The importance of the archive – editorials
On March 14, 1931, Alam Ara, India’s first talking movie was released. It is a historical film, especially for the pioneering efforts of those involved in its making. With no soundproof stages, the film had to be shot almost entirely at night, when noise from nearby train tracks would be minimal; the actors sang their own songs with live music; and large, bulky microphones were hidden close to the actors so they could record the sound. The great tragedy of the film, however, is that it has been lost forever as no impressions of the first film speaking in India have survived.
This is not just the problem of Alam Ara. India has a poor record in preserving most of our heritage films. According to experts, more than 1,500 silent films were made in India, of which only about five can be found at the National Film Archive of India (NFAI). The state of regional films is even worse. Of more than 100 films made in the silent film era in Madras, only one is believed to remain.
India has a rich filmmaking tradition, and the loss of archives is not just the loss of an image, but also an era of culture and history. Movies are more than just entertainment; they are a record of our culture, a testament to the evolution of society, and sometimes even time capsules of our loaded stories. The archive is one of the most important ways to preserve our history and heritage, not only so that future generations can enjoy old films, but so that we can learn from what has already been built; because we can only look to the future standing on the shoulders of giants.