Sound and Music of Bollywood

Posted: October 4, 2011 by ishqland in Uncategorized

Sound and Music of Bollywood


Mohammad Asheq Maleque, 10924355

Like everywhere in world cinema, sound in Indian cinema, has always played a great role. Though everything associated with sound in Indian cinema, almost always has been equated with music and song but music and song form an integral part of Indian cinema, there is no reason to ignore the contribution of silence along with speech, voice­over, interior monologue, noise.

History of sound in Bollywood Cinema:

In the year 1913, the silent film Raja Harishchandra , was the first-ever Indian feature film. It was produced by Dadasaheb Phalke. The early 1920s Bollywood saw the rise of several new production companies. Most films made during this era were obviously silent. And most films during this era were either mythological or historical in nature. This era was dominated by filmed versions of episodes from Hindu Religious classics such as The Ramayana and The mahabharata. During the late 1920s, the number of productions companies began to skyrocket, as did the number of films being produced each year—from 108 in 1927, to 328 in 1931[i]

  ALAM ARA , first Idian Talkies

 Ardeshir M Irani, Bollywood cinema’s first Sound Mogul, who started out in his family’s musical instruments business, launched his production company the Imperial Film Company In 1926 and built a studio for it. By 1931 this company won the sound race among Bombay producers and Bollywood saw the release of Alam Ara, the first talkie, and the film that paved the way for the future of Indian cinema. Though Alam Ara has never been described as an artistic triumph but its impact was astonishing. Tickets disappeared into the black market and police was called for control the crowds. That same year, 22 other Hindi films appeared, and all seem to have made money. Also, in 1931, three films in Bengali, one in Tamil, one in Telugu, appeared in their respective language areas. 1932 saw eight films in Marathi, two in Gujarati. In 1933, 75 Hindi features. [ii]

Alam Ara included about a dozen songs. Another early Hindi film, Indrasabha, had about around 59 songs. Shirin Farhad had 42 songs. An early Tamil film had over 60 songs. All the sound films produced in India in these early years had a profusion of songs. Most also had dances. Advertisements described some of these films as “all talking, all singing, all dancing” features. The Indian sound film, unlike the sound film of any other land, had from its first moment, seized exclusively on music-­drama forms.

The First Sound in Bollywood Cinemas: 

In India, the earliest demonstration of what was known as ‘Phonofilm’ a process invented by Dr.Lee DeForest, in which sound was synchronised with the picture. The Royal Opera House in Mumbai brought the first Phonofilm in India, in May 1927.

The earliest attempts at synchronised sound film production in India were made by Madan Theatres. Early in 1929, Madan Theatres exhibited the first talking picture in India, Universal’s Melody of Love at the Elphinstone Picture Palace in Kolkata. This was the first theatre in the East to be equipped with permanent sound apparatus. This film was also shown at the Excelsior Theatre in Mumbai. By the end of 1930, more than 30 out of a total of 370 theatres in the country were technically ready for sound projections of film.

Within three weeks of Alani Ara, Madan Theatres released its first Bengali takie, Jamai Shashthi. This was followed with the release of Shinn Farhad in Hindi, also from the Madan’s production house. This film beat Alam Ara’s record at the box office. Three reasons given for its thumping success are : (a) the dialogue by Aga Hashar Kashmiri, (b) the songs sung by Kajan and Nissar and (c) the crystal clear recording done on the RCA Photophone. The recording for this film was done on Double System Sound by foreign technicians. Madan Theatres turned out eight sound films in 1931 and 16 in 1932.

The Sound Technique in Bollywood:

The introduction of sound changed the entire style of production and projection of motion pictures. It also led to the growth and adaptation of new equipment, and the creation of a hitherto unknown creative and technical vocation ­ sound engineering. The first response to sound in cinema was to clarity of speech and song.

Technically speaking, during the earliest days of sound in Indian cinema, the Audio Carnex was the most popular among the sound recording machines used for filming sound. Around 1935, about 25 such machines were in use. Second in priority ranking was the Fildelytone, with 20 machines in operation. B.A.F. was in use in four studios. Other recording machines in use were ­ Rico, Vinten, Visa tone, R.C.A., Balsley and Phillips, Blue Seal, Adair Jenkins and Fearless. [iii]

Sound technology in the country has shifted from optical to magnetic quite some time ago. Today, optical IS used only in the final stage of film­making. Magnetic technology offers greater range in sound than the mono­ optical system. New technology has made the hierarchy of sounds more complex, more exciting. Innovative sound designers have done a lot of experimenting with sound such as processing sound effects, sampling sound effects, taking real ­life sound and arranging them in a certain way.

Legends of Sound in Bollywood:

The film director of Alam Ara, Adershir Irani, himself chose the lyrics and the tunes. For recording the songs, just a harmonium and a tabla were used out of the camera range and the singer sang into a hidden microphone started the history of using sound in Bollywood cinemas. With the advent of the Talkie Film, the Hindi film song gave birth to a whole new song writing and music composing industry. Each of the major film studios had their own Music Directors. Who have broken several records at the box office with their stupendously successful films has worked out a strange blend of music and song to organise the entire sound design of their films.

Rai Chand  joined the Indian Broadcusting Company in 1927.  In 1935 he introduced playback singing for the first time in the Hindi feature film Dhoop Chhaon. He is complemented by Anil Biswas as the father of Indian Cinema Music. He had directed music of 150 films including hindi and bangali films. He received the most prestigious award Dadasaheb Phalke award in 1978 for his contribution in indian cinema and music. [iv]

Anil Biswas was a famous Indian film music composer  from 1935 to 1965, who apart from being one of the pioneers of playback singing, is also credited for the first Indian orchestra of twelve pieces and introducing  orchestral music and full-blooded choral effects, into Indian Cinema.  A master in western symphonic music was known for the Indian Classical or folk elements, especially baul and Bhatiyali in his music. He worked as a Music composer over 90 films.[v]

Saraswati Devi, perhaps India’s first woman composer, composed the songs of the films made by Bombay Talkies. Her real name was Khurshid Minocher-Homji and she was trained by the well-known musician Pandit Vishnunarayan Bhatkande. She then studied at Lord Morris College in Lucknow with music as her subject.[vi (A)]

Vasant Desai was the composer who was a man of great musical insight. His break as music a director in Shakuntala (1943) was a major hit and ran for 104 weeks at a single theatre. Desai used pure classical, folk and theatrical music perfectly for films. Vasant Desai believed in quality and not quantity. Therefore, he composed music for only 46 films in his career spanning four decades. [vi (B)]

S. D. Burman, The greatest all-rounder in Indian film music, S. D. Burman could be equally classy and jazzy. His grip on Indian folklore, his sound classical base, his capacity to absorb from the scene around him made him in high demand right till the end of his life. [vi (C)].

R. D. Burman ushered in the era of electronic rock, providing Hindi film music with a whole new happening sound. His hip and energetic youthful compositions proved extremely popular from the late 1960s till the mid-80s. His last score to stand out was perhaps 1942-A Love Story (1994), released after his untimely death due to heart attack. [vi (D)].

A. R. Rahman with OSCAR 2009

A. R. Rahman is the most talented and greatest indian film composer and musician. He described by Time Magazine as “Mozart of Madras”. His works are notable for masterly integreting Indian folk classical music with electronic music sounds and traditional orchestral arrangements. He is working not only Indian cinema but also in international cinema and theaters. Rahman has claimed sale of more than 300 millions of his film scores and sound tracks as of 2009. He has won two Academy awards, two Grammy awards, a BAFTA award, a Golden Globe, four National Film Awards, fourteen film fare Awards in addition to numerous other awards and nominations.[viii]

Bollywood produces more than 1000 films every year and has a worldwide audience of 3 Billion. In terms of viewership, Bollywood overtook Hollywood in 2004 and has been leading ever since. Not only the number of films and audience the Sound and Music of Indian cinema also makes established a distinguish platform in world cinema. This journey was started from first talkies Alam-Ara, gets its high with Slamdog Millionaire’s “Joy Ho” of A.R. Rahman and still continuing.  



[i]       Sub-Continental Cinema History, Vishayajit K. K. & Chochroborty S.R, 2003, Devi Publishers, p-28

[ii]      Half a Century in Exhibition Line 1931-1981, Arup, T. K. Indian Talkie, Special Edition, 1981, 1­56, p.

[iii]     So Many Cinema ­ The Motion Picture in India, Garga B.D. Eminence Designs Private Ltd.,Mumbai, 1996.pp.69­ 



[vi]       ten-composers.htm


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