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Wealth of material found on first Kannada talkie

A film historian has just stumbled on rare material about the first Kannada talkie film.

NS Sreedhara Murthy, who has written extensively about Kannada cinema and its music, has just received a huge collection of articles, posters, photographs, newspaper reports, and brochures from Dr. Vijaya Subbaraj, writer.

Vijaya is the daughter of Seetharam, who used to work for South India Movietone, which produced the film.

The treasure also includes the screenplay for some scenes and lyrics of songs featured in the film. South India Movietone was owned by Shah Chamanlal Doongaji, a Marwari businessman based in Bengaluru.

"Seetharam had preserved this material. His daughter gave me it to me to write an article about her uncle, who had played the role of Narada in the film," Sreedhara Murthy told Metrolife.

Veena's uncle had been active in the famous Gubbi theatre company. She had no idea she was handing Sreedhara Murthy an invaluable archival treasure.

"When I looked at the material, I was amazed. It may take at least six months to check all of it thoroughly," he says.

Sati Sulochana was released in Bengaluru on March 3, 1934, at Paramount cinema (near Doddanna Hall in City Market, where Parimala and Pradeep cinemas later came up).

"So far, we had heard the film had only 18 songs. That's what a souvenir marking the diamond jubilee of Kannada cinema says. But the gramophone record jacket says it has 30 songs," he says. Some songs probably comprised just two or three lines, but this is new information, he says.

It was widely believed the first four talkie films of Kannada had no recorded sound tracks. Another question was whether the harmonium was used for the score. Now, it is clear that harmonium was indeed used, the researcher says.

"Sadly, we don't have the gramophone records or the reels. I checked with Doongaji's family. His children have not preserved it either. It is lost," he says.

Sreedhara Murthy is planning a book with updated details about Sati Sulochana. "First of all, it calls for painstaking research. I have to sift through a lot of material," he says.

The film was based on a Telugu play titled 'Indrajitu Vadha', Sreedhara Murthy surmises.

The film was directed by Y V Rao (actor Lakshmi's father), who had earlier directed Hari Maya (1932), a silent film produced by Gubbi Theatre Company. RNR was the music director of Sati Sulochana. The film starred Subbaiah Naidu as Indrajith (Ravana's son), Tripuramba as Indrajith's wife Sulochana, Lakshmi Bai as Mandodari (Ravana's wife), S K Padmadevi as Sakhi, RNR as Ravana, D N Murthy as Rama, Rajam as Sita and Y V Rao as Lakshmana.

The "thrilling" scenes of the film included Hanuman carrying the mountain Sanjeevini "the great war", "creation of Mayarath" and the "presentation of Mayasita".

The film had trick and magic shots and the songs were recorded on the sets. The music was played by a band sitting on a platform above the sets.

The publicity material says the film has "melodious music, sweet sound and distinct dialogue." "The making of Sati Sulochana calls for a documentary. It also deserves a feature film like Harischandrachi Factory, which traces how the first Indian film Raja Harishchandra was made in 1913 by Dada Saheb Phalke," Sreedhara Murthy says.

He says the history and details of the first Tamil, Telugu and Hindi films have been preserved well. "The same needs to be done here," he says.

Alam Ara and Sati Sulochana

The first Kannada talkie was initiated by a Kannadiga stalwart connected with the making of India's first talkie, Alam Ara, in Mumbai (then Bombay).

In Sreedhara Murthy's words

Those were the days when theatre companies ruled the entertainment scene and films were in a nascent stage. R Nagendra Rao (RNR), known as the father of Kannada cinema, was working with Ardeshir Irani, who directed the first Hindi talkie film Alam Aara (1931).

Considering that talkie films had already been made in Tami and Telugu, he requested Irani to make a Kannada film too. But Irani felt the Kannada film market was too small.

RNR was determined to make a talkie film in Kannada and he set out to collect money to produce the film. He went far and wide, but could only collect Rs 5,000. He had the script of Sati Sulochana done by writer Bellave Narahari Shastry. He had the support of theatre doyen Subbaiah Naidu.

Shah Chamanlal Dooganji, a Marwari businessman, was running South Indian Movietone, a film distribution company. He had money and wanted to produce a Kannada film, but did not have support from the artiste.

Seetharam, who was working in his company, introduced him to RNR. Thus, the production of Sati Sulochana began."

Studio in Kolhapur'

Sati Sulochana was shot in Chatrapati Studio in Kolhapur, just across the Karnataka border in Maharashtra.

Paramount cinema

Sati Sulochana was released at Paramount cinema near City Market. Pradeep and Parimala cinemas came near the site later.

How an ad sounded in 1934

Publicity material for Sati Sulochana promotes it aggressively, describing it as "The First Canarese Talkies", "The Golden Extravaganza", "A Golden Page from Ramayana", "An All Talking Singing Dancing Picture", "Surprisingly Sensational" and "Big Entertainment".

Budget Rs 40,000

Sati Sulochana was made with Rs 40,000. It was shot in two months.

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