Mayabazar turns 60. A fan pays tribute.
The iconic film Mayabazar turns sixty on 27 March. The Telugu original was first released on this day in 1957. Almost six generations of Telugu and Tamil speaking people must have seen this film.
Much has been written about this classic, puranic, comedy-entertainer that spans many books and articles in print and online; it has also been novelised. There is almost a halo around it. But a Telugu-movie lover always has a personalised take on this masterpiece.
It may not be a hyperbole to say that this is the most discussed Indian movie. Every line has been dissected, every frame analysed, with many even having all the dialogues memorised. Voted the best movie in the CNN-IBN poll conducted on the occasion of 100 years of Indian cinema, the legacy of this film only gets bigger with time and is unparalleled even in Bollywood.
The movie had everything coming together, starting with a great production house in Vijaya Productions, a genius in the writer Pingali Nagendra Rao and another genius in director K V Reddy who also did the screenplay. The opening credits rightly begin with this trio. It had a story already well known to south Indian audiences, an ace technical crew that conjured magic on the screen, an ensemble cast made of all-time greats of south Indian cinema, a language close to the common man, mellifluous music, and great dance.
The movie was a blockbuster and more importantly a trailblazer for many generations to come. It was simultaneously made in Tamil and was released a few weeks later on Tamil New Year’s day. And the Kannada version was dubbed from the Telugu original a few years later.
Star-studded cast and crew
The film’s cast had many heavyweights of South Indian cinema. It was the first major movie of Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao, or NTR as he is popularly known, as Sri Krishna and what followed is well-known. S V Ranga Rao(as Ghatotkacha) and Savitri (as Sashirekha/Vatsala) gave stellar performances.
In fact, each frame has its own set of stars with everyone shining in their own way. A count of the Padma awards and other accolades received by the artists can be mind-boggling. And most of the actors and singers in the movie were then in their mid-30s or younger. A more detailed list of the cast is given at the end of this write-up.
The great Akkineni Nageswara Rao has often said that it is impossible to replicate this. The technical crew of this movie has been hailed as the real stars, and the kind of admiration they drew is unparalleled in the history of Indian cinema. Madhavapeddi Gokhale-Kaladhar duo created masterpieces like a miniature set of Dwaraka(with miniature lights) while the editors Jambulingam and Kalyanasundaram edited around five hours of the film to three. A unique feature of their editing is that it’s not easy to anticipate what the next scene would be.
Marcus Bartley, the ace Anglo-Indian cinematographer created his well-known illusion of moonlight, said to be for the first time in Indian cinema, for the song ‘Lahiri Lahiri Lahiri lo’. It was later used in many movies of Vijaya Productions and came to be known as ‘Vijaya Vari Chandamama’. The other well-known Chandamama associated with the producers Nagireddi and Chakrapani is the children's magazine by the same name which was published in many different languages.
Plot, Language, and Idiom
The story is fiction based on characters from the Mahabharata and was well known to Telugus through dramas of Surabhi Nataka Samajam and Kuchipudi Yakshaganam under the name ‘Sashirekha-Parinayam’. The title of the movie is unique in its own way showcasing the ‘Maya’ and the usage of an Urdu word ‘Bazar’ in a movie based on Hindu Puranas and Itihasas, stands out.
There is no mention of Balarama’s daughter in Mahabharata or Bhagavatam, but the whole story of the film revolves around her. Many a character is given a funny, quirky touch with idiosyncrasies and shortcomings bringing them closer to real life. Balarama is portrayed as someone who can be easily manipulated, his wife Revathi a typical mother who is after riches. Lakshmana Kumara, the son of Duryodhana, is shown to be a caricature of the real one, who is easily fooled into praise not knowing what ‘purogamanam (going forward) and tirogamanam (going back)’ mean. Krishna and Ghatotkacha are left out of this, but Krishna is shown gently taunting Rukmini and then making up right away.
The first USP of Mayabazar is definitely the language which moves seamlessly between a highly Sanskritised version and the colloquial one. There are Sanskrit words like ‘vitarana-sheelam’(charitable nature), ‘kulankasha-pragnya’ (sharp intellect) and ‘akhila-rakshasa-mantratantratishayamu’(excess of mantra and tantra of all rakshasas) and simple Telugu ones like ‘allari’( mischief) and ‘kuppi-gantulu’( a childish play). The word ‘asalu’ (for real) borrowed from the Urdu ‘asal’ is used multiple times. This interspersing of Sanskritised words with colloquial ones surely made the dialogues touch a cord with every section of the society.
Mayabazar started a trend of mythological movies in Telugu, but the later ones were in Sanskritised Telugu to a greater extent. The phrase ‘ade mana takshana kartavyam’(that is our immediate duty) became a huge hit with the college-going youth of that time. Pingali even created neologisms like ‘tasmadeeyulu’ (for enemies), alamalam (for kushalam) and ‘gilpam’(for talpam/bed) and makes Ghatotkacha justify this by saying, “ if people don’t coin new words how will the vocabulary grow?”.
Tribute to Culture
The other USP of Mayabazar is the way it nativises every aspect of the film including the costume, rituals, song, and dance without compromising on the mythological theme. It celebrates the culture of the land in a big way without making a loud statement about it.
The title song starts with the tune of ‘Amba Paraaku Devi Paraaku’, the traditional invocatory prayer in a Kuchipudi performance addressing Balatripura Sundari, the presiding deity of Kuchipudi village. The music by Ghantasala (with S Rajeswara Rao being the ghost music director) is fast-paced, lilting and stays in the light classical genre.
Most of the characters are introduced through a song or a padyam (many are introduced in the opening song—Srikarulu devatalu). This is in tune with how characters were introduced in Kuchipudi dance dramas through Pravesa Daruvus (an entry piece that introduces a character). This surely helped the makers save time and set the context right away.
The dances too are mostly in the light classical genre. There is also an item song if we can call it that (Okate maa vayasu). Pasumarthi Krishna Murthy, the well-known stalwart of Kuchipudi, teams up with Kathakali maestro Gopinath for the beautiful silent dance-drama, Mohini-Bhasmasura.
Chinnamayya, the guru in Ghatotkacha’s Ashram, teaches Subanta-Pratyayas in Sanskrit to the Asuras there. When they finally give up pronouncing the tongue-twisters, they say that they would manage with the meaning. ‘Pandityam kanna gnaname mukhyam’ (knowledge is more important than mere scholarship) is a phrase used in many a Telugu household.
Kauravas from Hastinapura near present-day Delhi go to Yadavas of Dwaraka, and the Kaurava priests complain about not seeing the must-have signature item in the menu. The item is none other than Gongura (Indian red sorrel) in Telugu, Keerai(a leafy vegetable) in Tamil and Hunase Tokku (raw tamarind pickle) in the Kannada version. Gongura is hailed as ‘Shakambari Devi Prasadam’ and Andhra-shakam. Again, we would find Gongura being referred to as such even today in a Telugu household. While South Indians are not unfamiliar with the story and setting of Mahabharata and Bhagavatam, this native touch almost makes us believe that this indeed happened in South India.
There are padyams/viruttams/poems in the movie. Actors like CSR Anjaneyulu and Rushyendramani who could sing were given a chance to sing in their own voice and showcase their mettle. All the (major) actors in the movie had a background in theatre.
Mayabazar was released multiple times in theatres. Audio cassettes of the dialogues were released too. The video cassettes and later DVD's that were released turned into a collector’s item with almost every household having a copy. Young boys and girls now had the advantage of re-watching their favourite portions of the film, which typically began with Subhadra and Abhimanyu leaving for Ghatotkacha’s ashram (the sequence that leads to the fight between Ghatotkacha and Abhimanyu). It could appeal to a wide-range of audiences cutting across age.
The first line of almost every song in the movie turned into the title of a Telugu movie (mostly by the director Jandhyala). The movie has been hailed as a textbook and guide to film-making and editing. It made it to the text-books in state-board schools in Andhra Pradesh.
Madhavapeddi Satyam who gave playback to S V Ranga Rao used to perform the song ‘Vivaha Bhojanambu’ often in musical shows and weddings. Ghatotkacha with his love for laddoos became an endearing and much-loved character.
The special-effects shown in the movie especially in the scenes depicting magic were way ahead of time. There are even some futuristic and cool gadgets like Priyadarshini (a laptop-like device gifted by Pandavas to Balarama and used for video-chat), Satyapeetham (lie-detector also gifted by Pandavas to Balarama). The movie was digitised and brought out in colour but with a shorter duration. Adding subtitles to the digitised version might add to the aura.
As the film turns 60, watch it again with your grandparents and parents who might have something interesting to share with you or even with your little ones. Just the mention of the movie may bring a smile on their face. And you might find something new about the movie to admire it all over again. Such is the strong and enduring appeal of Mayabazar.