Telugu cinema

KV Reddy, director of ‘Pathala Bhairavi’ and ‘Mayabazar’, was the original fantasy movie king

Decades before the ‘Baahubali’ films, the production executive-turned-filmmaker showed how it was done.

Among the many reasons attributed to the spectacular success of the Baahubali franchise is director SS Rajamouli’s accomplishment in rejuvenating a genre that has been a longstanding favourite of Telugu cinema: the fantasy folklore film.

In the 1950s, a similar successful attempt was made to revamp the genre by Vijaya-Vauhini studios when it was declared that the genre had run out of steam. The production was titled Pathala Bhairavi (1951), and it was directed by Kadiri Venkata Reddy, who was just three films old at the time.

In his book Politics as Performance, A Social History of the Telugu Cinema, SV Srinivas describes the moment: “By the early 1950s, the folklore film, like the mythological, was a discredited genre. Commentators spoke of the genre as a “menace”. Moreover, notwithstanding the commercial success of Balaraju and Keelugurram, the disastrous performance of Tilottama at the box office made the industry nervous about the folklore’s film prospects. An editorial in Roopavani, while pointing this out, also noted: “These days people are becoming smart and trick photography alone is not going to work. Evidently, the time had come for the genre to be scaled up from a serial compilation of attractions and special effects to something else. And at precisely this point, Vijaya made a top-of-the-line folklore film as a part of its attempt to launch a little-known actor as a star.”

Reddy was tasked with bringing this magnum opus on screen. Starring NT Rama Rao, SV Ranga Rao, K Malathi, Chilakalapudi Seetharama Anjaneyulu and Relangi Venkata Ramaiah, Pathala Bhairavi not only successfully revived the adventure fantasy genre but created history for being the first Telugu film to have a 200-day run. Reddy went onto make Mayabazar (1957), an equally renowned adventure fantasy that merges a fictional story with episodes from the Mahabharata epic.

Pathala Bhairavi (1951).

Reddy, a physics graduate, began his career in films as a production executive at Vauhini Studios. Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen in Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema describe Reddy as a key participant in BN Reddi’s melodramas in the ’40s. Reddy’s first two films, Bhakta Pothana and Yogi Vemana, contributed to “Chittor V Nagaiah’s image as south Indian cinema’s most famous actor in the saint film genre”.

It was a small step from the mythological to the fantasy adventure. In 1949, Reddy made Gunasundari Katha, a blend of fantasy and mythology based on William Shakespeare’s play King Lear. It was deemed a success, even though the Tamil version did not fare well.

Reddy’s fourth film proved to be the breakthrough. Pathala Bhairavi draws from Alladin and the Arabian Nights. The film follows the efforts of Thota Ramudu (NT Rama Rao), a gardener, whose love for princess Indumathi (Malathi) is laden with obstacles. With the help of sorcery and the titular wish-granting goddess from the netherworld, Ramudu is finally able to marry his princess.

Vijaya-Vauhini Studios was set up by Nagi Reddy and Chakrapani, who began their career as authors and publishers of the popular children’s magazine Chandamama, writes Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai in Madras Studios – Narrative, Genre, and Ideology in Tamil Cinema. “Two years after the instant success of Chandamama in Telugu and Ambulimama in Tamil, in 1949, Nagi Reddy took over the Vauhini Studios and launched Vijaya productions with Chakrapani...” Pillai writes. Pathala Bhairavi was their second project after Shavukaru (1950), which was directed by LV Prasad.

Reddy, along with Madhavapeddi Gokhale’s fabulous sets, Kaladhar’s costumes and Marcus Bartley’s cinematography, matched the wonderment in the studio’s script with equally compelling visuals. Take the scene in which Ramudu enters Pathala Bhairavi’s abode for the first time. At the entrance to the cave is a large tree stump that is half-human and half-animal. Ramudu has to overcome numerous obstacles before entering the sealed underground cave, each of which is astonishingly depicted.

Pathala Bhairavi (1951).

The situations Ramudu finds himself in are similar to Alladin and Alibaba, but Reddy reimagines them in an Indian idiom. He takes elements from popular fables and gives them an Indian form – a gana-shaped secret entry, for instance, or the traditional practice of being garlanded on completing a task.

These familiar elements and situations are fused into a coherent whole in order to present a distinct story that bears the stamp of a Telugu folktale. Rajadhyaksha and Willemen write that Reddy recognised his strength quite clearly: “He (Reddy) attributed his success in the early 1950s to his ability to get the sequence of ‘introduction, commentarial exposition, conflicts, resolution, sub-climax, climax and message in the correct order.’”

Reddy repeated the feat in his other magnum opus Mayabazar (1957). The story is about a promise made by Balarama to his sister Subhadra that he will marry his daughter Sasirekha to her son Abhimanyu. When this pledged alliance is threatened, it is magic again that comes to the rescue, courtesy Ghatotkacha, Bhima’s son.

Preparations for the lavishly produced movie took nearly a year. The final production, starring NT Rama Rao, Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Savithri and SV Ranga Rao, was a bigger spectacle than Pathala Bhairavi.

Nearly everything gets an upgrade in Mayabazar. True to the title, there is magic in abundance: Krishna gives Sasirekha a device resembling a laptop to help her communicate with Abhimanyu. The map of Mayabazar comes alive when Ghatotkacha’s aide merely says “hmm aha.” Buildings, shops and dancers are created by Ghatotkacha’s commands. Towering above Dwarka, Ghatotkacha shrinks his body to enter the city, performs tricks on the guards by waving his hand, and flies through the skies with a bed that carries a sleeping Sasirekha. When Sasirekha is eventually forced to marry Duryodhana’s son, Ghatotkacha in the form of Sasirekha plays tricks on the bridegroom by making him believe that he is actually marrying a monkey and then a tiger.

Mayabazar (1957).

In both Pathala Bhairavi and Mayabazar, Reddy’s endeavour is to project NT Rama Rao as the star. Pathala Bhairavi cast Rao as the hero, while the future Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister plays Krishna in Mayabazar. The similarities with Rajamouli’s casting of Telugu actor Prabhas are hard to miss. In fact, veteran Malayalam filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan even accused Baahubali: The Conclusion of being a parody of Pathala Bhairavi.

Reddy’s filmography includes such titles as Donga Ramudu (1955), Jagadeka Veeruni Katha (1961) and Sri Krishna Satya (1972) among others. But Pathala Bhairavi and Mayabazar continue to be the hot favourites of Telugu cinema’s favourite genre. Understandably so.

KV Reddy.
KV Reddy.
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.