‘Mayabazar', now in colour, cinemascope and DTS audio, has hooked the Facebook generation.

Since last Saturday, Telugu film enthusiasts have been discussing a film made in 1957. The new big budget releases somehow pale in comparison with this masterpiece. For many of us who've been introduced to Mayabazar by our grandparents, the new colour version, with meticulous detailing and DTS sound, is a treat to the senses. The film, studied even today for its nuances of story telling, dialogues, characterisation, songs and film-making techniques, is no longer the 35-mm, black and white film with audio in a single track. The new colour version has been drawing packed houses even on weekdays, defying predictions of trade analysts. Now, plans are on to release another 40 to 45 prints in the state with more shows.

The film's producer C. Jagan Mohan stands vindicated. An entrepreneur who doesn't have a filmi background had cherished the dream of making Mayabazar in colour. As congratulatory calls pour in, he shares, “One can live a lifetime and regret not following a dream. I didn't want to regret later.”

Talking of colours: He has years of experience in All India Radio and audio is his forte, which made him think of redoing the sound on DTS. His technical expertise with new media helped convert the 35-mm film into cinemascope. A team of 165 people worked on the film for eight months.

Jagan Mohan knew what was lacking in colour versions of Mughal-e-Azam and Naya Daur and wanted Mayabazar to be leagues ahead. “It takes 1,80,000 shades of colour to arrive at a tone similar to that of human skin. Mughal-e-Azam used 35,000 colour technology (35,000 shades in a frame) and Naya Daur did a little better with 65,000 shades. For Mayabazar, we used 16.7 million colour technology.”

A few years ago, Jagan purchased the rights of 13 movies produced by Vijaya banner, including Missamma and Gundamma Katha. “Vijaya library was not keen on selling just Mayabazar. The rates of all their other films put together worked out to just 10-15 per cent more than what I had to pay for Mayabazar. I purchased the entire lot,” he recalls.

An ear for music: Those days, music was composed using live orchestra and audio, which included background score and dialogues, were all recorded on a single track. “We restored the audio, cleared the distortion, raised the voices and then found instrumental musicians to perform the same background music and recorded them on seven tracks,” explains Jagan. Even sound effects were done: For instance, the thump of Ghatotkacha's leather shoes and the ruffle of Savitri's sari against ANR's silk fabric… The songs are a rage once more but he has no plans of a commercial audio release. “It would involve issue of rights. And technically, we need to do more work to make it stereo compatible. But we may release the audio on the internet.”

One of the film's highlights, Lahiri Lahiri Lahiri Lo, unfolds on a moon-lit night, but was shot by the cinematographer in broad daylight. “Yet, he managed to capture the reflection of water on the faces of the actors. We tried to capture that essence in colour,” says Jagan.

If colouring clothes and jewellery and getting right skin tones were arduous, the song Vivaha Bhojanambu posed another challenge. “Food items have to look real after colouration. Laddus cannot appear a tinge too dark or light. The grey tones used in the original were not conducive for perfect colouration. Hence, we had to change the grey scale before giving the colour.”

Jagan picks out the climax wedding scene as the most challenging. “Each and every rose petal strewn on the pathway had to be coloured. Further, each frame in the climax has many actors. In technical parlance, we refer to a set of colours used for skin tone, clothes, jewellery and so on as different masks. If five or six masks were used on one character, the presence of many actors in a frame called for that much more work.”

Ripple effect: Now that the hard work has paid off, Jagan is glad. He smiles, “The truth is, we were able to do all this work since the original was a masterpiece, technically way ahead of its time. Remember the scene where young Sasirekha gazes into a pool of water, and through the ripples we see her morph into a young maiden. Cinematographers debate till now on how Marcus Bartley shot the scene without a cut.” The highlights are far too many to be told within these columns. Jagan is considering bringing out a book on the making of Mayabazar in colour. This film will also be released in Chennai and may be dubbed in Tamil, going by the reception.

Incidentally, Jagan's team also worked on Rajkumar's Kannada film Satya Harishchandra. “When producer K.C.N. Gowda approached me, I was surprised since it would cost more than one crore. Most big budget Kannada films don't cost more than Rs. 50 lakh. Yet, he was persistent. Finally, people appreciated the effort.”