Mayabazar is a culmination of everything that cinema aspired to be in its infant years post the Lumiere brothers' eureka moment. An escape into a meticulously designed larger-than-life world filled with captivating visuals, lyrical interludes, a fascinating tale – the whole shebang. Decades before the arrival of VFX, Director K.V.Reddy created a spectacle of grandeur in Mayabazar. Reddy who had also directed another epic fantasy of that era – Patal Bhairavi, upped the ante with this adaptation of Sashi Rekha Parinayam from the Mahabharat. To give a modern-day analogy, it was akin to SS Rajamouli making Magadheera and scaling it multi folds with Baahubali. It took close to 500 technicians of the legendary Vijay Vauhini Studios to bring Reddy's vision to life in 1957.
As a kid, Mayabazar was my grandmother's tales coming alive on screen, a world of magic where anything was possible. Over the years, I have come to believe that considering the era in which it was made, the final film is nothing sort of magic. From the camera work of Marcus Bartley to the timeless music by the wizard Ghantasala; from the unforgettable lyrics by Pingali Nagendra Rao to the film's cast: it was like these players were sharpening their skills in other movies to hit peak form for their team-up in Mayabazar. The film boasted of the biggest stars of the Telugu industry, NTR and ANR playing Krishna and Abhimanyu respectively. The real heroes of the film though remain Savitri and SV Ranga Rao (another industry stalwart) as Ghatotkacha, Bhima's son who is relegated to the footnotes in the Mahabharat, gets prime billing in the film. Savitri as Sashirekha (and as Ghatotkacha in Sashirekha's form) displays the gamut of expressions in her armour that earned her the moniker Mahanati (great actress).
While we reserve our praises for acting performances to the 'subtle' and 'realistic' (two terms whose usage has restricted the horizon of acting itself), Savitri's performance in the song Aha Na Pellanta where she effortlessly switches between demure and demonic is comparable to the finest performances across genres. SV Ranga Rao in the song Vivaha Bhojanamu too is nothing short of spectacular. NTR with his mischievous smile and immaculate diction owned the role of Krishna for many subsequent renditions. ANR, in line with his image, gets to romance and brood in separation as Abhimanyu. The minor characters in the film, Relangi as Lakshamana Kumara and Suryakantam as Hidimbi, have also stayed memorable. One ends up falling in love with all the characters in Mayabazar . Even the knowledge that in the larger tale of the Mahabharat, two of the lead characters – Ghatotkacha and Abhimanyu – are destined for tragic endings, does not seem to matter.
Mayabazar is 3 hours of romance, poetry, and pure magic on screen in monochromatic black and white. It plays to the traditional strengths of Indian cinema – an epic tale rooted in mythology, a love story at the centre, melodious songs to fit every situation- and delivers one of the greatest spectacles for posterity.