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Loud And Clear

After cinema found a voice, there was no looking back. A peek into the fascinating journey of sound in Indian cinema

In 1913, Dadasaheb Phalke made a movie about a king who never lied – and the Indian cinema industry was born. Cinema then was more experimental than it was an art. Since then, filmmakers have always used technology to achieve the suspension of disbelief in their audience. This ability is the key for the audience to engage with a film.

The Introduction Of Sound
Since Thomas Edison in 1887 seeded the concept, it took 40 years to combine and synchronise the separate technologies of sound reproduction and motion picture reproduction into one single form. The talkies started in Hollywood with The Jazz Singer, which released in 1927. JJ Madan of Madan Theatres, Calcutta, released the first talkie in India in 1929, Universal Studio’s Melody Of Love – at Calcutta’s Elphinstone Picture Palace.

With India’s first talkie film, Imperial Company’s Alam Ara, Indian cinema found its voice when Ardeshir Irani’s love story between a prince and a gypsy girl premiered at the Majestic Cinema in Mumbai on March 14, 1931.

Just a few months before Alam Ara was to release, more than 30 cinema halls in India equipped themselves with a sound system to screen talkies. But more than any other aspect of sound, what made Indian cinema sound unique was songs. Alam Ara had a dozen songs and Madan Theatre’s Shirin Farhad, which released shortly after Alam Ara, had as many as 42 songs! Needless to say, Shirin Farhad was a much bigger success than Alam Ara.

The Progress Of Sound Technology

In Hollywood, through the ’30s sound technology kept improving and sound amplification rose from 2 to 8 watts of power. By the 1940s, push/pull amplifiers had 60 to 80 watts of output and, in the 1950s, multichannel sound of cinemascope was achieved through the application of four magnetic stripes on the 35-mm film. The big brother of cinemascope was the 70-mm Todd AO format developed by Michael Todd, with six magnetic tracks for sound.

Till the early 1960s, monophonic sound was being used in Indian cinema. Raj Kapoor’s film Around The World was India’s first film with stereo-phonic sound in 1967. In 1975, Sholay became India’s first film with 4-track Stereophonic sound. Sholay was one of India’s technically most-advanced films at
wthe time.

Surround Sound

Through the 1970s and 1980s, Ray Dolby and Loan Allen worked at Dolby Labs to improve the cinema experience, which included surround sound playback, noise reduction, and brought high-fidelity sound and standardisation.

1942: A Love Story was the first Indian movie to use a Dolby Sound format and became a milestone in sound engineering. The sound mixing was done in the Dolby SR format in London and the film was released in 1994. Shortly after, Ram Gopal Varma’s Rangeela became the first film to be mixed and released in the Dolby SR format in India. After that, movies were regularly mixed with Dolby SR sound, and the production and post-production infrastructure too started developing in Mumbai and other major cities. Prasad 70-mm in Chennai became the first Dolby-approved sound mixing facility in India. And soon, other studios followed.

Among cinemas, Sterling in Mumbai was the first to have got a Dolby A and SR surround sound system installed.
The Digital Evolution

Dolby SR graduated into a more advanced and sophisticated technology – Dolby Digital. Dolby Digital is Dolby’s most famous creation to date and has been installed in over 80,000 cinemas all over the world.

In India, Ram Gopal Varma was the first filmmaker to use Dolby Digital in his movie Daud, released in 1997.  Cinemas proudly displayed the Dolby Digital logo in their premises and played the Dolby trailer before the start of every movie.

In 1999, Dillagi became the first film to be mixed and released in Dolby Digital Surround EX in India. Dolby Digital Surround EX took the Dolby Digital 5.1-channel set-up one step further, introducing an additional third rear surround audio channel.

In 2010, Dolby introduced a new format called Dolby Surround 7.1 for digital cinema. Dolby Surround 7.1 uses eight discrete audio channels to establish four surround zones in a cinema. Dolby Surround 7.1 delivers a premium listening experience, enveloping the audience with improved depth and realism that immerses them in the action.

In April 2011, Dum Maaro Dum became thet first Indian movie to be released in Dolby Surround 7.1.

Why Is Sound important?

Sound is the absolute continuum that integrates a series of otherwise still images. It is part of the narrative. It draws in the listener to the emotion of the character. The audience does not need to be told that an actor is angry or scared; they can hear the emotion and react to it instantly, even without seeing the face of the character.

The Future

Dolby is now introducing Dolby Atmos, a new ground-breaking audio platform that encompasses products, services and technologies to deliver an audio experience beyond anything that has been available to date. For the first time, Dolby Atmos introduces a hybrid approach to mixing and directs sound as dynamic objects that envelop the listener, in combination with channels for playback.

It enables adaptive rendering to ensure that the playback experience is as close as possible to the creator’s original vision in any given playback environment, regardless of the specific speaker configuration. The Dolby Atmos platform provides content creators with a new creative freedom to tell their stories. It simplifies movie distribution with a single universal package to deliver to the audience the full impact of the artist’s intent, regardless of theatre configuration.


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