A still from Mayabazaar

The joy of witnessing a title called Maya Bazaar on the ‘coming soon’ and the ‘now showing’ standees in Hyderabad’s RTC Cross Roads, leading up to its recent re-release in the Telugu states has got to be something out-of-the-world for a 20s something film-fanatic. 62 years since its release and bearing the guilt of missing the theatrical experience of the colorised version in 2012, I have been consistently cursing myself of not knowing what watching Maya Bazaar at the theatres may have meant. I haven’t heard kind words about how the colorised version has not helped the nostalgia associated with the movie and its classicity, but it was impossible not to watch the 1957-release at the theatres after all.

I have always spaced my viewings of Maya Bazaar across wide time-periods so that I don’t lose sight of its ‘epic’ness and its interpretative quality. So, an evening show with a wintery breeze blowing by and watching ‘Laahiri Laahiri Laahiri Lo’ unfold in front of my eyes, where the protagonists take turns to enjoy a boat-ride amid moonlight, is an experience that transcended beyond words.

Listening to the whistles that Savitri and S V Ranga Rao earn for their introductory sequence from the crowds is the end of everything that I wanted out of life, greatly relieving me of my regret of not having lived through the golden era of Telugu cinema. This viewing experience provided me the joy of buying a bucket of pop-corn during the intermission and savouring it while watching NTR, S V Ranga Rao, Relangi, Savitri, ANR. Talk about cheering for Savitri as she flawlessly mimics S V Ranga Rao’s mannerisms in the latter half and listening to Ghantasala’s musical genius in a Dolby-Surround atmosphere. Ah, that priceless joy!

The beauty of Maya Bazaar is how it positions itself as a fantasy while still not diluting its mythological quality. The film offers a genuine glimpse of the mood between the Kauravas and Pandavas leading to the Kurukshetra battle. From the glorious days of the Pandavas to their humiliation in Duryodhana’s court, owing to the shrewdness of Shakuni and subsequently leading to the disrobing of Draupadi, the viewer gets enough context to the Mahabharata and its after-effects on the marriage proposal of Sasirekha.

The very first sequence leading into the film is a true example of what we fashionably call ‘minimalism’ these days. ‘Vardhillu Maa Thalli’, the song where a young Sasirekha is blessed by her near and dear, firmly establishes all the characters in the movie in one sequence. The lyrics of the song mentions all the traits that define her parents, Lord Krishna, Rukmini, Subhadra, her soon-to-be husband Abhimanyu judiciously under three minutes. The premise of the film is set rather effortlessly.

And the film’s biggest and often-ignored aspect is its typical family drama base that provides relatability to its viewers. Highlighting the regular practice of fixing a bride’s alliance within the family, the film shows that Sasirekha’s marriage to her cousin Abhimanyu was decided right at the time of their birth (though things refuse to stay the same later). It’s interesting to note how Sasirekha’s mother Revathi objects to her daughter’s marriage to Abhimanyu after the Pandavas lose their property and are annihilated in front of the Kauravas. Revathi’s character is very much an extension of the patriarchal belief that the men need to fend for their wives and are in charge of their financial stability of the women at all costs. Also in the latter half, notice how Lakshmana Kumara’s parents and their extended relatives talk of their authority at the marriage, owing to the fact they belong to the bridegroom’s family. It’s only ironical that the beliefs continue to find a parallel in modern-day society as well.

This theatrical re-viewing also provided me with further reason to appreciate Maya Bazaar’s innovations, through its terrific use of futuristic devices. The use of the mirror-box that supposedly conveys the intentions of the pivotal characters barely 20 minutes into the movie, prepares us for its conflict quite early. Revathi notices ‘pearls, diamonds and a flurry of gold coins’ in the device, Sasirekha unsurprisingly glimpses her future-husband Abhimanyu, while Balarama witnesses Duryodhana and Krishna observes Shakuni through the device. All of this in a crisp sequence that barely lasts a few minutes.

A similar device is yet again used in the climax where a particular ‘stand’ would reportedly explore the true intentions of a character when one stood on it. Shakuni’s presence on the stand where he talks of his wicked ploy to use marriage to emerge victorious over the Pandavas clearly helps resolve the conflict with minimum fuss and absence of any melodrama whatsoever.

Even before the era where the term multi-starrer was coined, Maya Bazaar showed what the term meant in its truest intentions. The film is about NTR as much as it was about Savitri, it was about Relangi as much as it was about ANR, it was about S V Ranga Rao as much as it was about C S R Anjaneyulu. Every character had its moment of glory and sheen and mind you, they weren’t deliberate attempts to allocate certain screen-time for every actor. These all come through as organically as you could expect it to.

How could a discussion on Maya Bazaar be ever complete without a mention about ‘Vivaha Bhojanambu’? An ocean of memories having heard the song at nearly every marriage I have been to, made the viewing all the more special. Prior to the song, it’s hard not to smile when a group priests who resort to knit-picking about the dining arrangements of the marriage refer to Gongura (coriander) as ‘Sakhambari Devi Prasadam (a favourite of Goddess Parvati) and Andhra sakam (an integral element in any meal of the Telugus).

The beauty and the tact of Maya Bazaar are preserved for the second hour, where there’s less of a plot and more of mind-blowing, inoffensive situational humour. The carpet (calling it ‘gimbali’) that folds itself instantaneously as the priests try to have paan, the handles of a bed that smash the heads of the priests everytime they sit on it, are priceless cinematic moments where acting brilliance of the likes of Ramana Reddy, Allu Ramalingiah, Balakrishna (comedian) is matched by witty screen-writing. After all, Maya Bazaar fits together perfectly as a culmination of the navarasas, the romance, the humour, the pangs of separation, anger, wonder, generosity among a few.

The issue with the colorised digital version of Maya Bazaar isn’t much about the content. The problem is with the poor post-production. The reworked background score is akin to any South-Indian television soap and the less you talk about the interludes, the better it is. The colours don’t quite add up well. The edits leading to each sequence are funny, with the tiny circles, rectangular boxes opening up the frames feel like terrible digital gimmicks that undo the simplistic charm of the movie. But there’s only so much that one can complain about the opportunity of watching Maya Bazaar at the theatres. The end credits only left me distraught about the world I had to get back to, the mundaneness, a life sans the magic and wizardry of Maya Bazaar. However, this would work for a perfect bedtime story I could tell my grandchildren about a movie that wouldn’t lose its charm even six decades from now.

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