Monday, April 2, 2018


Mayabazar; fantasy, India, 1957; D: Kadiri Venkata Reddy, S: S. V. Ranga Rao, Savitri, Akkineni Nageswara Rao, N. T. Rama Rao, Gummadi Venkateswara Rao, Chilakalapudi Seeta Rama Anjaneyulu

Ancient India. Princess Sasirekha is in love with Abhimanyu, but their relationship is under trouble: uncle Shakuni from the Kaurava clan cheats in a game of dice, thereby tricking the Pandavas and stealing their fortune. This gives Shakuni the power to blackmail Balarama into giving his daughter Sasirekha to the Kauravas, specifically to Duryodhana's son Lakshmana Kumara. However, Krishna decides to subtly intervene to save the couple: he redirects a carriage driving Abhimanyu into a forest where he meets Ghatotkacha. Using his magical powers, Ghatotkacha takes Sasirekha out of Kauravas palace, and instead takes her exact form to cause mischief before the wedding. Pretending to be Sasirekha, Ghatotkacha eats all their food and scares off Kumara. By standing on a magical box, Shakuni tells the truth about his trechery, and thus Ghatotkacha banishes him and the Kauravas by tying him up in a carpet, while the real Sasirekha and Abhimanyu marry.

One of the most popular and beloved Indian films of the 20th century, filmed in both a Telugu and Tamil version, "Mayabazar" feels a little dated and stiff by today's standards, thereby losing a part of its initial charm. With a running time of three hours, the movie is definitely overstretched, and it takes too long until it finally sets up its first act, yet the basic story is actually simple—a couple is in love, but feindish people want to trick the girl's family into giving her to them—whereas once the hilarious genie-like Ghatotkacha shows up (brilliant S. V. Ranga Rao), some 60 minutes into the film, and decides to advance into a patron of the couple and help them out, the whole story rises up a level higher thanks to humor that was inserted into it. The special and visual effects seem modest and scarce compared to modern movies, yet the viewers should still commend the authors for the effort of trying them out, since part of them turned out solid (the "path of fire" that goes through the forest to encompass the carriage; Abhimanyu shoots an arrow and it hits and stops a club in the mid air that Ghatotkatcha threw at him from a hill...) whereas at least one idea achieved cult status in India: a magical box whose lid can be opened to display a screen from the inside, and show images of a given person, which is today jokingly referred to as the "first example of a laptop". The highlight is the last quarter of the film, in which Ghatotkacha changes his shape into Princess Sasirekha (!) in order to cause mischief as her double and stop the forced-arranged wedding: some wonderful comical moments include (the fake) Sasirekha suddenly revealing hairy feet, singing in a deep, crispy male voice, causing all the maids around to look at "her", until "she" coughs and corrects it back to "her" feminine voice; Kumara taking the veil down to see "Sasirekha's" face, but "she" just makes a grimace with her eyes and sticks out her tongue; "Sasirekha" turning her face into a tiger to scare Kumara off or squeezing his hand in a handshake. The actress playing her, Savitri, is amazing, especially in this "mischievous" segment. "Mayabazar" sometimes feels rushed, naive and it takes very long until it gets to the good parts, yet its sincere messages about true love and assistance still ring true today.


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