Some highly imaginative and enterprising playwright of yore, created a character non-existent in the epic Mahabharatha and got her married to the Pandava prince Abhimanyu amidst a mélange of mystery, mischief and magic spells and made the theatre buffs of the time in the western Hindi belt believe that such a character really existed! In the epic, there is no daughter by the name Sasirekha or Surekha or Vatsala for the Yadava lord Balarama. The popular play found its way to cinema thanks to Baburao Painter who made it thrice as a silent movie (1919, 1921 and 1923) with his prodigy V. Shantaram as Lord Krishna. And the first talkie version of ‘Mayabazar’ directed by Nanubhai Vakil came in Hindi in 1932. The South did not lag behind in exploiting this mythical episode and R. Padmanabhan made a Tamil movie in 1935 and the next year P.V. Das brought it to Telugu cinema and tasted huge success ( The Hindu/Cinema Plus / December 26, 2010). Thanks to Surabhi drama troupes, by the turn of the 1950’s, Mayabazar became a household name in most Telugu homes.
Though there were several movie versions in various Indian languages, the 1957 Vijaya Productions, Mayabazar is still considered the best for its all round excellence. No wonder that when CNN-IBN conducted an online survey in 2013 to celebrate the centenary of Indian cinema, Vijaya’s Mayabazaar topped the list among the 100 all-time great movies produced in India. Behind its making were, simple looking khadi shirt and dhoti clad men with exemplary vision and talent – producers B. Nagi Reddi, Chakrapani, filmmaker K.V. Reddi, writer Pingali Nagendra Rao, art directors Madhavapeddi Gokhale and Kaladhar and the Anglo-Indian cinematographer Marcus Bartley who made Madras his home and contributed immensely to the technological growth of Telugu cinema.
The Story: Balarama and Revathy make a promise to Subhadra that they will perform the marriage of their daughter Sasirekha with her son Abhimanyu once they are grown up. Years pass by. Pandavas lose their kingdom and live incognito. Sakuni manipulates things in favour of Kauravas and Balarama, forgetting his earlier promise to his sister Subhadra, decides to perform Sasirekaha’s marriage with Duryodhana’s son Lakshmanakumara. Revathy is too pleased as she is after riches. Lord Krishna brings in Bhimasena and Hidimbi’s son Ghatotkacha to set things right for the young lovers Abhimanyu and Sasirekha. Ghatotkacha accomplishes his job with his magical powers.
Cast & Crew: K.V. Reddi took almost a year for pre-production work. He chose the actors who fit into the characters and during the rehearsals noted with a stop watch the time each actor took to deliver his or her dialogues and calculated the length of each scene (including the song situations) thus arriving at the usage of negative film to the required length. Generally, it did not exceed more than 300 ft of film from the noted length of the final product. Wizard of words, Pingali Nagendra Rao, took the central plot from the popular fictional episode and wrote original story, dialogues and lyrics. He coined popular usages like hai hai nayaka , asmadeeyulu (friends) and tasmadeeyulu (foes), gilpam and gimbali (antonyms for bed and carpet) etc., besides sathyapeetham (lie detector) and priyadarsini (a laptop like device with Skype facility). Madhavapeddi Gokhale and Kaladhar created 30 sets at Vauhini studios which include the miniature Dwaraka set. They also sketched the crowns, jewellery and costumes for each character. Veteran lensman Marcus Bartley’s mastery stands out in two scenes – at the pond child Sasirekha (Baby Saraswathi nee Sachu) sits and her image is seen in the water which turns into ripples, as the ripples clear, one finds in her place, the grown up Sasi (Savitri)’s image in the water, without a cut in the scene. In the song sequence – Lahiri Lahiri Lahirilo… the boat ride scene was shot for a few seconds at noon in Ennore lake near Chennai and the rest of the song was shot in a studio set with his trade mark moon light effect and shown as if the entire song was shot at night in the lake. Jambulingam and Kalyanam were the editors.
Forty-thousand multi colour calendars of NTR as Lord Krishna were distributed and most of them adorned the drawing rooms, offices and other establishments and some even found their way to the prayer rooms of Telugu homes. And to think that NTR was at first hesitant to don the role! The previous year he had made a brief appearance as Krishna in Sonthavooru and it was not received well. K.V. convinced him that his face has that grace and his physique suited such characters. Utmost care was taken to design his get up (make up: Pithambaram and Bhakthavatsalam) and NTR did the rest. The ‘Lord’ had arrived! S.V. Rangarao breathed life into the role of Ghatotkacha with effortless ease. Within the available space ANR as Abhimanyu justified his presence. Savitri’s acting prowess came to the fore in the scenes in which Ghatotkacha assumes her form. Every actor contributed their best – Gummadi (Balarama), Chayadevi (Revathy), Rushyendramani (Subhadra), Suryakantham (Hidimbi), Sandhya (Rukmini), C.S.R. (Sakuni), Relangi (Lakshmanakumara), Mukkamala (Duryodhana), R. Nageswara Rao (Dussasana), Mikkilineni (Karna), Nagabhushanam (Sathyaki) and the list goes on. Ramana Reddy (Chinnamayya), Vangara (Sastri), Allu Ramalingaiah (Sarma), Balakrishna (Saradhi), Chadalavada (Lambu) and Nalla Ramamurthy (Jambu) provided the comic interludes.
Music flowed at its mellifluous best in Mayabazar . After composing tunes for four songs – Srikarulu Devathalu… , Lahiri Lahiri Lahirilo… , Choopulu Kalasina Subhavelaa… and Nee kosame nae jeevinchunadi… S. Rajeswara Rao opted out of the movie and Ghantasala stepped in to orchestrate and record them besides composing tunes for the rest of the songs including — Bhali Bhali Bhali Deva… (Madhavapeddi Satyam rendered the song besides playing the role of Daruka), Neevena Nanu thalachinadi , Aha Naa Pelliyanta… and Sundari nee vanti divya swaroopamu… Though a borrowed tune, Ghantasala gave a new lease of life for the popular number Vivahabhojanambu…
Trivia: In the scene in which ‘Maya’ Sasirekha had to stamp Lakshmanakumara’s foot with hers, while the expression was Savitri’s, the foot used for stamping with force was that of the film’s choreographer Pasumarthi Krishnamurthy’s. To make his foot look like a demon’s, he had pasted false hair on it.
It took four days of shoot, to get the right effect for the laddoo gobbling shots of Ghatotkacha in the song sequence, Vivahabhojanambu…
Choreographer and actor ‘Mukku’ Raju debuted playing Vishnu in the dance drama – Mohini Bhasmasura . Veteran filmmaker Singeetham Srinivasa Rao made his debut as an apprentice to K.V. Reddi and rose to become a top notch director. Years later he made an animated version, ‘Ghatothkacha’ as a mark of respect to Mayabazar .
In 2010 the movie was converted into colour and digital format (with some portions left out) by Goldstone Technologies. Though the effort was laudable the soul was missing. Mayabazar was the first mythology from Vijaya banner and was simultaneously made in Tamil with NTR, Savitri, SVR, Rushyendramani and Sandhya reprising their roles, Gemini Ganesh and Thangavelu replacing ANR and Relangi respectively. It was a big hit too. The Telugu version was released on March 27, 1957 and celebrated 100-day run in 24 centres and silver jubilee in 4 centres. During the 100 day celebrations, B. Nagi Reddi said that ‘his wealth was his unit.’ By that he not only meant his principle technicians and actors but also the 400 committed studio workers (light men, carpenters, painters etc.). Celebrating the huge success of Mayabazar he announced a four-month bonus to his unit members.
Get a DVD of the original (Black & White) movie, watch it and you will agree with ANR who while talking about Mayabazar once exclaimed, ‘What a picture it was!’