issue While the debate about the ‘first south Indian talkie’, is on, there’s a need to archive works of the Telugu film industry for posterity

Though the 80th year celebrations of Telugu talkie were held on a low key last year, to mark the completion of 75 years since the first Telugu talkie, Bhaktha Prahlada hit the screen, it was celebrated with great pomp and show in 2007 at the Mecca of Telugu cinema, Hyderabad.

So when was the Telugu talkie first made? According to popular belief the first Telugu talkie was released on September 15, 1931 and so the function should have been held some time in 2006, but, by sheer coincidence, the three-day fete was inaugurated on January 26, 2007, just four days away from the 75th anniversary of the first Telugu talkie. The film was censored on January 22, 1932.

ast September, when senior journalist and film researcher, Dr. Rentala Jayadeva, published his findings on the exact release date of Bhaktha Prahlada doubts were raised by some film critics about the veracity of his claim. According to Rentala’s research, Bhaktha Prahlada was released first in Bombay on February 6, 1932 and later in the Andhra region and on April 2, 1932 in Madras. How could a film censored on January 22, 1932 be released on September 15, 1931?

It’s a valid question indeed. Rentala says that it was the heckle of a veteran Tamil film chronicler that made him undertake the arduous task of finding the exact date about the release of the first Telugu talkie.

There are newspaper reviews and advertisements to prove the first Tamil talkie, Kalidas , was released on October 31, 1931, but there is no such proof about the first Telugu talkie. The veteran Telugu film-maker, H.M. Reddy, was commissioned by Ardeshir Irani to direct the first Tamil talkie, and this fact might have led some inventive Telugu film personality to presume that he (H.M. Reddy) must have made the Telugu talkie first and then the Tamil movie, Kalidas .

This presumption led to the belief that Bhaktha Prahlada was released on September 15, 1931. Critics’ questions whether he had any proof for his claim prompted Rentala to do some research on the issue. “After scouting for evidence in libraries in Chennai, Andhra Pradesh and Mumbai, I finally stumbled upon ‘The Bombay Government Gazette -Part I’ (page no.:313) dated February 4, 1932 at the National Film Archives, Pune, which had the dates of films produced and censored in Bombay.

The censor date of Bhaktha Prahlada was given in it as January 22, 1932. The Bombay Chronicle carried an advertisement on January 31, 1932 that the film would be released soon. And it was released on February 6, 1932 at Krishna Cinema on New Charlie Road, Bombay. The Times of India carried a review of the film on the same day of its release as preview show was held before its release. Subsequently, it was released in Andhra and then on April 2, 1932 at the National Picture Palace (later renamed as Broadway Talkies), Madras. All this clearly proves that Bhaktha Prahlada was released only in 1932.”

Though Kalidas was hailed as the first Tamil talkie, in which the film’s hero (Srinivasa Rao) speaks and sings in Telugu and the heroine (T.P. Rajyalakshmi) delivers her dialogue in Tamil and rendered a Thyagaraya krithi in Telugu and L.V. Prasad who played a cameo spoke in Hindi, it was not considered a true Tamil talkie by some diehard Tamil film critics. They consider Sampoorna Harischandra , released on April 9, 1932, as the first full-length Tamil talkie. Even The Hindu , a day before the film’s release, reviewed it as the “first Tamil talkie. And funnily the advertisement of Kalidas carried that it is the first Tamil-Telugu talkie.”

“On this point, we can still feel proud of the fact that Bhaktha Prahlada was the first complete talkie film in any of the South Indian languages as it was released a couple of months before the full-length Tamil talkie, Harischandra ,” states Jayadeva.

Though the Telugu film industry is one of the largest movie producers in the country, unfortunately there is no proper archive to keep track of these facts. Is it not high time the industry took note of this and captured its history for posterity?

m.l. narasimham