It's an engrossing tale of a small-town youth who is today one of the most popular actors in the Kannada film industry. Achyuth Kumar was born and educated in Tiptur, well-known for its coconut plantations. He quit his BCom degree course after two years and chose to train in theatre at Ninasam in Heggodu. His father Keshavamurthy was a Sanskrit teacher at the Tiptur Boys High School. He tried to dissuade his son from a full-time career in theatre, and instead suggested he pursue it part-time with a salaried job after completing his degree. There were many discussions between the father and son on this.
But Keshavamurthy was a man with a literary bent of mind and had himself performed in a few plays. He could see that Achyuth's mind was made up. "So, he used to introduce me to his friends as 'my son, the dramatist!' Half the people there did not know what 'dramatist' meant and were quite impressed," he chuckles fondly. Like his acting style, he underplayed the uncertainties he had faced in his creative journey.
Roots in theatre
After completing his theatre training, he performed numerous plays with Ninasam's travelling troupe Thirugaata. He came to Bengaluru to see what it could offer in terms of a career. He worked in single-episode TV serials aired on Doordarshan and assisted TV productions in various capacities. He stayed with actor-director Aasif Kshathriya 'Aksha'. Aasif also supported several other theatre-persons who had come to Bengaluru in search of a career in TV and films. He has fond memories of his one-year Bengaluru stay. "None of us had a regular income. Aasif was the only one earning a regular salary as the head of the department of electronics at SSMRV College. He used to look after all of us like the head of a family. We used to cook, eat and discuss theatre, films and acting," he exclaims with a broad smile.
Rather than try and get a foothold in an unfamiliar city, he returned home to Tiptur, where he had already made a mark as a theatre actor. He worked for two years at his friend Nataraj Honnavalli's printing press. Honnavalli was deeply involved in theatre and many farmers' movements. "It was an interesting period," he reminisces. He had no plans of going back to Bengaluru. Fate, however, had other plans.
Girish Kasaravalli had worked earlier with Achyuth in a documentary series called Kannada Nataka Kannadi on theatre. He wanted to cast him for his TV serial Gruhabhanga. "He was very persistent. He kept calling me to come to Bengaluru and play a role in his serial. I don't know why," he laughs modestly. Some of his theatre friends persuaded him to "go and see what would happen."
What happened was the momentous entry of a serious student of theatre and acting into the world of television. Audiences were enthralled by his style of acting. He continued with memorable roles in Moodala Mane, Preethi Illadha Mele and other popular serials. But after completing Preethi Illadha Mele, he lost interest in television when the style of directing, filming, and editing changed drastically.
"Dramatic camera movements and music, for instance, have special significance. If you use them once in 25 or 50 episodes, they will have an impact. But if you overuse them, it has no effect on the viewer," he remarks ruefully. "All the serials being aired now look alike: loud and crude. There is no room for subtle serials. I decided to stop working in television eight years ago," he states quietly.
On the big screen
His film career took off shortly after this point with two roles that were diametrically different: underworld gangster Oil Kumar in Aa Dinagalu (2007) and a father in Moggina Manasu (2008). There was no looking back after that. He has won several acting awards including three Filmfare awards for Best Supporting Actor: Josh (2009), Lucia (2013), and Drishya (2014). He works in at least 10 films a year. Film-making styles and technology have also changed dramatically. "But even if it is a story about robots, it is still to do with human emotions and drama. Technology cannot change that basic rule for a good story."
Theatre continues to be his passion. But he is not happy with the current scene. "Theatre today has also become crude, loud and exaggerated. Many theatre groups feel that subtle gestures would be lost on audiences. This includes repertories from Rangayana as well as from Ninasam. Theatre should be subtle. It is not as if we are performing a play at a stadium," he exclaims.
Achyuth and a group of like-minded artistes formed a theatre group that has performed a number of plays in Bengaluru and other centres. Not just Kannada plays, but also recently translated Marathi plays in Kannada like Mahesh Elkunchwar's Wada Chirebandi and Magna Talyakathi. Interestingly, since the group urgently needed a name for the production, it came up with a name that also relates to its mission: Theatre Tatkal.
"Each one is trying to bring subtlety and meaning to whatever work they are doing in television, cinema and theatre: acting, directing, camera. It is being reflected in their work. Right now, corporate TV channels, heads, TRPs and marketing experts are deciding on the content and how these mega-serials should be run. The formula is to rake in revenues. These formulas don't benefit art. Formulas are for maths," he remarks.
Achyuth Kumar is clearly a man with a mission. He is definitely not resting on his laurels. Watch this space.