Harishchandra 1944

successful experiment From Harishchandra

successful experiment From Harishchandra  

R. Nagendra Rao, M. V. Subbaiah Naidu and Lakshmi Bai

The year 1943 witnessed something new, something that would blossom into an industry by itself. Interestingly, it was a mere technical innovation which, in that age, nobody even dreamt was possible — a translation of a film from its original language into another by changing its dialogue-sound track. Today, it is big business in India, a land of many languages. How did it all start? A Kannada production was launched in 1943 as a joint venture by a popular Karnataka drama group SSS Natyamandali and AV. Meiyappan. “Harishchandra” was a successful play of that group headed by the Karnataka theatre and cinema icon R. Nagendra Rao, who approached Meiyappan to make it into a film in Kannada. The venture, under the joint banner of Saraswathi Cine Lab, Pragathi Pictures and SSS Natyamandali, was begun in Madras at the Admirality House. Nagendra Rao directed the film besides acting in it. The other artistes were the leading Kannada stage and screen star, Subbaiah Naidu, and Lakshmi Bai.

A. T. Krishnaswami (ATK) also worked on the sets, helping Nagendra Rao and taking care of the interests of AVM.

Audiographer V. S. Raghavan, regretfully forgotten today, was one of the brilliant technicians of Indian cinema. Trained under the pioneer audiographer C. E. Briggs, Raghavan took to sound like fish to water. He mastered audiography in the tough school of experience. Soon he went on his own and ran an audio services unit. Then, he joined AVM and took charge of the sound department. Blessed with sustained drive and an innovative mind, he loved to experiment with sound. One of them was “dubbing”.

In a movie, many separate tracks — dialogue, background music and special sound effects — are put together to make the final sound track. So, Raghavan felt the dialogue track could be substituted from one language to another, provided the lip movement of the performers in the original film matched the sounds in the other language. Conversely, if the dialogue in the other language could be so written to match the lip movements in the original, the substitution would be convincing.

Raghavan discussed it with ATK, who felt excited about the daring concept. When they suggested it to Meiyappan, he was sceptical at first. Not one to give up easily, Raghavan tried hard to convince him. Finally, Meiyappan, who was game for taking risks, agreed to experiment with the new concept on one reel of Harishchandra, dubbing it from Kannada into Tamil. Excited, Nagendra Rao went all out to help ATK in writing the Tamil dialogue with words that would match the performers’ lip movements in the Kannada original. It was no easy task at that time but ATK did write it. The voicing was done and the results were good and made all concerned happy. The happiest, of course, was Meiyappan! At once, he gave instructions to have the entire film dubbed into Tamil.

Meanwhile at Gemini Studio, a few miles away, Kannamba and her husband K. B. Nagabhushanam were making the same story in Tamil. Kannamba played Chandramati, the long-suffering wife of Harishchandra. The hero was P. U. Chinnappa.

Both versions of Harishchandra, one a Tamil original with Tamil film stars and the other, a dubbed version from Kannada, with faces unfamiliar to Tamil moviegoers, were released at about the same time and, interestingly, the ‘dubbed’ version succeeded better!

Remembered for being the first dubbed film in South India – perhaps the whole of India.


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