The song Ladoo from the Hindi movie Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is packed with food metaphors – the heart is like the sweetmeat; emotions are being drained like juice; the woman’s speech is so flavourful that when she asks for tomatoes, it’s like she is reciting poetry.
There is only one ladoo song that makes the grade as far as this series is concerned. It is from KV Reddy’s Telugu blockbuster Mayabazar (1957), and is a delightful tribute to the joys of consuming food as well as the experience of cinema itself.
There is a deeper link between the Tamil version of the song Vivaha Bhojanambu, called Kalyana Samayal Saadham, and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. The September 1 release, starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar, is a remake of R Prasanna’s Tamil romcom Kalyana Samayal Saadham (2013), whose title is a tribute to Reddy’s fantasy epic.
Mayabazar, which was simultaneously filmed in Tamil with a slightly different cast, is a mythological based on the Mahabharata without the bombast and ponderousness associated with the genre. It is filled with magic and mischief and features cutting-edge visual effects for the time, lovely music by the great Telugu composer Ghantasala, NT Rama Rao in a career-defining role as Krishna, and a standout performance by veteran Telugu actor SV Ranga Rao as Ghatotkacha, the half-human and half-demon son of Bhima and Hidimba.
The movie is drawn from a popular play that inserts a fictional character into the epic – the lissome Sasirekha, played by Savitri (she is called Vatsala in the Tamil version), who steals the heart of Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu (Akkineni Nageswara Rao in Telugu and Gemini Ganesan in Tamil) but is forcibly betrothed to another man.
The story is set during the years of wilderness for the Pandavas after they lose their kingdom in an ill-advised game of dice. Although Balarama has promised his daughter Sasirekha to Abhimanyu, the evil Sakuni forces her into a union with Duryodhana’s son Lakshmanakumara. Krishna recruits Ghatotkacha to use his magical powers to rewrite Sasirekha’s fate. Ghatotkacha smuggles Sasirekha out of her house and takes her place, foxing her staff and courtiers.
In Vivaha Bhojanambu, whose basic arrangement and laughing track are borrowed from Charles Penrose’s 1922 tune The Laughing Policeman, Ghatotkacha chances upon the wedding feast in the kitchen and prepares to address his hunger cravings. Looking into the camera, Ghatotkacha sings of the pleasures of the food spread before him and then proceeds to call the dishes towards him. They move as though on wheels, and the ladoos magically leap off the plate into a straight line into his open mouth.
The pre-production took nearly a year, ML Narasimham writes in The Hindu, and the Vivaha Bhojanambu song alone took four days to shoot.
Mayabazar has other camera tricks that were wondrous for its time, including an early version of a streaming device that allows characters to view events taking place elsewhere. “Pingali Nagendra Rao, who wrote the story, dialogue and lyrics, “coined popular usages like hai hai nayaka, asmadeeyulu (friends) and tasmadeeyulu (foes), gilpam and gimbali (antonyms for bed and carpet) etc., besides sathyapeetham (lie detector) and priyadarsini (a laptop like device with Skype facility)”, Narasimham writes.
The movie was coloured and digitised in 2010, but like most black-and-white classics, it is best viewed in the original version.