Kalai Arasi (1963)

Kalai Arasi

Post Tik Tik Tik, I’d read a few articles that mentioned Kalai Arasi, which may have a better claim to the title of Tamil cinema’s first space film. Kalai Arasi was released in 1963 and features M.G.Ramachandran, P. Bhanumathi and Rajasree in an adventure that does indeed go to the stars and back (even if the stars look suspiciously like the inside of a film studio). There are some excellent ideas here and good special effects, especially considering the age of the film, but what make it worth watching is a well-told story that ties everything up into a satisfying conclusion by the end. It’s definitely a simpler time as no-one seems to worry about why the aliens all speak Tamil so well, or why they decide to target India either. However with the charming Bhanumathi and MGR in double roles, all you need to do is sit back and watch the space ships fly through the sky and death rays blow stuff up! Note: Kalai Arasi is available on YT, although a number of scenes appear to be missing (in both available versions although the one with the most annoying water mark has 3 more minutes), the quality is poor and of course there are no subtitles, but it’s still watchable and lots of fun.

The film starts with farmer Mohan (MGR) singing on a bullock cart with his sister as they wend their way back home. They come across Vaani (P. Bhanumathi) and her friends whose car has broken down, mainly because Vaani drove it into a pot-hole and ran out of petrol. Needless to say, Mohan is all over the rescue, and it turns out that the pair are already a couple, although all is not plain sailing since Mohan is a poor farmer and Vaani is the daughter of a rich man. Worse still, her father is trying to marry Vaani to her cousin Kannan (P.S. Veerappa) a nasty man with anger management issues, but at least Vaani seems able to cope. There’s a cute scene where she pretends to faint after he shouts at her, and then winks at her maid to let her know she is really OK. Vaani has plenty of personality, and also a great voice which turns out to be her downfall.

A wandering spaceship, on the lookout for musicians to kidnap and take back to their planet happens to see Vaani on their TV surveillance instrument. The leader of the expedition, Thinna (M.N.Nambiar) and pilot Malla decide she is exactly what their planet needs and head off to kidnap Vaani.  On the way they use their ray guns to explode a bear that attacks, emphasising they’re dangerous and aren’t likely to take no for an answer if Vaani resists. Plus ray guns – cool!

The spaceship is really rather wonderful too. It is a bit reminiscent of Flash Gordon but there are lots of panels and dials with flashing lights and mysterious screens.  The space ship’s travels through space are pretty good too, there is even a large asteroid they have to dodge, but who knew that there was so much steam in space! Once in the Earth’s atmosphere the flight becomes a bit shaky but I like how the spaceship is shown flying over temples and fields of workers to show that they actually have reached Tamil Nadu and not some random planet. Scenes shot inside the space ship are jerky with the camera moving erratically as Thinna and Malla walk around stiffly in their shiny and embellished spacesuits. This is explained later. Thinna is wearing a pair of shorts which I don’t think would provide much protection from space, but that doesn’t seem to be a concern, although they are both wearing helmets, goggles and masks.

After kidnapping Vaani, Thinna zooms off in the spaceship while Malla is left behind. Vaani’s disappearance is blamed on Mohan as he was the last person to see her, and Kannan arranges for him to be put in jail. As if this wasn’t enough, Kannan then throws Mohan’s mother and sister out of their house, leading his sister to end up dancing and singing in a brothel. Kannan is also convinced that he’s found Vaani, although he’s really found Valli (Bhanumathi again), a poor mentally ill girl whose father is unable to convince Kannan that she isn’t Vaani. This is Sixties Tamil cinema so Valli is played for laughs, but Bhanumathi is excellent as she portrays Valli’s instability, veering between innocence and violence and always not seeming quite aware exactly where she is or what she is doing. It’s a great performance and a good contrast to her portrayal of Vaani who is confident and poised, even during an alien abduction.

Meanwhile, Vaani has reached the alien planet and is teaching the world to sing, or at least teaching the princess Rajini (Rajasree) dancing and singing. This goes down well with the locals and Thinna heads back to pick up Malla, who doesn’t seem to have done anything useful, so I’m not sure why he was left behind. By this stage Mohan has been released from jail and has also rescued his sister, although his mother appears to have vanished. Thinking that Vaani has married Kannan, Mohan is wandering through the wilderness when he sees Malla and for no apparent reason (there isn’t even any dialogue) he attacks and kills him. I’m presuming that there is a missing scene here, which explains why Mohan attacks and why he assumes Malla had something to do with Vaani’s disappearance. That would explain why he then sneaks aboard the spaceship too, but maybe he just thought it was a good idea.

Once on the alien planet, Mohan has to deal with different gravity which is brilliantly shown in a sequence where he appears to be almost weightless. This is cleverly done and still looks fantastic, mainly due to MGR’s facial expressions and physical contortions. Even though the background isn’t particularly alien or outlandish, MGR makes it look as if he’s completely out of his depth and struggling – great acting and beautifully filmed too. Luckily for Mohan he meets a minstrel/joker character (also played by MGR) who helps him, and whose place in the palace Mohan is able to take when the joker is unfortunately killed. Once in the palace Mohan finds Vaani, but before they can escape he has to deal with the Princess Rajini’s amorous advances towards him, and Thinna’s murderous tendencies, as well as work out how to pilot the space ship and get Vaani back home.

Kalai Arasi works well because it’s a good story that’s simply been transported into space. The various devices added, such as Mohan’s weightlessness and the aliens’ difficulty with Earth gravity, are cleverly done and show that you don’t need CGI and splashy special effects if you have good actors and clear vision. Some of the things I really liked are that the flunkies on the alien planet rise up onto their toes rather than saluting their superiors, while Rajini has a very impressive suite of furniture that pops out of the wall whenever she presses a button. Director A. Kasilingam keeps everything moving along, as there is a lot to fit in, while writer Raveendar adds some novel ideas that refresh a relatively standard story. There is plenty of good detail, even in the secondary plot lines, which still all reach a satisfactory conclusion by the end. The costume department obviously had a great time dressing the aliens with capes, half capes, shorts, flouncy trousers and lots of embellishments and hair ornaments. I wish this had been filmed in colour to see exactly how OTT everything really was, particularly since Mohan’s borrowed shoes look wonderfully glitzy when paired with the joker’s outfits.

There are couple of really good songs from K.V. Mahadevan, including one featuring Valli and a beautiful duet between Bhanumathi  and Mohan. My favourite though is the very first song with Bhanumathi performing on stage. It’s not all about the singing and dancing either as there is an excellent sword fight and also some standard fisticuffs for those who prefer their fight scenes more traditional.

Although Mohan is the hero of the story, Vaani gets to keep her composure when she’s abducted too. She’s no damsel in distress as she first of all sizes up the situation and then does the best she can. She seems assertive and confident, even on the alien planet and in the end it’s Vaani who successfully pilots the spaceship back to Earth. In fact, none of the women in the story come out of it too badly compared to modern day heroines. Even Mohan’s sister takes action when faced with a life of prostitution, and Princess Rajini may be useless in a sword fight and a drama queen, but she’s sensible enough to lock Mohan in chains when Thinna suggests he might be a flight risk.

It’s not just the women who fare well either. MGR is wonderfully heroic, switching between his simple farmer persona, to confident trickster once on the alien world. His fight scenes are good, and his character is sensibly capable of dealing with every situation as it arises. This is a film where he really does get a chance to show off his acting skills and he nails it every time. I thoroughly enjoyed Kalai Arasi, it’s a real find and I wish someone would consider restoring and re-releasing it with subtitles. Even without the missing scenes it’s a film that does have something for everyone and the space theme is much better than expected. One that’s well worth tracking down if you’re a fan of old B&W movies and want something a little different. 4 stars.

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Pyar Kiye Jaa

Pyar Kiye Jaa is my favourite film starring Shashi Kapoor and I think he’s at his absolute Shashilicious best here. It’s a very funny comedy with a couple of romances thrown in for good measure and a fantastic star cast.  Sridhar takes the opportunity of a plot line involving making a movie to poke gentle fun at the film industry as well as relying on more conventional comedy scenes and the excellent comedic talents of his stars to make this a very entertaining film. Great songs, funny dialogue,  excellent performances and plenty of dramatic Shashi Kapoor – what more could you possibly want?

I didn’t realise until recently that Pyar Kiye Jaa is a remake of the 1964 Tamil film Kaadhalikka Neramillai which was also written and directed by C. V. Sridhar. Rajashree starred in this original version as well and reprised her role in the Telugu version Preminchi Choodu the following year, so I hope she enjoyed the role! One apology as well – I’m sorry the screen caps here are so blurry, but my DVD copy of this film is really poor quality.

The film opens with a song where Shyam (Kishore Kapoor) and Malti (Kalpana) dance along the beach in a last meeting before Shyam heads back to work for his rich father Devraj (Chaman Puri) and Malti leaves Mumbai to go home with her sister Nimala (Rajasree).  Malti and Nimala are the daughters of Ramlal (Om Prakash), the owner of Ramlal estates and the employer of Ashok (Shashi Kapoor) who just happens to be good friends with Shyam. All that in the first 20 minutes! But these first few scenes effectively set up most of the main characters, their relationships with each other and their social standing which leaves us free to concentrate on the mainly very funny comedy. It’s an excellent way to open the film and this first song is very catchy and upbeat with great moves by Kishore Kumar.

Ashok has a run in with Malti and Nimala when he crashes his wreck of a car into their vehicle. Despite his winsome smile, the sisters are not impressed and once they get home demand that their father sack Ashok immediately. To his credit Ramlal is reluctant to fire someone he thinks is a good employee, but he cannot stand up to his daughters’ persuasions and has no choice but to go ahead and dismiss Ashok.

Unfortunately for Ramlal, Ashok knows his rights and is not about to take his dismissal lying down. He sets up a rather magnificent striped tent opposite Ramlal’s house and armed with a set of expressive signs sets about protesting and demanding his job back.

His next step is to hire a band and some supporters which leads to this wonderful song.  This is the ‘best Shashi song ever!’ for me and nothing can beat Shashi’s gyrations as he demands his job back and berates Ramlal while Malti and Nimala fling buckets of water at him. His support crew groove away in the background and the band rather wisely keep well back to avoid the deluge. The Tamil version from the original film is almost as good and is filmed at exactly the same location, but I have to say that I think Shashi beats Ravichandran in terms of cuteness and the Hindi song is has a bit more pep as well.

Meanwhile Ramlal’s son Atma (Mehmood) has set up a film production company named vah vah productions in the hope that this will be the audience reaction to his films (although my sub titles call it wah wah productions, which has a totally different meaning and may in fact be more accurate!). He’s relying on his father to bankroll his first production but Ramlal is rather slow at handing out any money. So vah vah productions at this stage consists of Atma as director, producer, screenwriter and everything else besides. Atma spots the beautiful Meena (Mumtaz) as she’s walking home and decides she would be perfect for his heroine despite her lack of acting talent.

After witnessing Ashok’s rhetoric as he protests outside the house, Atma engages Ashok as his scriptwriter and the scene is set for a number of possible storylines to be explored. These scenes may be where Farah Khan got her inspiration for Om Shanti Om as Sridhar does an excellent job of sending up the film industry including some wonderfully bad dialogue delivery and acting by Meena and many clichéd scenes described by Atma. These culminate in Atma’s final description of his film, which has been a tragedy and a romance in previous incarnations, but has morphed into a ghost story as he relates it to Ramlal. Atma adds in appropriate sound effects and the combination of Mehmood’s voice and Om Prakash’s facial expressions is both brilliant and hilarious.

Meanwhile, Ashok and Nimala have patched up their differences and fallen in love. After all who could resist Shashi when he starts to strip off to jump into a canal in a daring recue of a transistor radio? The couple know that there is no way Ramlal will consent to their marriage and Ashok has to come up with a cunning plan. For this he needs his friend Shyam, plenty of make-up and Devraj’s Chevrolet car, which Ashok hopes will make the right sort of impression. Relying on his friend’s good nature Ashok persuades him to act as his rich millionaire father to win Ramlal’s approval for the marriage. Atma also takes the opportunity to try and solicit more funding for his film from the visiting millionaire, which means another great song.

The plan is working well up until Devraj happens to come to the area to look at some property. He meets his old friend Ramlal and decides that Malti would be the perfect match for his son. So Shyam has to find a way to be both himself and Ashok’s father and explain why the eccentric millionaire Mr Raibahadur Ganga Prasad is driving his father’s car. It all works out in the end of course, but not before Shyam and Ashok have to concoct various other tall tales and even end up in jail.

I love this film, partly because Shashi is fantastic and totally irresistible, but also because everything comes together perfectly. It’s a well written film where the story flows consistently and the comedy is cleverly integrated into every scene. The plot devised by Ashok requires constant revision as events unfold, and Shashi’s character is funny as well as resourceful and inventive. Despite his con-artist ways, Ashok is so engaging and charming that it’s possible to forgive him for lying to his potential father in law. This is helped by the fact that he confesses all to Nimala early on and she’s equally happy to hoax her father to get what she wants. Kishore Kumar plays a great straight man to Shashi’s Ashok and his performance as the pompous and eccentric billionaire Raibahadur Ganga Prasad is superb. Shyam enters in to the deception with some reservations, but is unable to resist Ashok and then makes the most of his disguised . Both Rajashree and Kalpana are good in their roles although they intermittently seem to be wearing so much make up that it’s amazing they can move their faces at all. Neither character is reluctant to stand up for what they want and they both are strong and determined women. They both look beautiful in the songs and in the later romantic scenes and I like the way the two different romances develop.

Mumtaz only has a small role as Meena but she is funny as she tries to follow the instructions given to her by Atma and she is very good at being a bad actor! Mehmood is on top form as the wannabe director with plenty of wonderful expressions and Om Prakash is excellent as the rather hen-pecked Ramlal. Another major plus of the film is the fantastic music by Laxmikant and Pyarelal. All the songs are well placed and each is utilised to develop the story further. Everyone gets their chance to shine and there is a song here for every possible occasion. I love every single one and it’s been very difficult to decide which to add in here.

I just wish the quality of the film was better, since there are many places where black spots and lines appear, and that my copy had subtitled songs. Otherwise there is nothing I don’t like about this film – it’s perfect Shashi Kapoor fare and a real classic. 5 stars.

Temple says:

I do love Pyar Kiye Jaa but I have to say it edges towards my maximum tolerance for slapstick and silly disguises. Heather has described the plot in some detail but it isn’t the story as much as the actors that I enjoy. There is something in the dynamic between the male stars, a balance of energies, that is very pleasing. Shashi seems to be having a ball, playing the filmi hero and making sure his performance is appreciated – mock fainting in distress and surreptitiously checking how his audience react before swooning a bit more. Of course he is also the perfect clean cut romantic lead which doesn’t hurt in a fluffy love story. There is an extra sparkle in Shashi’s eyes when he and Mehmood are sending up their own industry. Mehmood’s Atma is strangely reminiscent of Tony Curtis with his quiff, terry-towelling leisure wear and Capri pants. Mumtaz brings a squeaky exuberance to Meena and is the only memorable female cast member for my money. There is such a thing as too much Mehmood, and sometimes even too much Kishore Kumar, but good writing and well matched performances avoid that pitfall. Laxmikant-Pyarelal excel at the swinging big band style. This soundtrack stands up really well without the visuals, and is even more fun with them. Kehne Ki Nahin Baat is just the best unfair dismissal protest song ever (and has Beth’s vote for greatest song in the world). There are a few negatives – a bit too much slapping, stalking and shouting in some ‘comedy’ scenes and a very unsurprising plot. But see it for the charm and good humour of the cast, and some stylish retro rom-com fun. 4 ½ stars!