There is always so much debate about whether classic B&W films should be colourised. Opinion does vary depending on how well the colour is handled. However, don’t hate us; we do think Mayabazar is beautiful in colour. It is such a jewel of a film, and the pastel and gold palette really suits the mythological genre. It’s reminiscent of religious themed calendars and colourful drawings of gods and their consorts. The pretty, stylised effect is perfect in this instance, and it is appropriately gaudy without being garish. It was also a huge relief to see this classic and find that the reputation is more than deserved, and to actually love it. As soon as we mention we love Telugu films, one of the first recommendations of a “must-see” film is always Mayabazar , and we are grateful to all the people who kept bringing this to our attention.
Although the story itself is entirely fictional, it is based on characters from the Mahabharata.
Sasirekha and Abhimanyu have been meant for each other since their childhood. Each family understands this, and the children grow up secure in knowing who their future life partner is. While they are separated, Sasirekha is given a beautiful gold box and told to open it when she is alone. When she does this, she sees her Abhimanyu and they warble their love in a pretty song.
A discordant note emerges when Revathi looks into the mirror and sees not a loved one, but only jewels and riches. This weakness and greed creates a fissure in the happiness of this family and allows Revathi to be exploited by those who do not want to see the Pandavas regain their ascendancy. This sequence was beautifully filmed and served to show the audience the inner desires of each character who looked into the mirror in a pointed yet aesthetic way – years ahead in time and light years ahead in style from Harry Potter!
Savitri is a joy to watch as Sasirekha – a sassy princess indeed, who knows what she wants. When Sasirekha is spirited away, and impersonated by jovial demon Ghatotkacha (S.V Ranga Rao) who has vowed to stop her forced marriage, Savitri’s performance is a delight. Her body language reflects the much heavier build and demeanour of the demon, and she toys with the unsuspecting family and servants.
S.V. Ranga Rao is wonderfully theatrical and hammy, and amuses along with his army of loony rakshasas. Allu Ramalingaiah does a great line in slapstick. The comedy track is actually funny and integrated with the narrative. A highlight would have to be Ghatotkacha’s merry song as he scoffs down the entire wedding feast.
And how about those special effects? The dire (but kind of awesome) Hindi film Ajooba ( reviewed by the excellent Beth) is one of our guilty pleasures, mainly because of the appallingly not-very-special effects. It should seriously embarrass some modern film makers to see the quality of visuals in this 1957 masterpiece. The tricks played by the magician and the Rakshas demons on Shastri and Sharma did appear really magical and would have been amazing for cinema audiences in the fifties.
And as befits a film involving Krishna, love is in the air everywhere you look around! Couples romance, fight, scheme and gossip all under the watchful and understanding eye of the gently amused Krishna. He even gets to watch a dance based on his own childhood, enjoying the scenes with all the tolerance and affection he shows for his loved ones. His kindness and strength underpin the romance and squabbling, as he teaches a lesson to wrongdoers, and supports the Pandavas who are being unfairly treated.
And he’s funny. We don’t get a lot of humour from God in Christian literature and film and it was surprising and touching to see a much more personal relationship with the deities.
Krishna is a participant as well as an observer during the lovely romantic scenes where all three couples take to the lake on a beautiful moonlit night. Although Temple, as a former rower, was rather concerned for their welfare as the boat did appear to get lower and lower in the water.
Another delight in Mayabazar is seeing the forefathers of so many of today’s stars. N.T.Rama Rao is charismatic and appealing as Krishna. He exudes calm amusement, drops a few excellent oneliners, and generally conveys a mischievous but essentially good persona. ANR is suitably heroic as Abhimanyu. Allu Ramalingaiah is clearly very comfortable with his comic turn, and makes the most of his time on screen.
The music is beautiful, the jokes are funny, the acting is brilliant and charismatic, and it is so light hearted – not what we expected from a story woven around the Mahabharata.
Heather says: A true classic. I can see why this is such a loved film. It features all the Telugu film industry greats of the time and it was a privilege to be able to watch an evenly paced movie with incredible performances by all the actors. Such a classic story and with all the magical twists it seemed totally new and very special. It was also a real plus to be able to see actors such as NTR Rao, ANR, etc and relate them to their children and grandchildren who are setting screens alight today. I will definitely keep an eye out for more from these actors and hunt down more Telugu ‘classics’ to watch. The colourisation added another dimension, although the black and white version is just as watchable. A full five stars for this timeless classic.
Temple says: I can see why this film is so well loved by generations of movie audiences. The production values and the performances are just amazing, and the songs are beautiful and melodic. Its quite a privilege to be able to watch so many of the greats of an era appear in a work of this calibre. I had a preconception that the mythological genre might be a bit heavy going or ponderous, but this film just sparkles in so many ways. The colourisation is quite deft in my opinion, and highlights the richness of the costumes and sets, creating a truly opulent and fantastical look to the film. NTR was a revelation as Krishna, Savitri steals every scene she is in, and S.V. Ranga Rao is hilarious. The DVD re-release comes in a 2 DVD pack, and includes both the colourised version and the original B&W. I highly recommend it! This gets 5 stars!