Madhava Acharya: Master of soliloquy

Madhava Acharya: Master of soliloquy

The economics professor founded the theatre group Samooha and extensively explored the possibilities of women characters speaking out their inner thoughts

Udyavara Madhava Acharya (1941-2020) has left footprints that may one day be studied by students of culture. He was a teacher, actor, director and story writer who will be remembered for his innovations in theatre.

Acharaya, who passed away on December 7, had worked with literary and theatre giants such as Sediyapu Krishna Bhat, Kushi Haridas Bhat, Shivarama Karanth and B V Karanth.

Shivarama Karanth and B V Karanth had praised Acharya’s exceptional talent in synergising the operatic art of Yakshagana with other forms, thereby creating new genres of folk and performing arts.

In 1980, when he was teaching economics at Poornaprajna College, Udupi, he founded the theatre ensemble Samooha. It brought together talented youngsters not just from Udupi but also from all of coastal Karnataka and the interiors. 

“I am not averse to taking inspiration and crediting it,” Acharya told this writer at his last theatre presentation at Town Hall, Mangaluru, in December 2019.

Acharya produced plays by well-known writers such as Siddlinga Pattanashetty, Sediyapu Krishna Bhat, S R Ekkundi,  B M Srikantaiah, Govinda Pai, and Pu Ti Narasimhachar. ‘Chitrangade’, based on a Rabindranath Tagore work and translated by N S Lakshminarayana Bhat, was among his more famous productions.

‘Chitrangade’ was the turning point of his life, and set him off on an unusual exploration, say artistes who had worked with him. His daughter Bhramari Shivaprakash remembers how he mentored her as he penned the asides and soliloquies, and embellished them with classical nuances in Sanskrit and Kannada.

“Devayani, Gandhari and Seetha spoke in swagatas, giving another dimension to the feminine characters. One of the parallels drawn was between how Sita was ostracised, and how Ahalya, an ardent devotee with whom he had a complex relationship, was treated,” she says.

Acharya had explained how it all began. “The swagatas began with ‘Arundathi’, when the lead character speaks of the social implications of her caste and her wedding to Vasishista Maharshi. I directed and staged that play in 1980. After other swagatas featuring brave women in a man’s world, I am now preparing one called ‘Chitrangadeya Olagannadi’ (Chitrangada’s Inner Mirror) to speak about how a woman’s masculine side is turned down by the man (Arjuna) she adores,” he had said.

In ‘Andha Yuga’ and ‘Julius Caesar’, directed by B V Karanth and B R Nagesh respectively, Acharya acted as Dhritarashtra and Cassius. “He used to perfect others’ characters. I still wonder how anybody could have so many diverse talents. If I am a music director now, I owe it to him,” says Gururaj Marpalli, a theatre music director.

‘Guddeda Bhoota’ (Spirit of the Hills), directed by Sadananda Suvarna, took Acharya to the world of television serials. It was an astounding success on Doordarshan, and Acharya had proved his acting versatility, yet again.

Acharya received the Rajyotsava award in 1999, and Udupi’s premier theatre group Rangabhoomi honoured him with the title of ‘Ranga Visharada’. He was the president of Udupi Taluk Sahitya Sammelan in 1998. Acharya led a Yakshagana group and performed at 11 places in the USA.

Acharya had developed a love of art from his mother U Lalithalakshmi. Later, his wife Jayanti M Acharya stood like a rock and supported his passion for theatre. He has trained daughter Bhramari to take his legacy forward.