At the height of the silent era, one man dared to think of bringing sound into Hindi films. Talkies had already been introduced in Hollywood and Ardeshir Irani realized that films were perched on the lip of change. It was not an easy task to incorporate sound equipment into cinema halls. But Irani, the kingpin Imperial Film Company, surmounted the odds and released Alam Ara, at his Majestic cinema on March 14, 1931. It became India’s first film where characters did not communicate with each other through dialogue cards but actually spoke to each other, marking an epoch in the history of Hindi films.
Irani began in show business by importing foreign films to exhibit in tents. In 1922, he turned producer, but won fame when he began the Imperial Film Company. Luminaries like Prithviraj Kapoor, Mehboob Khan and Sulochana, began their careers at Imperial. The little Jewess, Sulochana’s greatest hits — Anarkali and Madhuri — were all Imperial productions.
Irani’s bid to get into the history books with Alam Ara was challenged by Calcutta’s Madan Theatres who rushed to make the Bengali talkie,Jamai Sasthi. But Irani won the race. The release of his Master Vithal-Zubeida starrer was an event. Tickets were sold for 20 times the admission rate as crowds thronged to see the first ever song on the Indian screen — ‘De de allah ke naam pe’. Recorded without a music director, with just one tabla and one harmonium and picturised on a fakir (W M Khan), with a begging bowl, its effect was nevertheless sensational. The audience has not stopped begging for more ever since.