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We were lucky that we could save Ayodhyecha Raja: Anil Damle

Back in 1932 when Ayodhyecha Raja was released as the first Marathi talkie film,it was a trendsetter in its own right.

Written by Rohan Swamy |
May 15, 2013 3:06:33 am

Back in 1932 when Ayodhyecha Raja was released as the first Marathi talkie film,it was a trendsetter in its own right. A number of firsts were attached to it — the first Marathi talkie,director V Shantaram’s first feature film,and the first film ever to have a woman,Durga Khote,essaying the role of a woman.

Eighty one years on,the film made by Prabhat Film Company has survived the vagaries of nature as well as a freak fire to maintain its status.

At the Damle Bungalow,located off Law College Road,a stone’s throw away from the erstwhile Prabhat Studios (now the campus of the Film and Television Institute of India),Anil Damle,grandson of Vishnupanth Damle,the co-founder of Prabhat Film Company,is proud to talk about the film. “They used to call him (Vishnupanth) Damle Mama then. In 1932,when he struck upon the idea of making the first talkie in Marathi,his distributors in Mumbai Mr Pai and Mr Torne helped him source a sound recorder from abroad,” he says.

What followed was Vishnupanth Damle going around the studio and on the roads,with the mike and the recorder in his hands trying to get a first-hand experience of using the machine and learning it. Anil says they didn’t get a foreign technician to use it because it was an expensive proportion and because it involved working in a different language too. “By and large,he learnt how to use the recorder and worked on the first seven or eight films. He even wrote an article then about sound recording in India and why it would be better to have our own technicians learn it rather than get foreigners in the project,since the local artistes would understand the local language better,” he adds.

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When it was released,the film created a sensation for being a talkie film. Anil says other studios then were stumped as they couldn’t deal with the idea of a talkie. “They were all making silent films,and here we were making talking films,with a woman playing her role,unlike the norm where men played the roles of women,” he adds.

The film,however,has had its own fair brush with oblivion too. Anil says that it was a stroke of genius when they had decided to convert all the old Prabhat films into a digital format to preserve the treasure. “Take the case of Alam Ara. The fire in 2003 at the NFAI (National Film Archives of India) was unfortunate,but it destroyed the only surviving print of the film and it is now lost. Ayodhyecha Raja was destroyed too. Not that the film could be used,because they were all treated with nitrate and the film spools had become sticky owing to wear and tear. They weren’t of much use anyway,but the sheer amount of heritage lost was big. Thankfully,we had prints of the film,” he adds.

In 1932,posters of the film had a line “Marathi talkie Ayodhyecha Raja is coming”. Another one,recalls Anil,was “Bolnara Ayodheycha Raja yet aahe”. Currently,the film is available on DVD,though Damle says it is Sant Tukaram that is the bestseller of all old Prabhat movies.

Raising another important issue pertaining to the renaming of FTII to Prabhat Film School,he says if it happened it would be a fitting tribute to the legacy of Vishunpant Damle. “Back in the late 1950s,he had envisioned a school where they would teach film making. It happened at the Prabhat Studios eventually. If they do go ahead with the renaming,it would honour his memory,” he adds.

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