Mayabazar (1957) – The Pride of Telugu Cinema
A Complete Technical Analysis
Part – I
Mayabazar said to be one of the greatest films ever made in Telugu cinema. This story “Sasirekha Parinayam (Sasirekha Wedding)” has been made into a film in several other languages before it was made in Telugu in the year 1957 by K.V. Reddy. Baburao Painter made it thrice as the silent film in 1919, 1921 and 1923. First talkie version of this story was made in Hindi by Nanubhai Vakil in 1932. R. Padmanabhan made this in Tamil in 1935. Later P.V. Das brought it to Telugu cinema. Though it was made several times, Telugu Mayabazar is considered as the greatest film in terms of directorial and technical aspects. This film has paved the way to a new technological advancement in Telugu cinemas. Why is this film considered great? What made this film great?
As everyone knows what the story of the film, let us explore the direction skills and technicalities as Mayabazar is considered a classic of Telugu cinema, particularly in its use of technology.
K.V. Reddy, one of the pioneers of Telugu Cinema, who is known for his works in folklore, social and fantasy films. He introduced new techniques of filmmaking into Telugu cinema. Before Mayabazar, he made Pathalabhairavi and Donga Ramudu which became blockbusters. His film Donga Ramudu is included in the curriculum of Film and Television Institute of India, Pune.
Through Mayabazar, K.V. Reddy has presented all the characters of Epic Mahabharata as mortals very close to common human life. Pingali Nagendra Rao and Kadiri Venkata Reddy writing skills lie in adapting and creating a highly imaginative drama with the new non-existed mythological character Sasirekha and interchanging her role with Ghatothkacha for a marriage sequence. Reddy made the ascent of Mahabharata period very funny. The dialogues and ascent never go out of the context yet seem jolly and playful. He has used many new words in a folk ascent for Ghatothkacha and his tribe. This is for the first time in Telugu cinema presenting a part of epic as a hilarious comedy. K.V. Reddy’s ability to foresee the future technological advancement has made him use a modern concept “Priyadarshini” (Video chat box alike Skype) in one of the scenes.
K.V. Reddy went on to shoot this magnum opus on 30 large sets and miniature sets with a huge star cast comprising NTR, ANR, SVR, Savitri, Gummadi, Relangi and Suryakantham etc. He took one year for pre-production and selection of the cast. Using miniature, stop motion and editing techniques Reddy has created a never before visual wonders on screen at that time.
Reddy played this drama without showing any of the Pandavas in the film. He has used only names but created that feel of their existence in the film.
It is in the year 1957 when this film was made. Anyone could only expect the static camera angles with wide angle shots comprising very less close up’s. But this film has a completely different style of camera work. It is observed that the camera tracks in and out, slide smoothly along with the characters movement. Sometimes it is very difficult to figure out from where the track was laid for implementing that particular shot. The camera always keeps on moving from place to place according to the movement of the characters, unlike any old films. The camera movement especially when Shakuni explains the power of his dice to Kauravas, a small earthquake occurs. These shots looked so natural with a simple side track and random camera movement. They have used several close-up shots which were framed beautifully by the Anglo-Indian Cinematographer Marcus Bartley. Several camera movements were repeatedly used in the same way in the same scene.
Priyadarshini – The Video chat box like Skype:
This is a famous scene in the film which has mesmerised audience those days where this type of technology has not been invented yet. Lord Krishna gives Sasirekha a box sent by Abhimanyu. He tells her to open the box privately in her room. When she opens the box she finds Abhimanyu singing song on the screen. This is just like the video chat and the laptops we are using in the present generation. So how did they do this?
If observed critically the box shots which show Abhimanyu on screen are shown separately as a close-up shot in only one angle. The frame stands still and the inner screen has a motion. So it has become easy for them to insert the Abhimanyu shot into the screen of the box. This seems to be done using Matte Painting technique. Matte is a mask which is used to cover some part of an image in the film and allow another to get substituted on the covered part combining both to become one. Mattes are used in photography or special effects filmmaking to combine two or more image elements into a single final image. First, the frame with a mask covered on the screen of the box is exposed on the film and later the masked portion is exposed on the same film frames masking the already exposed part of the film. This combines two different images onto one frame and the final image looks composited. This is said to be done in this process referring to the technology available at that time. Later years the same was done using Compositing, Chroma keying, Rotoscoping and Motion control techniques etc.
For other references on how matte technique works. Refer to this below video which shows the process of Matte Painting Technique in filmmaking.
The Mirror Illusion:
When Sasi and Abhimanyu were parted, there comes a song in the pangs of separation between the lovers. At a point, Sasi comes into her bedroom from the balcony. As soon as she crosses the edge of the big mirror, instead of her reflection, she sees Abhimanyu singing the song. So how did they do this?
Here we can assume that it can be a Matte technique but a simple mistake made by the filmmakers reveals that it is nothing but a creative arrangement of the set properties creating an illusion of a mirror reflection. The shot is a steady shot. There are two lights illuminating the scene from out of the frame one from each side of the camera. In the below picture, the red lines show the direction of the light, yellow circles show the shadows of Sasi and Abhimanyu formed on the pillar and the mirror stand because of the lights respectively. Green lines show the angles at which the character and the mirror stand are placed. Now, what is the mistake here that revealed the secret? If Abhimanyu has appeared as a reflection in the mirror to Sasi, then technically any of the Abhimanyu’s shadow should not cross the mirror range. But here when Abhimanyu lifted his hand addressing Sasi, his hand shadow falls on the mirror stand (shown in yellow circle) which is out of range of the mirror.