Past events and things gain an aura of nostalgia in the present. This has happened in a material sense to ‘Maya Bazaar’ which first hit the silver screen in the summer of 1957. Its Telugu version acquired alluring hues and a contemporary sound in 2010, thanks to film colorization and digital re-mastering undertaken by C. Jagan Mohan. Today, in the diamond jubilee year of the film we can appreciate the great masters of old who made ‘Maya Bazaar’ such a great experience as well as the epical figures in the film who seem so life-like and real!
It’s is no use complaining that the love story between Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu and Balarama’s daughter Vatsala aka Sasirekha is apocryphal based on the argument that the Mahabharatha does not speak either of Balarama having a daughter or the latter romancing Abhimanyu! The Mahabharata’s famous claim that it encompasses everything was not achieved by one author sitting down to write an all-enveloping work; it is the Ocean into which all the rivers of the racial consciousness flow! We have only to see the new Maya Bazaar shimmering like a lotus petal in the morning dew to realize that it is a celluloid window opening into a gallery of epic characters from Sri Krishna (NTR) to Rukmini (Sandhya), Abhimanyu (ANR, Gemini Ganesan in the Tamil version) and his half-Rakshasa cousin, Ghatothkacha (the one and only S.V.Ranga Rao)!
Maya Bazaar is a magical film in more ways than one. The most literal aspect, the highlight of the film is, of course, the seamless special effects it brings into play as the miraculous doings of Ghatothkacha. We have fire gushing like flowing water, carpets curling up, and any number of objects appearing and disappearing at will to the utter consternation of villainous characters. Ace cinematographer Marcus Bartley, an Anglo Indian with ages of experience shooting films achieved these effects more with ingenuity than with apparatus, with the help of his special effects man Harbans Singh. The FX are not much considering the unbelievable flexibility digital technology has given technicians these days to manipulate images. However, the Maya Bazaar strategy was not just to stun with special effects but to harness them effectively for the ends of the plot which was about harassing Kaurava malcontents with creepy happenings.
But more powerful and preternatural was the extraordinary control director K.V.Reddy, the maker of such Telugu classics like Bhakta Pothana and Yogi Vemana, and of the folklore hit Paathala Bhairavi (Telugu, Tamil), exercised over the script and his actors in his first mythological. Some scenes, like the first one which shows the celebration of the ‘coming of age’ of the young Vatsala, played adorably by Sachu both in the Telugu and Tamil versions, have such a likeness to life. One is transported to Dwaraka where Krishna, Rukmani, Subhadra and others are blessing the girl. In the narration of the romance of the lead pair (ANR-Savitri in Telugu, Gemini Ganesh-Savitri in Tamil), and its resolution through entertaining magical intervention, the loss of kingdom by the Pandavas is reduced to a shadow of a suggestion! In this way the narrative cleverly sidesteps the dark and looming spectre of a fratricidal war to focus on an entertaining romance that outmanoeuvres its opposition.
The introduction of ‘gadgets’ in the film makes for great interest. There is the mirror box that shows the image of the object of one’s deepest desires – something like the real-life technology of Skype with webcam! — and the ‘Satya Peetham’, apparently gifted by Sage Viswamitra to Harischandra for his incomparable truthfulness, which brings out the truth from people akin to the present-day truth serum! These not only add to the film’s interest but play a very important role in the script. While in the Mahabharatha, the climax has to come after the Kurukshetra carnage, Maya Bazaar’s purpose is served by having Shakuni expose himself by confessing before the ‘Seat of Truth’ about his diabolical deed of usurping the kingdom of the Pandavas and exiling them to the forest. This exposes him in front of Balarama, who had all the while been supporting the Kauravas because of his fondness for Duryodhana. The defeat of the Kauravas is thus effected by a series of discomfitures created by a ‘Maya Bazaar’ of hair-raising happenings as well as an involuntary confession!
Another enchanting aspect of the film is its music and song (Ghantasala/S.Rajeswara Rao). The moonlight boat song, for example, lingers in the mind decades past the first viewing of the film. But if the song and the night setting work a magic of their own, the way three pairs are interwoven into its picturisation is indicative of the delicate handling of story aspects. Even as Vatsala and Abhimanyu enjoy themselves in the boat, a guard informs Balarama and Revati about them. They rush to accost the young pair. But as Krishna immediately catches a whiff of the danger to the young lovers, he sends them packing and takes their place along with Rukmani! Balarama and Revati find them in the boat and take it to mean that the guard made an error of judgement. After Krishna and Rukmani alight from the boat, Balarama and Revati decide to go for a boat ride themselves, though Revati had just then made a caustic comment against Krishna and Rukmani. Laced with humour and satire, how much excitement and interest the song situation packs in itself!
Made in the Vauhini studios of Vijaya Productions (citadel of the redoubtable Nagi Reddi-Chakrapani duo), Maya Bazaar had attention lavished on every detail of film production. Sachu, one of the very few today who can speak first-hand of the production values of Maya Bazaar, marvels at the importance director Reddy and his team gave her though she was but a child artiste then. In the time lapse scene that shows the child Vatsala growing up in to a beautiful damsel (Savithri), such intimate attention was paid to her costumes, hair styling and jewellery to match them with those of Savithri! Sachu cherishes the memento she got for the 100 days run of Maya Bazaar, a silverine souvenir with the stamp of Vijaya’s inspiring logo. It was her first in a time-defying career.
The noted writer Pingali Nagendra Rao penned the lines and songs of Maya Bazaar. They were rendered appropriately in Tamil by Vijaya’s resident Tamil writer, Thanjai Ramiah Das, who generally did a great job. ‘Laahiri Laahiri Laahirilo’ was transposed so beautifully into ‘Aaha Inba Nilaavinile’ befitting the situation. Nambiar (Shakuni) and Thangavelu (Lakshmana Kumaran) played their roles evocatively in the Tamil version.
Maya Bazaar came on the scene a few years after Parasakthi abrasively lambasted mythology and religion. Maya Bazaar was produced by Telugus but its magic helped revive the mythological genre in Tamil films too! However, while the Maya Bazaar print has been has been restored and coloured in its Telugu version, Tamils have still to make do with the old, time-worn black and white copy. It’s time it was restored and revived in Tamil too. It would be a tribute to the heady old days when Telugus and Tamils worked hand in hand to make Southern cinema proud. If ‘Vivaha Bhojanambu’ was a hit in Telugu, ‘Kalyaaana Samaiyal Saadham’ didn’t stand behind. The Tamils would sure look forward to a large screen, DTS sound Maya Bazaar with seminal artistes like Savithri, NTR and Ranga Rao striding the screen. So here’s to the restored Maya Bazaar in Tamil!