The pioneering cameraman
As Indian cinema marks the centenary of its first full- length feature film, Raja Harischandra, will it remember the man who ten years later began a journey that was to take the Indian film industry to very much greater heights than what Raja Harischandra promised? That pioneer was a cameraman who over the years was to have many Madras connections, not the least being he was the father- in- law of R. K. Dastur, one of the leaders of the Parsi community in the city today.
Adi Merwan Irani’s career as a cameraman began when he joined his uncle Ardeshir Irani’s film studio in Bombay, The Imperial Film Company, and learnt his skills working with his elder brother Rustom. Adi Irani made his first mark when he shot India’s first newsreel in 1929. His subject was the first electric train in India being flagged off from Bombay to Poona. Two years later he was shooting India’s first full- length talkie, Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Ara. Then, in 1937, India’s first colour film, Kisan Kanya . When the Quetta earthquake devastated the town and its surroundings in 1935, Adi Irani shot the devastation from the air in what was said to be the first aerial photography in pre- Independence India.
In 1939, he moved to Madras and over the next two decades he worked with Pragati Studios, Vel Pictures, Gemini Studios, Vauhini Studios, Nagi Reddy Studios and Central Studios in Coimbatore. Amongst the memorable films he shot were Kamadhenu, Bala Nagamma, Haridas ( which ran for three years!), Malleswari — which had the first crane shot in India — and The Prince and the Pauper . Then illness overtook him in the 1960s and in 1967 he passed away.
If the Indian film industry is one of the biggest in the world today, Adi Irani had a role in making it so with his camera work in the days when it was trying to get off the ground.
His second son Melhi Irani did much work in the Malayalam film industry and was an award- winner in it.