Film ALAM ARA(1931)…..Retracing the steps of The SOUND that broke the silence
—– By OPENDER CHANANA (C)
Before the release of Ardeshir M. Irani’s film AlamAra, India’s first talkie feature film on 14th March, 1931 at Majestic Cinema, Shree Krishnatone Film Company, Bombay made a talkie/sound film running into 7659 ft. under the title Krishnatone Talkie Program No.1. Though not a feature film, it contained several songs. It followed this Program with two other talkie programs titled Tansen No.2 and Hindi Song No.4. It was censored on February 5, 1931. These sound and talkie based programs generated enough interest amongst cinegoers and when AlamAra (11 reels/11,152 feet) produced by the Imperial Movietone Company was released it was a landmark event in the history of not only sound engineering but also Indian Cinema.
( Khan Bahadur Ardeshir Irani )
It was during the making of AlamAra that Ardeshir Irani brought Tennar Recording machine from Kolkata (Calcutta) and the cinematographer of the film also happened to be its sound recordist. Irani, during the course of the filming of the film learnt the craft of sound recording and ultimately it was his name that was credited as sound recordist of the film. Recalling the travails of the sound engineers, AnjaniSrivastavdraws our attention to the fact that engineers who came from abroad for repair and maintenance of recording machines did not want to impart any training or knowledge to their Indian counterparts. Hence it was left to the local engineers to learn the intricacies of art of sound recording through trial and error. A few fortunate amongst them did go abroad for training.
It was SantTukaram that brought MinooKatrak from All India Radio to record the sound of the film. Not sure if he could succeed he took up the job nevertheless. He could always go back to Radio if he did not succeed. It is another story that he went on to be acknowledged as the first Professional sound recordist in Indian cinema.
That Producer Ardeshir Irani took the credit of sound recording in AlamAra establishes the fact that sound engineering came to be accepted as a coveted craft. It is also interesting to note that other Producers who took the credit for sound recording were Kikubhai Desai, father of late Manmohan Desai and Subhash Desai.Prabhat’sVishnupantDamle and SarojMovietone’sNanubhai Desai were other Producers who joined the bandwagon of Producers taking credit for sound recording.
Since Songs have been an integral part of storytelling in Indian cinema, AlamAra introduced the first ever song ‘De DeKhudakeNaam Par’. It was sung by Wazir Mohammad Khan. The songs were not recorded in disc form at that time and it took nearly three years to have the songs on disc format. This was followed by the first talkie English film produced in India by Imperial Film Company and released in 1932. Titled Noorjehanits Hindi version too was released in 1931. Although the Marathi feature film SantTuka Ram alias Jai Hari Vithaldirected by Babaji-RavRane and produced by Dada Athavale of Master & Company, Pune-Bombay is considered to be the first Marathi feature film censored in 1932; it was Prabhat Film Company’s Ayodhacha Raja that was released first in theatres in 1932.
While AlamAra was being readied for release other film producing centres were all set to release their first talkie films. Mukul Bose and B.M. Tata, two outstanding sound engineers who were pioneers in the craft were instrumental in introducing sound in Bengal and Mumbai (Bombay).
The beginning of era of talkie films paved the way for many experiments, technical as well as creative. It is interesting to note that An Anglo-India co-production Karma (Fate), starring Devika Rani and Himanshu Rai takes the credit of having its premier in English version in London, in May 1933.
The profession of film making acquired respectability after several qualified persons joined the fraternity at a time when sound had become an integral part of film making. The fact that Sound Engineers occupied an exalted position compared to actors lends credence to craft acquiring better status and importance in the scheme of film making. The elevation of sound engineering to a new high probably acted as a deterrent to the formation of a trade union body during thirties and forties.
With the advent and induction of new technology and innovations, sound engineers and recordist felt the need to organize themselves on the lines of S.M.P.E. of America. Hence The Society of Cine and Audio Engineers was formed with aims and objectives as under:-
- To bring improvement in the creative and scientific aspect of film making in general and sound recording and re-production in particular.
- To provide patronage to research with a view to improving the technique of film making in general and sound recording and sound reproduction in particular.
Initially the idea behind the formation of the Society was to provide an opportunity to members to interact on issues relating to keeping pace with new trends and technology. Later on it also provided a platform to sound engineers and recordists to identify their needs and find ways and means to resolve issues connected with their profession. It should be noted that the Society published a monthly journal which was considered to be one of the best of its kind in India. It had reciprocal arrangements with similar societies all over the world.
What led to the Society ultimately becoming a trade union body can be traced to few important events and issues such as:-
- When the constitution of SCAE was being drafted, it amalgamated several clauses from the constitution of technician’s bodies like C.T.A. of South India which too was registered under the Society’s Act. The clauses that were in favour of workers led the Society to believe that their constitution would be accepted by the Registrar. The Registrar thought otherwise and rejected clauses that fell outside the ambit of Society’s Act. It became imperative that a new draft for the constitution would have to be made.
- During the period under reference many labour cases that came up for resolution before the Society could not be dealt with as any stoppage of work would have led to civil liability.
- After the Second World War there was a noticeable spurt in production of films and entry of several Independent Producers. Had this not happened the Society would have remained content with its activities and scope of functioning? Except for sound recordists and their assistants who were provided by Studios to the Producers, all other craftsmen including artists, directors, writers, music directors, make up and wardrobe men joined hands with independent producers and distributors in acquiring better financial deals and wages. In fact several amongst them took up multi assignments. The sound department was left to fend for itself as salaries of sound engineers and recordists remained static. Their woes did not end there. Even the salaries paid to them were irregular.
It is interesting to note that in the year 1954 both the sound engineers and cinematographers together worked under the organization known as Senior Technicians of Bombay and had a meeting in Filmistan studio
Finally on 29th September 1956 the SCAE was registered as a trade union body. It was formally called Western India Motion Picture Sound Engineers Association. Under the able guidance of its founding father Mr. Manna Ladia it started functioning from an office in Shree Sound Studios, Dadar which it also shared with Western India Cinematographers Association. Prior to that Film Editors and Cinematographers too had switched over from the status of a Society to Trade union bodies. This allowed the union to protect the legitimate rights of its members and resolve issues and problems that were of purely trade union in nature. Sound Engineers and their assistants, Sound projectionists working under Sound Engineers and their assistants all came under one umbrella as a single cohesive unit.
The membership of the union was made compulsory for all those employed in Sound department of the studios. In fact all those employed in the craft in various capacities became members of the union.
The realization that the sound department remained a poor cousin of other crafts in terms of wages and security spurred the union to back the demand for its members to work as free lancers, a privilege which other technicians were already enjoying. Thus in the General Body meeting of the union held on 13th October 1968 it was unanimously resolved that no sound recordist will take up more than two assignments. The impact of this resolution could be felt immediately when sound recordists decided to resign their jobs with the studios en masse. It was a historic decision since they had to forgo the security of Provident Fund and Gratuity to which they were entitled to while being employees of the studios. It is evident from the case of a well-known sound recordist K.Rane, recalls AnjaniSrivastav, that abysmally low salaries led to members leaving studios to become free lancers. K. Rane, when he left the studio, was paid a paltry sum of rupees three hundred per month. He also narrates another reason for this shift. While the Producers made arrangements for providing food to artists the recordists were left to fend for themselves and went out to have their lunch. However the Producers realized that this led to wastage of time and ultimately provided this facility to recordists too.
But unfortunately the diploma holders from the Film Institute, Pune, who were better qualified and were offered more assignments broke this ceiling. The senior recordists who after years of struggle and activism had instilled discipline in the craft and working conditions became helpless in the face of this violation. The ceiling was short lived.
There was chaos. It is on record that many sound engineers formed a clique to grab more assignments. The recordists who supervised recording of pilot tracts formed part of a group that paved the way of decline in the status and respect which senior recordists had earned for their craft.
On completion of 78 years the union brought a voluminous publication titled DhwaniKeBaazigar (The Acrobats of Sound) in the year 2009. Edited by AnjaniSrivastav, the publication draws attention of its valued readers to various topics and issues concerning the important role played by Sound Engineers and Recordists in the making of films and content for television. More important it raises several vital issues related to trade union movement in general and the sound department in particular. Introducing the publication, B.N. Tiwari, President of the union focuses our attention in a detailed article on the following pertinent issues:-
Although sound engineering as a craft has made rapid strides by way of induction of new technology, the various awards instituted by various television channels and other organizations did not recognize the importance of sound in taking the Indian cinema forward in terms of excellence and craftsmanship. Hence it was in the fitness of things that the union is striving to make its Dhwani Awards an annual fare. At the same time it is heartening to note that, of late, several sound recordists and engineers have gained international recognition. Pokutty winning the Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire not only brought laurels to the Indian cinema but also lend credence to the importance of this craft in its contribution to the evolution of cinema. The international recognition to one of its finest craftsmen once again brought the union into limelight when it arranged a function to felicitate Pokutty. It was attended by stalwarts of the entertainment industry. This recognition may turn out to be the turning point for craftsmen of sound in their quest for better recognition, wages, and working conditions.
MUKUL BOSE- Credit must be given to the Sound Recordist at the New Theatres – especially MUKUL BOSE for his quality recording on the sound track. The high quality of N.T. Gramophone records depicts his capabilities. He was the one who created amplifier for song recording for the first time.
-Opender Chanana (C)
(Opender Chanana is an Alumnus of Satish Chander Dhawan Government College, Ludhiana (India).
He learnt and practiced Drama on the college stage and was given college colors.He learnt German language from this college at a very young age. He also did certificate course in Spanish language.His Alma Mater, a prestigious institution of the region which is celebrating it’s centenary -in 100th year of existence (1920-2020) has in recent years also honored him by giving special feature on him in a prestigious coffee table book of the college.
He has also been championing the cause of Cine Workers since he vame to Mumbai and his documentary ‘De-glamorising The Bollywood’ has been screened internationally and has won 340 awards till date . Government of Maharashtra as well as GOI need to come forward to recognize his services suitably and immediately to get more from his services for the Bollywood ).
—- https://theglobaltalk.com/ is extremely proud of Opender Chanana’s passion for the causes so dear to him .
He may be contacted @
LIVING ON THE EDGE DEGLAMOURIZING BOLLYWOOD