music were widely successful, including the hit song “De de khuda ke naam per”, which was also the first song of the Indian cinema. It was sung by actor Wazir Mohammed Khan who played a fakir in the film.As playback singing had yet to start in Indian cinema, it was recorded live with musical accompaniment of a harmonium and a tabla.
The film marked the beginning of filmi music in the Cinema of India, as noted film director Shyam Benegal said, “It was not just a talkie. It was a talking and singing film with more singing and less talking.

Production of Alam Ara

Ardeshir Irani handled the sound recording department, using the Tanar Sound System. It was shot with the Tanar single-system camera, which recorded sound directly onto the film. Since there were no soundproof studios available at the time, the shooting was done mostly at night, to avoid daytime noises, with microphones hidden near the actors.

alam-ara1zubeida1

The film was inspired by the first movie version of Jerome Kern’s Show Boat (1929), released by Universal Pictures. There is no known copy of the film today. The National Archives of India says that they do not possess a print and couldn’t locate one as far back as 1967.It was incorrectly reported that the last known prints, in Pune’s film archives, were damaged by a fire in 2003 when in fact no copy was ever possessed by the film archive. According to P.K. Nair, founder director of the National Film Archives of India (NFAI), Pune, “The report that Alam Ara print was destroyed at the NFAI is incorrect.