Wednesday August 11, 2010
Was MGR starrer Kalai Arasi the first Indian film to feature an alien?
I recently came across a few tweets by @allusirish, on sci-fi films in India.
Our prev gen of filmmakers were better of than us. “Karuda Rathrikal” starring MGR, Bhanumathi was an alien visitation film in 1960.. (Link)
Satyajit Ray & Columbia Pics attempted 2 make a film “The Alien” in 1960 with Marlon Brando based on a Bengali short story.. (Link)
Strangely, Columbia Pix produced ET in 1982. Its widely believed Ray’s script morphed into Spielberg’s ET! http://bit.ly/l8d8E (Link)
(For some reason, he seems to have deteled these tweets)
While the Ray-ET connection was news to me, it apparently was very old news. I felt like a complete idiot coming to know it for the first time!
But, what interested me more is the fact that there was a 60s film featuring an alien, that too, in Tamil. The film was not Karuda Rathirigal, as Allu Sirish tweeted (which he corrected later, himself)… it was a 1963 film titled ‘Kalai Arasi’ (Queen of Arts).
The film was earlier available via Rajshri films’ portal, but the entire site is missing currently. Thankfully, the entire film is available on Dailymotion, in 3 parts! But, from the censor board certification in the beginning, this seems to be a later copy of the film, with the certification period being 1976 to 1986.
I saw the film online and a number of things captured my attention.
1. Even though the film was released in 1963, the film may have commenced in the late 50s, as explained in this site about MGR.
‘kalai arasi’ was unfortunately many years in the making. This is evident by the fact that Pattukkottai Kalyanasundaram was among the lyricists, and he had passed away way back in 1959. The surmise that the movie was commenced much earlier gains further credence when we observe that singers such as P.Leela, Jikki and Ratnamala, who had slipped into oblivion by the advent of the 60s, find place in the album. Hence the making of the movie must have commenced in the late 50s. The reasons for the inordinate delay in proceeding with making the movie are not known. Legend has it that towards the end, MGR had become so busy with his schedules that the producers of ‘kalaiarasi’ had to resort to a hunger strike at the gate of MGR’s office to persuade him to spare some dates to complete ‘kalaiarasi’.
2. The alien space ship makes its appearance 2.30 minutes into the film!! It’s a typically 50s style space ship with 2 aliens inside and uses sound effects and shaky video effects to convey alien-ness. Fascinating!
3. MGR’s nemesis, M N Nambiar, is one of the aliens!! They speak in Tamil and wear tight shorts! They look like slightly better dressed humans.
4. The word used to describe planets is ‘Mandalam’ and this is interesting, since later, Tamil popular literature used the word, ‘Graham’…as in ‘Vetru graha vaasigal’ (strange planet’s inhabitants – if transliterated), to denote aliens. Mandalam is used in conjunction with moon – as in, Chandra Mandalam. There is also the usage ‘Chola mandalam (Chola Kingdom) and Murugappa Group has a company by name Cholamandalam too! It’s quite amazing that this was the word used to denote planets… or did they denote some other form of celestial body, I wonder!
5. Nambiar’s sidekick asks him where they are heading. Nambiar says, ‘Poo Mandalam’ (or ‘Boo Mandalam’, denoting Boologam or Poovulagam – Earth in Tamil). His reason for the visit? It seems their planet hasn’t seen any progress in the field of arts, as much as they have progressed in science!! So, the plan is to kidnap Banumathi… who is the Kalai Arasi (Queen of Arts) and let her teach arts (namely, singing) to their planet’s inhabitants. In this picture, Nambiar is seen threatening Banumathi with dire consequences (dump you off the ship?).
6. The aliens are not introduced formally – their alien planet’s name remains a mystery!
7. The aliens have something like a television where they watch parts of Earth where arts flourish. Part of this television watching included a Hindi song and dance sequence they see through the screen!
8. There is absolutely no mention of oxygen and related issues… something that is paramount in most other alien flicks involving another planet. So, the aliens here walk into Earth and humans walk into alien land with no problems with breathing whatsoever.
9. MGR has a fantastic hand combat-style fight scene with this alien who is left behind! MGR may be the first Indian film hero to fight an alien, that too with bare hands! This happens just after MGR discovers the alien transceiver! Also, here, that alien is seen wearing some kind of mask – may answer some parts of the question in earlier point about oxygen/atmosphere.
10. There is a scene of alien space craft sighting too! Villagers notice a space craft flying and ask MGR what it is. He very casually responds, ‘It’s a flying saucer’. The way he responds makes it seem like he’s talking about a nice, healthy cow crossing the road! MGR’s sister asks him where they are from. He (knowledgeably, at that) says that they are from a different ‘Mandalam’ (Planet?).
11. MGR hitches a ride in an alien space ship to rescue his lady love, Banumathi, who has been abducted by aliens! He takes on the garb of a court jester (who looks exactly like MGR, by the way, and conveniently dies, for MGR to take on his garb!) to stay on in the alien land. And, he even manages to have fencing duel with Nambiar, the evil minister of alien land!
It is then I realized that if you substitute the alien angle with, say a neighboring kingdom, the story remains exactly same. Yes, replace aliens with people from a neighboring kingdom and change the space ship to a chariot from that kingdom…the story works perfectly. It looks like the film’s script writer, T E Gnanamoorthi and director A Kasilingam were looking for a change of routine from the usual kingdom-raja-rani type stories and cooked up this incredible plot back in the late 50s! It’s amazing that they conceived all this back then when the first human to travel in space (Yuri Gagarin) was in 1961! In fact, in the film’s climax, as MGR and Nambiar are engaged in their usual combat in the space ship, it is Banumati, the film’s heroine, who steers the space ship back to planet Earth…in the first photo below she seems to be struggling, but if you notice the next picture, she has mastered the art mighty fast!! And to think the first woman on space was Valentina Tereshkova… in the same year as the film released… 1963!!
This is a gem of a film that needs to be archived with a lot more care, in whatever form it is in. Is this the first Indian film ever to feature an alien and alien space ship? Even if it is not, hats off to the people who made this film back when sophisticated special effects were unheard of. The effects no doubt look tacky for our present-day eyes fed on Avatar, but just imagine how people in the 50s made and reacted to this film! Incredible achievement!