With people floating in mid-air, satellites and celestial bodies, the teaser for the upcoming Tamil film Tik Tik Tik offers glimpses of life beyond earth. Billed as the first Indian space film, Tik Tik Tik stars Jayam Ravi as Vasu, a space traveller who, like Sandra Bullock, loses his way in zero gravity during a mission.
Shakti Soundar Rajan’s movie, which shares its title with Bharathiraja’s 1981 thriller, will come before the Sushant Singh Rajput starrer Chanda Mama Door Ke, which is a tribute to the Indian space programme, and Mahesh Mathai’s biopic on Rakesh Sharma, which will star Aamir Khan as the first Indian astronaut in space.
The space rush has come after years of being firmly earthbound. Although there have been alien invasion movies (Rakesh Roshan’s Koi Mil Gaya is one of the most successful examples), Indian cinema has by and large stuck within the blue planet’s boundaries. But back in the 1960s, at least two productions went where no human had gone before.
In A Kasilingam’s Kalai Arasi, or Queen of the Arts (1963), the inimitable MN Nambiar plays the alien Dheenan who abducts Vani (P Bhanumathi) and takes her away to his bleak planet in the hope that she will introduce its inhabitants to the wonders of the performing arts. In this space-age version of the Ramayana, Dheenan is pursued by Mohan (MG Ramachandran), the do-gooder farmer who is in love with Vani.
Kalai Arasi’s depictions of aliens and earthlings are comical rather than realistic. When Dheenan’s spaceship lands in a paddy field, it is accompanied by screeching sounds and smoke. When Mohan hitches a ride on a spaceship that he thinks is going to Dheenan’s planet, he lands up in a place where there is no gravity. In one of the film’s most hilarious sequences, Mohan’s weightless flight across the planet is halted when his extra-terrestrial doppelganger (also played by MGR) hands him a pair of shoes.
TP Sundaram’s Chand Par Chadayee (1967) is in the vein of American and European futuristic movies, which journeyed to the moon years before Neil Armstrong took that giant leap for humankind.
As the title credits roll to images of rockets, spaceships and satellites in the sky, Dara Singh is introduced as Anand, an astronaut who never misses a brawl – be it with a terrestrial badman or a belligerent alien. The film follows his quest for a scientist who has been kidnapped by the lunar people. Once he reaches the moon along with his sidekick Bhagu (Bhagwan Abhaji Palav), he is greeted with love and adulation from the celestial folk, but not for long.
In both movies, the parts set in outer space recreate worlds that were not known about at the time. The aliens in both productions are kitted out in glittering frills and ruffles. Iron-heavy vitamin pills replace food; lasers take the place of bullets.
Chand Par Chadayee features a Google Glass-like device through which moon-bound Simi (Padma Khanna) conducts a video call with Martian ruler Barahatu to scheme against Anand. By the end of the 150-minute film, the wide-chested Dara Singh has warded off challenges from gorillas, horses, rhinoceros, robots and even the king of Mars.