Accepted Paper:

Unsound sound: a brief history of Indian talkies in the 1930s  


Joppan George (Princeton University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper on early sound cinema in India brings together advertisements for film and film equipment, and various contemporary editorials and essays from film periodicals. It uses these materials to sketch key conflicts and discourses that surrounded the emergence of the talkies in India.

Paper long abstract:

This paper attempts a history of film sound technology transferred to the Indian studios in the 1930s. In the absence of indigenous technologies of sound for the production of talkies, machines were imported from the USA and Europe. Rather than being a receptacle of this transnational flow of technology, Indian talkie studios appropriated the imported technologies and charted a new course of transit by exporting the talkies. I argue that it was the functional-technological emphasis of the production of talkies that marked the precedence of technological appropriation over aesthetic excellence. In the infancy of Indian talkies, 'sound recording' was thus a technical prerogative than a creative or aesthetic business. By tracing the importation of technology and technical tutelage, the paper throws into relief the cultural negotiations that were underway in the Indian studios. Foreign technicians were on the payrolls of some Indian studios and together with the imported technical experts they lent a cosmopolitan dynamic to the Indian studios. Besides, as film sound technology disseminated in India through many channels, the 'agent/ distributor' networks emerged on the periphery of the studios and also in the small cities. The indigenous innovation of technology, though sporadic, needs to be situated in the context of increasing internationalism in the cinematic sphere and the simultaneous articulation of the anti-imperial movements. The paper engages in tracing an empirical-historical narrative of the sound film technology, primarily through an analysis of the film journals of the 1930s.

Panel P27
Technologies, industries, practices: examining the soundscape of Indian films