When I did a post on food songs as part of Food and Food Movie Month on Dustedoff last year, blog reader magi posted a link to a very interesting song Vivaaha bhojanambu and told me about the film it was from. Maya Bazaar, which several others also praised as being a very entertaining mythological.
What I did not realize then was that Maya Bazaar (which was made in both Telugu and Tamil) had much more going for it. An adaptation of the Mahabharat-linked Andhra folk tale Sasirekha Parinayam, this was produced by Vijay Vauhini Studios (whose earlier production, the entertaining Pathala Bhairavi, had also been a big hit). Directed by KV Reddy and with a score (twelve songs) composed by Ghantasala, the film also made very good use of the talents of cinematographer Marcus Bartley, who won accolades for the special effects of the film, many of which stand the test of time pretty well. This was also the first Telugu film to be digitally remastered and colourized, with the redone version being released in 2010.
But, on to the story itself. I’m not going to do a scene-by-scene synopsis of the film here, as I usually do, because I think in this case at least a basic gist should suffice. Note that the version I watched is the Telugu one; the Tamil version had, for some characters, a different cast.
We are introduced to Sasirekha, the very pretty young daughter of Balarama (Gummadi Venkateswara Rao) and Revathi (Chhaya Devi). It is Sasirekha’s birthday, and for the festivities, several family members have arrived at Balarama’s.
There is Balarama’s brother, Sasirekha’s uncle Krishna (NT Rama Rao) and his wife Rukmini (Sandhya).
And there is Balarama’s sister Subhadra (Rushyendramani) and her son, the young Abhimanyu. In the course of the celebrations, Subhadra asks for Sasirekha’s hand in marriage for Abhimanyu, and Balarama is happy to say yes.
Sasirekha and Abhimanyu are already good friends. Now that she knows she’s going to be Abhimanyu’s wife sometime in the future, Sasirekha is insistent on going along with him and Subhadra to their home, and is extracted from their chariot with much difficulty.
Some years later, Sasirekha (now Savitri) and Abhimanyu (now Akkineni Nageswara Rao) have grown up and are corresponding through what comes across as a variation of a web-cam: he sends this laptop-like appliance to Sasirekha as a gift, and when she opens it, she will see what is most beloved to her. Sasi, of course, sees Abhimanyu, and simpers suitably. He is equally besotted with Sasi.
That same device, in the hands of Sasi’s parents, yield not so very charming results. Revathi, on opening it, sees only mounds of gold and silver and jewellery and rich silks. And Balarama sees his disciple, Duryodhana (Mukkamala). This is whom Balarama loves the most? Yes, of course, he admits. Duryodhana is devoted to his guru and his guru returns that affection.
Meanwhile, though, events—as anybody who is familiar with even the basic story of the Mahabharat knows—are taking place that will impact the lives of many thousands. The evil Kauravas, having discovered that Shakuni Mama (CSR Anjaneyulu) is a dab hand at cheating at dice, bait Yudhishthira—and the rest is history. Though Krishna, through his divine power, is able to save Draupadi’s honour, the Pandavas end up ceding their kingdom to the Kauravas and going off into exile.
Shakuni, too, decides that the best way to keep the Pandavas permanently at bay is to somehow get the Yadavas (i.e, Balarama and his clan) on their side. To do this, they have to use Balarama’s affection for Duryodhana effectively—by proposing Duryodhana’s son, Lakshmana Kumara (Relangi Venkatah Ramaiah) as a match for Sasirekha. Once the two are married, the Pandavas will be honourbound to respect the relationship between Balarama and the Kauravas.
Balarama and Revathi are more than happy. Revathi, especially, has been very worried for her daughter now that the Pandava sun is in the descendant, so this comes as a welcome surprise for her. To be rid of that penniless Abhimanyu and marry Lakshmana Kumara, who will eventually become king… that will be perfect!
Sasi, however, hates the idea. She is depressed and distressed and tries everything from tears to defiance, but to no avail. Her parents are obstinate: she will marry Lakshmana Kumara and no-one else.
The jilted Abhimanyu is as unhappy and indignant as his beloved. His mother Subhadra is hurt and angry: she faces Balarama and Revathi and demands an answer for this nasty behaviour, this nonchalant breaking of a promise. They brush off her protests, and Revathi passes some snide remarks about Subhadra’s staying on at her maternal home (i.e, Balarama’s home) instead of being with her husband Arjuna.
So Subhadra and Abhimanyu decide to leave.
Krishna, who has (to the surprise of several people) been supportive of the Sasi-Lakshmana Kumara match, now shows the first sign—though still very discreet—of something brewing in that sharp mind of his. He quietly tells the charioteer, who’s waiting to drive Subhadra and Abhimanyu away, that he should take them—without telling them—into the realm of the demon Ghatotkacha (SV Ranga Rao).
… with hilarious results. Because Ghatotkacha, cousin to Abhimanyu, is more than happy to help sort out Abhimanyu’s problems. And, with Krishna to give him a few pointers, Ghatotkacha, along with a trio of his magic-working assistant demons, sets off to weave a ‘maya jaal’, a web of illusions that will entrap Lakshmana Kumara, Duryodhana, Shakuni and the rest.
By Ghatotkacha doing a nifty bit of shape-shifting and donning the persona of Sasi.
I will admit that I approached this film with a bit of trepidation. First of all, I am not much of a fan of mythologicals. Secondly, I have begun to be a little wary when a film is praised to me too highly by people (there was one commenter who called Maya Bazaar the ‘best Indian film’). There have been instances when I’ve watched these much-loved films and found that they fell flat for me, or that they just couldn’t grip my attention (Veerapandiya Kattabomman is a case in point), possibly because of a cultural disconnect?
I am happy to say that Maya Bazaar proved worthy of every accolade heaped on it (okay, perhaps not that title of ‘best Indian film’, because I personally feel that there cannot possibly be one ‘best film’ overall, across languages, genres, etc…). This was entertaining, it was witty, it was a grand spectacle, it was very satisfying.
What I liked about this film:
Pretty much everything, from the acting to the story, from the songs to the special effects, which are pretty advanced for the time. But some elements in particular stand out.
One is the fact that though it’s a mythological, there is very little religion in it (one of the main reasons I get put off by mythologicals is because of the way most of them tend to bash one over the head with religion). Maya Bazaar steers clear of that, and even tones down its connection to the Mahabharat: the Pandavas, for instance, never appear in the film, and even Draupadi is seen only as a distant figure, whom Krishna, through long-distance power, saves from dishonour. The story does assume that you are aware of the relationships between the main characters of the Mahabharat, but even without that grounding, it’s easy to figure out who’s who.
Secondly, the acting, which is excellent. NTR, whom I really liked in Pathala Bhairavi, is superb as Krishna, but I personally think that the people who own the film are the comic actors—Savitri as Ghatotkacha masquerading as Sasirekha (the mannish swagger, the clumsiness, and the way Ghatotkacha occasionally slips up and forgets he’s supposed to be a demure damsel rather than a fierce and gluttonous… oh, brilliant!)
SV Ranga Rao as Ghatotkacha is a delight, and so is Relangi Venkatah Ramaiah as Lakshmana Kumara, especially when he is faced with his bride-to-be.
And, Ghantasala’s songs. While I had to rely on subtitles to understand the lyrics, the music was fabulous. Vivaaha bhojanambu was my favourite, but I also loved Aha naa pelliyanta, and Lahiri lahiri a lot.
What I didn’t like:
Nothing, really. I loved this film.