The lavishly-filmed Maya stars Jay North in a television role worlds apart from his famous turn as Dennis the Menace. Shot on location in India, it was an expensive show, and so-so ratings could not justify the cost beyond a single season. It's an unusual and interesting program though, and well worth a look. In a new release from Warner Archive, all eighteen episodes are presented in clean, bright color.
Maya first hit the screen as a movie in 1966. In it North is Terry Bowen, a still very boyish teen who travels to India to live with his hunter father (Clint Walker) after his mother's death. Accustomed to the freedom of life in the wild, dad is happy to see him, but not when he finds out his son plans to stay for good. Discord between the two drives Terry to run away.
This is where Maya comes in. The titular heroine is an elephant, mother to a rare white elephant. Terry meets the sturdy pachyderm and her guardian Raji (Sajid Khan), a boy about his age, and decides to help them take the young elephant to safety in a temple, away from unscrupulous poachers. It's an exciting family drama, with lots of action, suspense and fascinating scenes of India.
The series version of Maya goes at the story from a different angle. This time when Terry arrives in India to stay with his father, he is told the hunter has gone missing on an expedition and is believed dead. Escaping the authorities who wish to send him back to the United States, Bowen plunges into the wilds of India to conduct his own search. Along the way he meets Raji (again played by Sajid Kahn), a fugitive from the law, and his elephant Maya.
Much has been made of the close relationship between Terry and Raji, with some even going so far as to point out homosexual undertones. While I didn't catch that vibe, I can see how the tight-knit pair could have been encouraging to a young gay teen watching the series. It's an interesting friendship in that it is so peaceful and mutually supportive. I wish I could think of a better word for it, but basically, it's a bromance. Though they are together constantly, the drama in the series is primarily drawn from events around them.
While the film was presented as a family adventure, with a fair amount of peril, the show often has a much darker tone. The trio encounters some seriously scary threats, such as a mysterious force that is killing off the members of a village where they seek medical help and a psychopathic hunter who threatens them with murder when they plan to expose his illegal elephant hunt. Even a take on the Prince and the Pauper that starts out light-hearted eventually leads to a whipping, though it is filmed off screen. While this could still qualify as family viewing, it is best suited to older viewers.
Though the television show was made only a year after the movie, North grew a lot in that short time. The movie Terry still had a strong resemblance to the tow-headed, high-voiced Dennis the Menace. In the series he is greatly changed, much taller, with a deeper voice and darkened hair. In making the transition from boy to young man he has also found more self-confidence and power. This compelling teenager is barely recognizable as Mr. Wilson's former pesky neighbor.
While it would be impossible for the T.V. version of Maya to have the magnificent scale of its movie counterpart, it is still beautifully filmed and of remarkably high quality. It's easy to see why the series was so expensive to make, but the location filming and attention to detail are what gives the show enduring appeal. It doesn't always flow easily, but the novelty of its story and strong production values keep it interesting.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. These are Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVDs. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.