We study the evolution of the mass function in young and dense star clusters by means of direct N-body simulations. Our main aim is to explain the recent observations of the relatively flat mass function observed near the centre of the Arches star cluster. In this region, the power-law index of the mass function for stars more massive than about 5-6 M-circle dot is larger than the Salpeter value by about unity, whereas further out, and for the lower mass stars, the mass function resembles the Salpeter distribution. We show that the peculiarities in the Arches mass function can be explained satisfactorily without primordial mass segregation. We draw two conclusions from our simulations: (i) the Arches initial mass function is consistent with a Salpeter slope down to similar to 1 M-circle dot, and (ii) the cluster is about half-way towards core collapse. The cores of other star clusters with characteristics similar to those of the Arches are expected to show similar flattening in the mass functions for the high-mass (greater than or similar to 5 M-circle dot)stars.