Tuesday Telugu: I Saw Maya Bazaar! A Movie in Which Illusions Are There To Reveal Truths

I saw Maya Bazaar!  FINALLY!  I knew about it for ages, and then I found a copy for sale on DVD which was rare enough that I wanted to snap it up.  And then the DVD sat on the shelf by the TV for months and months and months until finally I gave in and watched it.

I’d heard that this is the ultimate fantasy magical Telugu film, that it was an inspiration for all the Bahubali filmmakers, and I was expecting something massive and mind-blowing and so on.  And it was mind-blowing, but not in the way I expected at all.

I went into this film not knowing any details about it.  I knew it was a big important movie that all the Bahubali filmmakers had loved.  It was loosely related to the Mahabharata.  But that was it, I didn’t know what the plot would be at all, what big scenes to look for, none of it.

And it was all a delightful surprise!  I was expecting something huge with battle scenes and questions of Dharma and Judgement, along the lines of Bahubali or Mughal-E-Azam.  But instead it was just a simple fairy tale story!  Young lovers, noble magicians, and it all ends with forgiveness and laughter, not tragedy.

 

 

Which isn’t to say that I couldn’t see the Bahubali connections.  The prettiness of it all, the perfect gardens and lovely palace rooms, plus the costumes and jewelry and all of that.  And the special effects, of course.  Totally different quality, not just technically but in purpose, not about huge fight scenes but about small moments of magic.  However, the cleverness is the same.  The use of these special effects moments not just for spectacle, but to move the story along in a way that could not otherwise have been imagined.

And of course, the elements that come from the Mahabharata.  The amazing feats of archery, the happy nobility of the main characters, the simple but cheerful forest folk.  Only, in Bahubali, it was not explicitly a Mahabharata story, rather it was a rethinking of it all.  Whereas this film is explicitly a variation on the Mahabharata, with the “main story” happening somewhere offscreen for the most part, and instead the focus shifted to this small side story.

I’m writing Bahubali fanfic, much much fanfic, as you know if you have been reading regularly.  And the plot of this film kind of reminds me of it.  Ignoring the big central tragic story, and instead looking at a smaller story in which we can see our characters acting in different ways, and can imagine a happier ending, at least in this one small part.

 

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the story of Krishna’s niece who was engaged to Arjun’s son as children.  But, after the Pandavas were banished and lost everything, her parents tried to break that engagement and instead marry her to Duryodhana’s son Lakshman.  With the help of Krishna, the lovers are united in the end, and the parents accept the marriage.

I am pretty sure I saw the Telugu version, which means the main cast were Savitri as our heroine Sasirekha and ANR as Abhimanyu.  Another thing that is the same between this and Bahubali is the cross-language release, with about half the cast shared between Tamil and Telugu versions and half different.  I am a little disappointed that I didn’t see the Tamil version, just because it featured Rekha’s father and I am kind of curious to see him in something.  But otherwise, I am happy with Telugu, because I have this vague feeling that the Telugu is the “real” version.

Anyway, back to plot.  From what I can tell from wikipedia and other sources, the whole love story between Balarama’s daughter and Arjun’s son is semi-invented.  Maybe it was in some variations of the Mahabharata, or maybe not even that.  Which gave the filmmakers a lot of freedom to move things around as they wished.

Arjun was of course married to more than one woman.  Subhadra was the most famous of his non-Draupadi wives.  She fell in love with his picture and wished to marry him, but her brother Balaram wanted her to marry Duryodhana, his favorite pupil.  Subhadra’s other brother, Krishna, supported her desire for Arjun.  And encouraged Arjun to elope with her.  And thus we have so many many many Indian films with the plot of a) a heroine falling in love with a picture and b) the heroine’s brother being the one who encourages the elopement against the rest of the family.

This film, instead of doing the Subhadra-Arjun story, does a variation on it through the children.  Now it is Balaram’s daughter instead of his sister, and Arjun’s son instead of himself.  But Krishna is still there to help, and there is still an elopement.  And once again, the Kauravas are humiliated and the ultimate virtue of the Pandavas is reinforced.

What making it a variation allows the filmmakers to do is to keep the essential “feel” of the story, so that it is still familiar to the audience, while changing any details that don’t easily fit with their vision for the film.  For instance, unlike in the Subhadra-Arjun romance, the couple meets and romances before the elopement.

This romance is so sweet!  It starts with the usual childhood play time, happy together as children.  But unlike in other films where they never progress beyond that, where they are in love simply because they were engaged, we get to see this couple meet and fall in love again as adults!  Through Skype!

Well, through the magical version of Skype.  Which also serves as a bit of a character note.  Krishna (NTR) brings a magical chest which shows a vision of who you must love who is not with you, or who you most hate.  It let’s us see that Balaram still loves Duryodhana as his favorite student.  And that Krishna can sense the future danger and hates Shakuni, who will use his dice skill to punish the Pandavas.  And it shows that Savitri still loves ANR, seeing him in the chest image when she opens it.

A very nice variation on romantic “first meetings”.  It keeps that superficial level of the connection, a brief look and an exchange, where there is the magic of not knowing and wondering exactly what this person is like and dreaming of them.  But is also intimate.  Because it is a magic image from a chest, it means Savitri is allowed to look at it alone, and she and ANR can come face to face (sort of) without anyone else around or coming between them.

 

Before they actually meet, disaster!  Really really meta-disaster.  First, Krishna and his wife Rukmini are watching children putting on a play about Krishna’s childhood.  Which is fascinating!  Because, of course, these kinds of plays and songs are super common.  This movie itself is an example of that, a performance using the character of Krishna.  But here is Krishna himself watching the play!  And, not only that, in the middle of the play, Krishna pauses to watch a video!  Sort of.  He senses that there is trouble elsewhere, and suddenly pulls up an image of Draupadi being harassed by the Kauravas, and uses his powers to save her, giving her the never ending sari.  It’s picture in picture!

I say all of this kind of joking, Skype and picture-in-picture and all that, but it’s also a little serious.  The filmmakers linked in to essential human desires, the ability to see people at great distances, the ability to pause what you are currently watching and switch to something else as needed, it’s all something we want.  Technology has given it to us in the 60 years since this film came out, but the desire was already there 60 years ago.

And then they tied it back to simple desires which don’t need any magic at all.  Once Savitri and ANR meet for real, all that is needed is a boat on a moonlit night and a young couple in love.  And maybe a secret sneaking away to be together against family objections.  The Pandavas have now lost all their money and while Savitri’s family doesn’t want to risk offending Krishna by going openly against his close friends, or Subhadra by going against her husband, they are also not eager for ANR to spend much time alone with Savitri.  There aren’t many scenes of the young couple together, but they are enough to show us a magical feeling of young love, to make us believe that they have a fragile kind of magical connection to each other.  And that this connection should be cherished and protected.

But then they are separated and we go from magic being used to support young love to for trickery and uniting the lovers.  And we also go from any fear that the lovers might not come together to surety that they will.  The virtue of the Pandavas, and ANR as the son of the Pandavas, is such that it is recognized by the all powerful forest magician S.V. Ranga Rao who creates the titular “Maya Bazaar”.  Everything S.V. Ranga Rao does is an illusion (another meta statement on entertainment and film), but it is based on an essential truth, that the Pandavas will win in the end, because it is their destiny.  We can all relax and just know that.

In addition to S.V. Ranga Rao, ANR and Savitri also have Krishna on his side.  Krishna is the spirit of educated trickery, power and grace and the rules of royalty and society.  While S.V. Ranga Rao is wild unruly power, answering only to his own sense of right and wrong.  These two powers combine to assist those who are too noble and pure to try such behaviors on their own behalf.

And thus, when ANR and his mother (very interesting that we never actually see the Pandavas in this film) go into the forest, they meet S.V. Ranga Rao who is impressed with ANR’s bravery and skill, and has already been impressed with the Pandava family, and therefore offers to help him elope with Savitri from the very palace of the Kauravas where she has been brought for her marriage to Duryodhana’s son.

Let me hit pause here and talk about how the “real” characters, the main characters of the Mahabharata, are represented.  The Pandavas are entirely off screen.  The Kauravas are present, but the main focus is on the villainy of Shakuni, and the foolishness of Lakshman, Duryodhana’s son.  I think it is because this is supposed to be the light-hearted spin off happy tale from the Mahabharata.  If the “main” characters are too present, it would darken the film.  Except for Krishna, because he is always kind of light.

In addition, if the “main” characters were present, it would over-shadow this little story.  We don’t want Arjun or any of the others stealing focus from the simple love story we are watching.  And we also don’t want to feel that this is just one part of a larger story, we want it to feel complete when our couple unites and her parents give their approval.

And because the “real” characters feel so different when they do appear, I am breaking my usual rule and using their “character” names instead of the actors.  So, Krishna is Krishna, Balaram is Balaram, and so on.  But our young lovers, who bear very little resemblance to their mythological version, get to use their character names.

Back to the film!  S.V. Ranga Rao pretends to be Savitri, which allows Savitri to have a real fun time with her performance.  Changing her walk and manner to represent a wild forest chieftain, and then changing it again to be a wild forest chieftain pretending to be a young woman.

This is the part that clearly inspired Rajamouli, not in Bahubali, but in Yamadonga.  Mamta Mohandas similarly got to play a young woman, and then a powerful male God pretending to be a young woman.  And it was super fun!  Not like drag or making fun of the woman, or the man, but playing with our perceptions of femininity and masculinity.

It also allows for S.V. Ranga Rao to spread havoc through the palace, which allows the filmmakers to play with their special effects.  But remember, this is the Kauravas’ palace.  So when S.V. Ranga Rao uses his illusions here, there is an added meaning to it.  This whole place is illusion, an incorrect rule.  In the forest, where we see ANR and his mother and Savitri having their simple marriage ceremony, that is reality.

And in the end, it is the illusions that reveal the truth.  That Duryodhana’s son is a coward, that Shakuni is a liar and a cheat, that Savitri and ANR are true lovers.  Only through the use of illusions from S.V. Ranga Rao, and trickery from Krishna, can the truth fully be understood.

Which is a meta-statement on this whole film.  Yes, there is magic and special effects.  But it’s not about that.  It’s about the love story and the lovers who must be united, everything else is just to serve that truth.  The most magical moment of the film doesn’t use any magic at all, it’s the song that the lovers sing, Savitiri and ANR, then Krishna and Rukmini, and finally Balaram and Revati, as they row on a lake in the moonlight.  This is the real “magic”, everything else is “Maya”.

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23 thoughts on “Tuesday Telugu: I Saw Maya Bazaar! A Movie in Which Illusions Are There To Reveal Truths

  1. I’ve been meaning to watch this movie for a long time, but I just never got to it. Now that you wrote a review, it’s extra motivation for me to watch it 🙂

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  2. I’m so glad you finally watched Mayabazar. More so that you liked it. I hope you start getting a feel of why Telugu movies (even the regular ones) are synonymous with style, grandeur, a sense of fantasy. Also the Telugu industry pioneered in making mythological, socio-fantasy films during the 1950’s and 60’s. So many things to say!
    1. The actor playing Ghatotkacha is S V Ranga Rao arguably the greatest actor in Telugu cinema, not Rama Rao.
    2. The actor playing Krishna is of course, NTR or N T Rama Rao, our biggest star and one of our best actors. I know you called Krishna Krishna for this post, but it was a bit disappointing to see so less mention of NTR. He had played several mythological roles through out his career, so much so that to the Telugu speaking people, NTR IS Rama and Krishna.
    3. Ghatotkacha was born to Bhima and Hidimbi, even before the Pandavas met Draupadi. So the Pandavas were his father figures, Abhimanyu was his cousin. So it made sense for Krishna to advise Abhimanyu to seek his kin for help. Ghatotkacha inherited his mother’s tribal kingdom and like Abhimanyu died during Kurukshetra.
    4. The Pandavas do not appear in this film. Even though it is their adventures that shape the course of the stories. The reason being that most of the big names in the industry (NTR, ANR, S V Ranga Rao, Relangi who played Duryodhana’s son Lakshmana) were already cast and like you the makers thought that their presence would overshadow the rest of the lightness in the film. It also made sense because, this film happens near Dwaraka, the city that Balarama and Krishna ruled during the timeline of the Pandavas’ exile. And the Pandavas were nowhere near there.
    5. This film is truly one hell of an ensemble. Ghatotkacha is the one doing all heroic things, but he doesn’t even appear until the second half. Krishna is the master mind, but it is not his story to tell. Savithri does wonderful job as Ghatotkacha pretending to be Sasirekha. The lovers are who that drive the movie. Even Relangi shines as the idiot Lakshmana tormented by Ghatotkacha-Sasirekha. The supporting cast just fit like a glove, with not a single wrong note.
    6. And Yes to the technology with Skype and lie detectors. The song Lahiri Lahiri Lahirilo was shot in broad daylight with some brilliant lighting by Marcus Bartley to create the illusion of moonlight, apparently first of its kind. My dad watched the first Harry Potter movie with us and when we were kids and was so underwhelmed. (No offence to HP fans) Because his generation already had Mayabazar and all those gems growing up.
    Speaking of those gems, if you are still hung over on Telugu fantasy films, I recommend Narathanashala (based on an incoginto period of Pandavas’ exile starring again NTR, Savithri, SV Ranga Rao and Relangi), Pathala Bhairavi (starring NTR and S V Ranga Rao) and Dana Veera Sura Karna (Mahabharata from Karna’s POV. A one man show by NTR who plays three roles – Krishna, Duryodhana and the titular Karna and he also directed the movie.)

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    • Thank you so much for the information! As you know, I am a bit wandering in the wilderness with Telugu films, I have barely managed to get a grasp on like 5% of what is happening in the modern day ones, and I have no idea about the classics.

      On Tue, Jun 6, 2017 at 11:45 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Margaret, I am very happy to see Maya Bazaar through your mind. Yes, it is amazing that the movie makers could conceive of skype and lie detector kind of technologies 60 years ago. The special effects in the movie are breathtaking by the standards of 1957.

    95 % of the actors in both language versions are Telugu people. Only Gemini Ganesan and few small actors are Tamil people. So it is better to watch in Telugu version.

    I hope you enjoyed the no-talkie dance of Mohini Bhasmasura. In this episode a demon gets a boon from Shiva that he can reduce anybody into ashes by placing his hand on their head. Then when this demon tries to reduce Shiva into ashes, Lord Vishnu takes the form of Mohini, challenges Bhasmasura to dance before she can marry him, and reduce him into ashes because he puts his hand on his own head. That dance was beautifully choreographed.

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  4. The name of magic chest is ‘priyadarsini’ which only shows the people or things that are liked most. Not those that are hated.

    In fact Krishna never hates Shakuni or anybody else. As per Hindu thought Krishna is avatar of Lord Vishnu and in control of everything. In this movie people around Krishna wonder as to why he likes Shakuni. But we audience know that Krishna is the one who makes Mahabharata move forward through Shakuni. In all movies and plays Krishna always keeps smiling even in tough times because this entire universe is his magic show (maya bazaar). This point is stressed in the charioteer’s song (the song he sings while escorting ANR to forest) and again in the end in a small appraisal note sung by S.V. Ranga Rao.

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    • that’s really interesting, the idea that Krishna never hates anyone, and even Shakuni is someone he loves. Obviously, I missed that entirely.

      On Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 12:54 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. I think I said this before when you first mentioned Maya Bazaar, but the film is based on a very famous stage play (which were the prime forms of entertainment before movies came along), called Sasirekha Parinayam (The Marriage of Sasirekha). In fact, I think there was an earlier movie with that title, based on the play, but this version is the one that became the gold standard.

    I don’t know why people call films based on Indian religious texts “mythological” or “fantasy”. If you wouldn’t apply those terms to Cecil de Mille’s Biblical epics, you shouldn’t use them for these films, either.

    Films like Patalabhairavi are in the tradition of folk tales, with elements of magic, etc.

    Just a small point, but Ghatokacha, being a son of Bheema, is also a son to all the Pandavas, and Abhimanyu is his “brother” (cousin brother). I am mentioning this because it is important to realize how much stronger and closer are the family ties are than the words “father figures” and “cousin” imply.

    I’m glad you enjoyed this, Margaret, but I wish you could have seen it before seeing either of the Bahubali films, as now you are seeing it through that lens too much (a little like your experience of Mirchi. 🙂 )

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    • If it helps, I would apply those terms to Cecil B DeMille’s religious epics. Ben-Hur (at least, one version of it) and The Robe both came out around the same time as Maya Bazaar and were a similar mixture of taking place during the time and place of Christ, but following other stories which allowed the filmmakers to do their own thing. They sold tickets to church groups and others who were coming for the mythological aspects, and to other audience members who felt “familiar” with the setting through reading their bible, and to just regular filmgoers who wanted to see a spectacle.

      I wish I had seen it before Bahubali too! I always like to watching things in chronological order, so I can see how ideas develop. But it’s too late now.

      On Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 1:56 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • But I wasn’t talking about Ben Hur, or The Robe, or even Spartacus — they were all fictionalized stories which incorporated some religious elements. Would you apply that term to The Ten Commandments?

        A lot of people in India think that “mythological” or “mythology” means “religious.” I was quite shocked when I discovered that, just as they were quite shocked when I explained the meanings of those words. You’re so concerned about the effects of colonization otherwise; I’m surprised that you don’t see that this is just an extension of that policy. I don’t even like the word “religious”, because what people follow in India isn’t even a “religion” in the way that term is used for the three Abrahamic religions. But this discussion is out of scope here. That’s why I prefer the term “puranic” — i.e., based on the puranas; and how much of fact or fiction is in those is up to the individual to decide.

        But I specifically object to the word “fantasy” applied to something like the Mahabharata or Ramayana. That’s a complete misrepresentation, IMO. Something like Yamadonga can be called fantasy (or “socio fantasy”) as I’ve seen it called on many blogs. That’s because it’s primarily a story in contemporary time and place, with some other-ordly elements thrown in via the interaction with Yama Loka. I don’t know if I’d apply that term to the divine protection elements. Those I would call religious. But then the makers mixed those two types of elements very thoroughly in the climax, so that it becomes hard to tell which is which.

        I really don’t understand why the Bahubali films are called fantasy films at all. There’s absolutely no fantasy or religious element to them at all. Everything is accomplished by human endeavor by human beings. No other factor plays a role in driving the story forward.

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  6. Margaret, my last two comments might be confusing because I just realized that those two scenes are deleted in the coloured version.

    In the below song the charioteer sings that all things (either good or bad) that happen (to hero and heroine) are Krishna’s maya or leela (divine play).

    Just before the below dance starts the magician explains the morale that one should not give boons to bad people otherwise they will get into trouble (indicating the word given by Balarama to get his daughter married to Duryodhana’s son).

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  7. I love Vivah bhojanambu. My little sister loves it even more:). I have wanted to watch the movie since forever, but don’t know where to get it. Is it available online?

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    • Maya Bazaar colorized version is on youtube (the makers weren’t interested in making money, just in making it available to as many people as wanted to see it). I’m not sure if the black and white version is also there; it might be.

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  8. I didn’t like this movie as much as I wanted to. Perhaps because I watched it’s stage play with all special effects before I watched movie. The stage play blew me away and I loved it. It was surabhi (the stage play company) trademark play.

    Also, Margaret try to watch Lavakusha. That movie and Patiala bhairavi, are the real gem of Telugu film industry.

    Lavakusha, I don’t know how many times, but made me cry a lot. It illustrates husband-wife relationship and how intricate dharma plays a role in it, with an epic example of Rama and sita. Be sure to check it out.

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  9. Glad you finally watched it. I should point out Ghatothkacha is played by the great S.V. Ranga Rao, not S.V. Rama Rao. Perhaps you got his name mixed up with N.T. Rama Rao? S.V. Ranga Rao was one of the most iconic actors in Telugu cinema, along with NTR, ANR, Savitri and Relangi who played Duryodhan’s son in this movie. And also Suryakantham who played Hidimbi (S.V.Ranga Rao’s mother) and CSR who played Shakuni…a great ensemble cast.

    Mayabazar was actually voted as the best Telugu movie ever made in a major poll conducted a couple of years ago. By a very large margin too. It’s still universally loved by critics, industry people and the general public as well which is very rare.

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    • You are the second or 3rd person who has pointed out that typo, I definitely need to fix it! And thank you!

      On Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 4:14 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  10. Pingback: Starter Kit for Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam Films | dontcallitbollywood

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