Master Hirannaiah’s popular satire on corruption, Lanchaavatara is running to packed houses in Bangalore. It has been staged 11,000 times since 1959. Storming the theatre world with his plays, Hirannaiah has been a prickly thorn in many a politician’s life, thanks to his witty diatribe against their governance and policies. Having recently turned 80, Hirannaiah says, “During the past six decades, I have been Karnataka’s permanent opposition leader.” Basking in the memories of yore, he relates the trials and tribulations he underwent in his journey to reach the pinnacle of success in the Kannada theatre world.
Lanchaavatara, he believes, was the play which made his career. He is a one man army. He plays the role of Dattu, the protagonist whose biting and double-edged comments on the issue of corruption have touched the hearts of people whenever and wherever Lanchaavatarawas is staged. The play is extempore, repeatedly undergoing changes, each and every time it is staged.
He says, “I have got all the inputs from life. It is the people themselves who have given me the concept and idea to enact better. However, I feel disheartened that even after holding thousands of shows, corruption is still rampant in our country.” He is also known for his direct comments during public appearances and politicians usually avoid his meetings. Be it on the streets or the stage, rural or urban platform, the well known stalwart of the Kannada theatre has a huge fan following in Karnataka and is known for his stinging satire and witty dialogues as well as sharp sense of humour. “Chief ministers like K Hanumanthaiah, Devraj Urs, Ramakrishna Hegde, J H Patel were my friends. My comments were restricted to the stage, however, they used to tell me often to shun the stage and join the government. They asked me to try and change the government being part of it, if this was possible. But I used to hit back and tell the political leaders that people had given me the portfolio of finding out their mistakes and projecting them on stage.”
Elaborating on the tradition of enacting social drama, he says, “It was started by Gubbi Veeranna, the celebrated Kannada theatre legend and carried forward by my father senior Hirannaiah.”
Tracing the theatre tradition of his illustrious family, he says with pride, “My father set up the Mitra Mandali Drama Company in 1940 and went on to stage 48 successful mythological and social plays and also made films by setting up the Navjyothi Studios. He gave opportunities to many actors and playwrights. Although there was no freedom to make political comments between 1942 and 1953, he still produced plays on burning issues like rationing of food products, petrol coupons and black marketing. His plays Makmal Topi, Devadasi, Sadarame and others effectively portrayed the prevailing problems,” elaborates Hirannaiah who has continued staging some of his father’s famous plays.
Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his organisational skills during the freedom movement, Hirannaiah says his foray into theatre began as a challenge and also prove his worth as an artiste. “In 1947, it so happened in Hubli that on the opening day of Makmal Topi, an actor was missing and I had to replace him and play the part of a poet whose dialogues were in old Kannada language. I was an utter failure on the stage and my father denounced me and said, ‘Are you my son?’ This affected me a lot and I decided to prove my worth as a stage artiste. My tryst with theatre began ironically in 1947. I moved over to performing stage plays while I was still studying at Sharadha Vilas College in Mysore.”
Privileged to be associated with Kannada literary greats like Anakru, Beechi, Tarasu, Shivram Karanth, Bendre and DV Gundappa, he feels they influenced his thinking and helped change his entire perception of life. “Success has come to me because of the humor element mixed with the social message in the plays. It was inspired by legendary artistes. They used to see my plays, pat my back and encourage me a lot.”
Hirannaiah in his long theatrical career spanning six decades faced lot of problems from successive governments who either banned his plays or put restrictions on its staging. “It was 1962-63 when Nijalingappa, the chief minister (a very good friend) was highly critical of Lanchaavatara and felt that we were criticising the Congress too much. However, I had a lot of support from the people, police and judiciary and the High Court upheld my right to stage this play. Another play Kapimushti too was banned in Bangalore but allowed in other parts of the state as during the Emergency, Indira Gandhi did her best to stop the shows.” he adds.