What more could be said of a movie that is unequivocally hailed as the best ever produced by the telugu film industry? What more could be written about a movie that has been dissected every which way and continued to be done so by every generation that discovers and experiences it for the very first time? Movies, which are often looked down as cheap imitations of arts and literature, seldom get proudly passed down generations as fond family heirlooms. Untouched by the passage of time and unaffected by the constantly changing standards in appreciation, some movies transcend time, space and taste, showcasing the best of collaboration of great individual talents. And sizing up the appreciation of such movies, in terms of records and statistics, inflated or otherwise, as though fondness and likability can only measure up to so much, can never do justice to their real appeal. They become part and parcel of the culture, the ethos and answer to the intelligence and the sensibilities of those times. Discussions about percentages of art and entertainment, ratios of class to mass do not apply to these movies. After all how many really understood the meaning of the words "Sankara gaLa nigaLamu, SankaraabharaNamu", when being swayed away by the great lyrical beauty and value of those songs. Which clearly indicates, after a certain point, words are defeated when expressing enjoyment, immersion and satisfaction. To put it simply, in the great words of Pingali Nagendra Rao 'rasa paTTulO tarkam kooDadu'.
From the title itself, K.V.Reddy made his intentions quite clear - this is not an entirely original piece of art, but just a fun and an entertaining one. The title is not an even a telugu word to start with (it is Persian), and the theme was borrowed from a marathi stage play, which itself was based on a fictional setting (the Abhimanya-Sasirekha wedding is a wishful yarn, as there never was a Sasirekha character in Mahabharata). Reddy's focus was entirely on creating a fun movie, an entertaining one, and he never wavered from that path, even if it meant taking great liberties with the characters of the book, that is revered as "panchama vaedam". In his version, Revathi could be a heartless mother, Lakshamana Kumara, a gutless buffoon, Dussaasana, a witless yes-man, and Balarama, a thoughtless person with weakness for sycophancy ('mukkOpaaniki mukhasthuti viruguDu unDanae undi kadaa'). Yet all these creative licenses serve the greater good of creating the proper platform, where the interaction between these characters elicit howls of laughter. Whoever said 'everything is fair (only) in love and war' didn't know a thing about comedy or humor. What K.V.Reddy made, probably unknowingly, is the first (and the last) spoof movie on the sacred book. Here characters revel in their extremes and exaggerations, the basis for any spoof. And yet, the mastery of Reddy is evident in how he pulls back the tone of each scene, without letting them wander into the 'ridicule' territory. Just after mocking Rukmini and Sri Krishna for engaging in overt romantic gestures ('chinna pillaku mallae ee rukmiNiki inkaa ee noukaa vihaaraaly aemiTanDi'), Reddy sets up for probably what is the single most funny scene in the entire movie - a romantic duet between a cheerful Balarama and a bashful Revathi (and the expressions of Chaya Devi, with a delightful mix of excitement and embarassment, is an absolute treat). The script is a great exercise of restraint (which is an absolute must for a comedy), timing (knowing when to end the sequence and not allow it to drag on), pitch (how high can the performance to) and economy (look at the tactful way of introducing the characters (priyadarSani sequence) and carrying on with the exposition (mayasabha, maayaa joodam, vastraapaharaNam etc). Ultimately herding through the talents off the screen and on it, into delivering something that was their personal best, K.V.Reddy can genuinely lay claim to the vanity credit 'A film by...", as it truly is.
It is interesting to note how none of the stalwarts (NTR, ANR, SVR) have more than 15-20 minutes of screen time in a movie that is around 3 hours long, and the one that hogs most of the time, is surprisingly, CSR, who forms the spine of the movie on the male front, cajoling Balarama, coaxing Duryodhana, baby-sitting Lakshamana Kumara and at times, even out-witting Sri Krishna. And CSR glides through each role with great panache. His unique voice and dialogue delivery enables him to swtich from one mood to another effortlessly, hitting the right note every single time. In a star studded cast, Savithri shines long and bright. What CSR does with his voice, Savithri does it with her eyes. The role of Sasirekha goes through the entire gamut of emotions, from childish to innocent, from pathos to playfulness. And it is quite evident that she was enjoying herself led away by the variations of emotions. If the first half is devoted to the more restrained Savithri, the second half pulls out all the stops on her performance. To sample, the little bit, in the song 'aha na peLLi anTa', right when the male voice ends with 'aTu tantaam, iTu tantaam, anne tantaam, sa ni da pa ma ga ri sa, taaLi kaTTa vacchu nanTa', her 'ishTa sakhi' maina, nudges her to not get carried away by the 'ghatOthkacha' in her, the subtle change is Savithri's body language to convey the switch and continue the song like normal Sasirekha, speaks volumes of her acting capabilities. And then the famous riff between Sasirekha and Sakuni, right before the 'sundari neevanTi divya swaroopam' song, where CSR and Savithri almost try to outdo each other - Savithri being boisterous and CSR being mysterious - is a visual feast ending with the perfect punchline 'SaSiraekhaa, kanikeTTu aemanna naerchindaa, laeka naa kannu aemannaa chedirindaa ani'.
'Mayabazaar' is as much K.V.Reddy's mastery, as much as it is Pingali Nagendra Rao's word wizadry. Just imagine how hard it is to come up with just a single word of phrase that becomes a part of colloquy, and now imagine the skill of the writer to come with a movie full of quotable quotes, words and phrases. The beauty of the dialogues is largely due to the fact that, despite the mythological setitng, the parlance is strictly conversational in style ('manishulaiitae aem tinTaarO cheppi chaavenDehe'), making them even more accessible. Be it the sarcasm that drips out of the banter between Sri Krishna Sakuni, or the valor that pours of Abhimanya's every other word, or the larger than life speak of Ghatothkacha's statemetns, Pingali's pen shines through. Ultimately the question why is this movie so beloved, even after all these years, remains a tough one to answer. There have been many movies before and since, that have been just as popular during their times. But why is it that the affinity to this movies remains strong through all this time and generations. It cannot just be because it is a funny and an entertaining one. 'Missamma' was equally funny, if not more, 'Srivaariki Premalekha' is even funnier, hands down. Probably, the mythological roots of the movie made it timeless and ageless, just as the revered mythologies themselves. The lighthearted frothiness makes it for easy consumption. The words and the songs just delectable. The talents that have come together for the movie remain the best ever assembled and the fact that they came together in making the best movie ever made is one that is rightfully for the history books. And in the end, the strong performances of just about every other character causes one to quip
tinTae gaarelae tinaali
vinTae bharatamae vinaali
choostae maayaabazaarae chooDaali
Remember the last time when a 1950's movie played in a movie theater, except when it wasn't a Sivaraatri or other 'wake up all the night' occasion? Sadly, this tradition left the movie houses during the 90s, and thanks to the current marketplace movie economics and the satellite TV, the tradition is lost forever never to return....unless....unless...this is where the new producers, who have taken upon the task of presenting the old glorious movie on a whole a new palette, deserve all the praise, applause, and importantly, returns. It is definitely a gamble trying to market an outdated product. But it is definitely smart precisely for the same reason - that, presented in the new format, the movie certainly has the pull to lure the audiences into the theater, and hence, the colorization, the widescreen format and the improved sound. Enough to say that the colorization looks splendid on the screen. The science behind this process has taken firm root in the past few years, and the result shows. The skin tones are pretty realistic, the ornaments truly glittering, and the colors of the customers, very easy on the eyes. Though the process has stepped over some of the contrasting lighting schemes of the original monochromatic feature, particularly in the Balarama-Subhadra confrontation sequence, Sakuni's confession in the climax, the trade off appears fair, including, in the litmus test sequence for the process, the 'laahiri laahiri' song.
Though the decision to present it in the widescreen appears just from the business and the aesthetics standpoints, the actual rendering didn't seem to translate well on the big screen. The approach to zoom into the original 4:3 frame and then project it on a 16:9 widescreen plate, cut out a lot of information, particularly in the bottom portion of the frame. Remember the sequence when Ghatothkacha lands of a mountain, during his spar with Abhimanyu, and a rock falls down on his impact (great attention to detail by K.V.Reddy and Marcus Bartley, the photographer), or the 'tamboolam' sequence on the 'ratna gimbaLi'. Though it is understandeable that blowing up a 4:3 frame into a 16:9 would simply stretch the image and distort the picture, a little digital correction would have rectified this glaring mistake.
Next, the sound. The only reason to change the original Mono soundtrack to a DTS stream better be because of loss of quality of the original. Otherwise, it makes no sense butchering the original track with this new orchestration, and more so with much inferior, flat-sounding keyboards drowning out the thunderous, resonating, original soundtrack. Having gone through all these pains to restore the video, the producers should have gone the extra mile and recorded a new track with live orchestra instead of the soul-less studio sounds. The same goes with the decision to cut out majority of the poems in the movie. If the decision was made purely for creative reasons, and not for any technical ones, it makes no sense to dust up the movie to suit the palate of the today's tastes. If one has made the decision to buy the ticket and walk into the theater, there is no reason to assume that he might like only parts of it, only because of what is perceived (wrongly) as generational attitude. Again, all this is nitpicking, like scolding a kid who scored 90/100, as to why he missed out on the other10.
Attempts as these are to be appreciated, AND ATTENDED IN FULL NUMBERS, as this more than revisting a movie, this is preserving our culture.
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No Country for Old Men
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Chak De India!
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Simpsons Movie
Lage Raho Munnabhai
The Da Vinci Code
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Mughal E Azam
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer