Maya Bazaar. It’s a movie that most middle class people from Tamil Nadu and Andhra of my generation would have seen – though it was made atleast a decade before most of us were born. A movie that would have rerun in several theatres that did not have the new fangled airconditioning and it didn’t matter.
The movie was made at a time when filmmakers weren’t ashamed to mine Indian mythology and folktales for story, when everyday language in the mouths of Gods and mythical warriors didn’t sound strange or constrained.
Mayabazaar is the movie version of Sasirekha Parinayam, the story in which Abhimanyu marries Balarama’s daughter, Sasirekha. It’s not there in the original Mahabaratha, if such a thing exists. It takes place during Vana Parva, when the Pandavas and Draupadi were in their 12 years of exile in the forests. Arjuna sends Abhimanyu and Subhadra to Dwarka, to stay with Krishna and Balarama.
Now Abhi and Sashi have had the hots for each other since they were kiddies – and this was regarded as right and proper cousinly behaviour in the Tretha Yuga and earlier. The whole Athai magan/Maaman Magal bit has probably beaten to death in Tamil films as well, making it Kali thing. And Balarama is indulgent – afterall, there’s no denying that Arjuna was a badass and Abhimanyu had already shown himself to be a badbutt.
The game of dice happens, and the Pandavas are now banishees, living on nuts and berries and the meat of whatever animals they snag. Balarama, like most Indian dads wants to deliver his daughter’s defloration to the wealthy and powerful, and wealth and power now point due Hastinapuri. His point of view is reinforced by his wife, Revathy (played here with bug eyed bitchiness by Chaya Devi) which ends in Abhimanyu throwing a tantrum and dragging his mum off to join his father and uncles in exile.
In steps NTR – or Krishna – who has a quiet word with the charioteer, instructing him to take the scenic route, via Abhi’s cousins jungle territory. And the charioteer does that and gets to sing a song to Krishna’s inscrutable omniscience as a perk.
Ghatothkachas forces – would loosely be translated as imps and goblins – given that they don’t seem very fearsome – despite some impressive stick on mustaches are busy at school – it’s roll call time, even for Rakshasas – and their Asuraguru seems to be having some trouble with a couple of extra dim imps called Jambu and Ambu - or is it Jambu and Shambu. In the background is a huge drum - and halfway through the gurus instruction, it starts beating. And SVR appears - crowned and jeweled and impressively mustached, singing a song to his own awesomeness - Ghatothkacha's awesomeness, that is. I can almost hear the hooting and whistling in the theatre when this happens
The song ends and Rakshasa radar kicks in - "Who is that trip trapping through my forest", he asks, and sends some of his flunkies to apprehend the intruders. His guys don't do much though, just boo at Abhminayu and Subhadra from behind the trees, more like Casper and the ghostly trio than, say, Duriel or Uldred. One of them conjures up a wall with badly painted demon grafitti, but Abhi just blasts through it. Ghat's curiosity is piqued, and he decides to deal with this boisterous balaka personally.
He lands up in the clouds, and praises Abhi for being a worthy rival and asks for name, rank and serial number. But Abhi is still in a huff and he refuses. The enraged Ghats then engages Abs in a 1957 special effects battle - which begins with A shooting everything G throws at him - lots of cutlery, the occasional mace. G decides this foe is worth a prayer - so he prays for and gets a special mace which he flings at A. Abhimanyu crumples.
Now, Subhadra goes into Mama Bear mode, and gives Ghatothkacha, not only her name and rank, but her entire family history - for what seems like fifteen minutes, vowing to smite the smiter with her mad archery skillz, which have rubbed off on her as a result of her constant rubbing against Arjuna. Ghatothkacha is aghast, and falls at her feet, slapping the ground thrice, screaming "Auntie". Auntie forgives him, they revive Abhimanyu and they go home. Ghatothkacha's home. There Abhimanyu and Subhadra tell Ghat and Ghat's mom, Hidimbi (You know shes a Rakshasi because she's wearing fur and feathers) all about Big Brother's badness. Ghat tells them not to worry, and that he will handle it.
The rest of the movie, of course, is how he handles it. There is no need to go into it further - as most people who have seen the film remember either this
The movie is awesome. And it radiates fun. You get the feeling that the cast was having fun making it, the crew had fun filming it and audiences came away filled with a warm glow of happiness.
The casts, in both Tamil and Telugu are perfection. Take Savithri, for example – someone who has always been identified with weepies – holds her own. Sambar and ANR are good, though both seem to take their participation in the Ridiculous Little Moustache Stakes very seriously. There’s Thangavelu/Relangi doing Lakshmanakumara, Duryodhana’s son.
NTR steals every scene he is in, with just a smug smile and an occasional word. For NTR, it must have been a second skin, considering the number of avatars of Vishnu he has played through the years. The ultimate Xanatos Speedchess Masters never have to do much, because everything is going as planned.
But ultimately, the movie belongs to Ranga Rao. SVR is a big man, he towers over the rest of the cast. As one of the pioneers of underplaying roles in an actors universe of gigantic hams, and an actor who could invest more meaning into the simple act of taking his spectacles off and cleaning them than any scenery chewing Sivaji Ganesan speech, he romps through his role with undisguised glee, making you count the seconds between appearances
And theres also this.
The song begins with Abhimanyu and Sasirekha. When a guard spies them rowing and warns Balarama, Krishna and Rukmini drive the young couple off and take their place. When Balarama and Revathy come to the lake to catch the young couple, they find a not so yound couple just getting out of the boat. Revathy sniffs about people not acting their age, but Ballu’s in the mood for love, and before you know it, the ostensible heavies of the movie are in the boat, completing the song’s last chorus.
There’s so much to like about this movie – Ghantasala’s music, Marcus Bartley’s cinematography – the Aha Inba Nilavinile/Laahiri Laahiri was shot on location – in, of all places, Ennore reservoir in broad daylight.
It’s not canon, of course. But it’s good fan fic. And I’m glad, as one who has loved these stories since when I was a kid, to see variations, using those beloved characters. There’s Chithra Devi Divakaruni’s fanfic of the love affair between Draupadi and Karna. Vasudevan Nair’s retelling through Bhima’s eyes. Who knows, maybe there will even be a telling of the illicit love affair between those two notorious pussy hounds, Krishna and Arjuna?
But thats for later. Now, I look at the picture of Ranga Rao and find myself with a huge grin on my face