On March 14 March 1931, the Era of Silent Films in India cinema came to an end with Filmmaker Ardeshir Irani making India’s First Talkie Film Alam Ara! Audiences went crazy as Alam Ara was released with much fanfare at Mumbai’s Majestic Cinema. Historians inform for many weeks the Houseful Sign Board did not budge from the cinema house as people mobbed and police were called to control the crowds. The craze for the film was such that ‘One Anna ticket’ (around 6 paisa) was sold in black for Rs 5!!
Ardeshir Irani was born in 1886 and was a student of J.J. School of Arts. He began his career showing film in the tent and then joined Universal Studios and exhibited films at Mumbai’s Alexander Cinema. Here he learned the art of cinema and in 1917, Irani produced his first silent feature film, Nala Dayamanti, which was released in 1920.
Later Irani founded Star Films in association with Dave, a graduate of the New York School of Photography. Dave shot the films while Irani directed and produced them. The duo made 17 films before the two parted.
Later in 1924, Irani founded Majestic Films, but it failed hence in 1925, Irani founded Imperial Films. In 1929, Irani saw an American film Show Boat (1929). The film was half silent and half talkie. Irani was bowled over by the ‘talkie version’ and decided to make India’s First Talkie film.
To study the art of Sound, Irani visited London and after gaining knowledge he used ‘Tanar’ Sound System, which recorded sound directly onto the film. The film was shot at night between 1 to 4 am schedules to eliminate outside sounds. The film was shot entirely on sets and was made on a budget of Rs 40,000. The film made an income of whopping Rs 3 lakh!!! In those days a silent film took a month to complete but Alam Ara took many months as the major problem was sound recording and it was a challenging task. However, the tiring labor did not go in waste as the film was an instant hit on the day of release!
Irani‘s Imperial Films introduced a number of new actors to Indian Cinema, including Prithviraj Kapoor (The great actor who played King Akbar in Mughal-E-Azam) and Mehboob Khan (the filmmaker who made Mother India).
In a career spanning 25 years, Irani made 158 films. Besides introducing Sound in cinema, Irani also introduced color in cinema by making India’s First color film Kisan Kanya (1937). His last film was Pujari, in 1945.
He died on 14 October 1969 at the age of eighty-two, in Mumbai, Maharashtra.