Screenwriting Practices During the First Indian Talkies

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A souvenir from Alam-ara, 'India's first talkie'. The leaflet describers it as 'All talking, singing, dancing.'

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How does one write screenwriting history without early film scripts?

This talk engages with the unfortunate archival absence of film scripts from the early years as a heuristic rather than a problem. It employs ‘intermediality’ both as an archaeological and a conceptual tool in reconstituting screenwriting as a converged media practice. The widespread circulation of screenwriting manuals for amateurs constituted a pedagogical infrastructure separate from, but parallel to, the other infrastructural flow of ideas and professionals from the Parsi theatre into the film industry.

The autobiographical accounts of some of the first playwright-turned-screenwriters bear testimony to the spaces they negotiated for themselves in the talkies after a successful stint with the Parsi stage. These memoirs form an interesting counterpoint to the testimonies of another group of ‘amateur’ screenwriters from the Indian Cinematograph Committee evidences (1927–28) wherein they express great apathy towards the practice in Indian studios and declare their freelancing associations with Hollywood studios that solicited story ideas from viewers worldwide. 

This talk explores the practice and discourse of screenwriting during the first Indian talkies through a study of the margins of print, theatre and film history.

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Rakesh Sengupta is a doctoral student in the Department of South Asia in SOAS. His research on screenwriting in early Indian cinema (1930s-50s) draws on multiple methodologies from film history, print culture, media archaeology and postcolonial studies. Rakesh's work has been published in BioScope and is forthcoming in Literature/Film Quarterly and Journal of Screenwriting.

Image: Silver Jubilee souvenir (Indian talkie, 1931-56), British Library [General Reference Collection X.902/3119]

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Name: Screenwriting Practices During the First Indian Talkies
Where: Knowledge Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
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