Sometimes amidst all the noise, it is silence that has all the words.
In the present scenario, it is difficult to imagine a feature film devoid of the element of sound. However, there existed a time, before talkies became ubiquitous, when silent films were the primary source of man’s entertainment needs. The period from 1894 to late 1920s was the golden age of silent films with the invention of cinematography by the celebrated Lumiere brothers in the 1890s. This era witnessed the invention of motion picture cameras, rotating cameras and the mushrooming of film studios and production houses.
La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon by the Lumiere brothers, was considered the first feature film. Loosely translated as Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory, this French masterpiece comprised a simple scene in which as per the title, workers are shown leaving the factory. Despite its simplicity, this film was considered a landmark in the arenas of technology, film-making, camera techniques and cinematography.
From France, the art of making silent films spread globally but not at a rapid pace. However, it did manage to reach the shores of India which in turn produced several stalwarts during this era.
The pioneer of feature films in India was the ingenious Dadasaheb Phalke who was later rightfully designated as the Father of Indian Cinema. He was instrumental in directing and producing the first Indian silent feature film Raja Harishchandra, which was based on the righteous Raja Harishchandra who has been mentioned in the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. Phalke went to great lengths to ensure the completion of this film, even going abroad to gain knowledge about the techniques of film-making. He went on to set up Hindustan Films– a film company- whose inception marked a landmark in the history of films in India.
Another notable Indian personality of the silent film era was the multi-faceted Ardeshir Irani. He was a sought-after writer, director, producer, actor, film distributor and cinematographer who worked on various films, in several languages. Having worked with Dadasaheb’s film company and Alexander Cinema, Irani soon learnt the tricks of the trade and became a prolific and well-known filmmaker. His most notable films are Nala Damayanti and Veer Abhimanyu. Irani was later labelled as the father of talkies when he released the first sound feature film Alam Ara. This gained him recognition and marked a milestone in the history of films.
The transition from silent films to talkies was a long one. Now talkies have become the norm and silent films have taken a backseat, with the number of silent films being created decreasing. Still one cannot dispute the talent showcased by the production of these alluring silent films which captured the imagination of millions.