The first Tamil Talkies KALIDAS was released on 31 October 1931 at Kinema Central, now Sri Murugan Talkies, in Mardas. Like all the Tamil films released in the first four years (1931-34), this was also shot in Bombay. This film was about Kalidas, the legendary Sanskrit poet who wrote classics like the Abijnanashakuntalam. The story revolved around Vidhyadhari, the daughter of Vijayavarman, king of Thejavathi whose minister suggested to the princess that she marry his son. But Vidhyadhari declined. Piqued, the minister set out in search of a suitable groom for her. In the forest, he found a cowherd on a tree, trying to cut down the very branch on which he was sitting. The minister persuaded him to come to the palace and got him married to the princess. When Vidhyadhari realized that she had been cheated and married to a cowherd, she prayed to goddess Kali for redressal. The deity appeared before her, named her husband Kalidas, and endowed him with literary talents.
While most of the characters in the film spoke Tamil, some spoke in Telugu also. All the fifty songs in the film were in Tamil and set to classical Carnatic ragas. It was because of the songs that the film is recognized as “the first Tamil talkie”. The heroine, T P Rajalakshmi, who was then a star in the film which had made her popular on the stage. She also sang two nationalistic songs, quite unconnected with the story; one on the need for unity among Indians and the other praising the charkha which had become a symbol of nationalism. Both songs were written by the nationalist poet, Bhaskara Das. T P Rajalakshmi later authored two novels in Tamil, Kamalavalli, and Vimala. The former was made into a film titled Miss Kamala and was directed by Rajalakshmi herself.
1931 was incidentally also the year in which the Indian freedom struggle had gained fresh momentum with the launching of the Civil Disobedience Movement.
There had been an earlier attempt at producing a Tamil sound film, a short four-reeler, titled Korathi Dance and Songs, in which a little-known actor called Jhansi Bai had featured. The film was screened along with Kalidas as a side attraction.
[from the book The Eye of the Serpent by S. Theodore Baskaran]
Completed in just eight days at a total cost of Rs. 8,000/-, the film grossed over Rs. 75,000/-. Kalidas was the first Indian multilingual movie since the film had Tamil, Telugu and Hindi dialogues by various characters. Director H.M. Reddy also directed the first Telugu talkie (Bhaktha Prahaladha in 1931). L.V. Prasad (who later founded Prasad Studios), acted in this film and also acted in the first Hindi talkie (Alam Ara) and first Telugu talkie (Bhaktha Prahaladha). It was a rare distinction for a person to act in all the three first talkies of India. An advertisement announcing this film was published in the 30th October 1931 issue of the Tamil magazine ‘Swadesamitran’ as “First Tamil-Telugu Talking Picture”. A review of the film was also published in the same newspaper a day earlier, which means a press show was held before the release of the film. Despite its historical importance, no print of the film has survived and even the song book is not traceable. The gramophone record of the film is also not available. A short film of four reels titled ‘Kurathiyin aadal paadal’ starring Jhansi Bai was screened along with Kalidas during its screenings.