June 30, 2015

Mahananda Sarma : The Undisputed Stage Icon

A supremely versatile actor and an undisputed stage icon, Mahananda Sarma passed away at the GMCH after a prolonged illness recently. He was 79 at the time of his death. The magnetism and the kind of range that he possessed whether it was on Jatra party, mobile theatre stage, cinema, serials and video films, was incomparable. Sarma is revered by generations of theatre and cinema artistes for his unique acting style.

Born to parents Bishnudev Sarma and Amritpriya Devi at Panigaon in Nalbari district on November 12, 1935, Sarma took to acting and other forms of fine arts at an early age and initiated his acting life at a Jatra party called 'Mugkushi Milan Natya Samiti' of Nalbari. During this time, Sarma was engaged in weaving at the 'Mugkushi Weaving Society', a co-operative weaving centre located near the rehearsal camp of the Jatra party, by Kalinath Sarma, society president and weaving instructor at Gordon School. Sarma also trained for three months at the Textile Institute in Ambari, Guwahati. He became quite an expert weaver. But he was ready to quit weaving for acting. It was something he wouldn't want to trade for anything else in the world. He tried to find out ways that would make him possible to make a living around his passion. But as opportunities were scarce to come by, Sarma utilized his free time to learn magic from a close friend. He even performed his tricks before the public in places in and around Nalbari, receiving wide popularity and appreciation.

In 1958, he came to Guwahati and stayed near Dr Bhupen Hazarika's place in Nijarapara. In no time, he forged a close association with Dr Hazarika. It made a huge impact on his life and outlook. It was owing to Dr Hazarika's help and guidance that Mahananda Sarma felt confident enough to embark on a journey to Kolkata. Just six months after staying there, he found a professional acting job in a local drama group. A fluent speaker in Bengali, Sarma earned widespread praise and appreciation from the audiences for his wonderful performances in a number of famous plays, including 'Khuni Ke', 'Je Dekhane Dariye', 'Pal Theke Door', etc.

Mahananda Sarma returned to Nalbari in 1962 following his father's illness. During that time, Birendra Kumar Bhattacharyya helped him find a job at a printing press called Lakshmi Printing owned by brothers Jatindra Narayan Dev and Dwijendra Narayan Dev at Panbazar in Guwahati. But soon enough, Mahananda Sarma who loved acting more than anything else in the world, left his job at the printing press to join the theatre company 'Suradevi Natya Sangha' owned by Samta's Manchasurya Dharani Barman, in 1963. It was during this time that he met Guruji Jogesh Sarma who played an influential role in his acting career. Sarma devoted himself whole-heartedly to acting again, and was rewarded with wide success.

Later in 1964-65, after joining Karuna Mazumdar's 'Purbajyoti Theatre', Sarma came into close contact with the State's cultural icons - Natasurya Phani Sarma and Kolaguru Bishnuprasad Rabha. Things suddenly took a surprising turn; there was no looking back for him after that. Purbajyoti was followed by performances in mobile theatre troupes like Natraj, Suradevi, Asom Star, Kohinoor, Aparupa, Bhagyadevi, Hengool, Sankardev, Udayan, Meghdoot, Saraighat, Rajtilak among others. He had put on memorable performances in plays like 'Chandragrahan', 'Alankar', 'Ganga Jamuna', 'Maram Trishna', 'Ashimot Jar Heral Sima', 'Cleopatra', 'Bishnu Prasad', 'Kabuliwala', among many others. He captured everyone's hearts with his magnetism and enormous talent. Mahananda Sarma ruled the State's mobile scene for several decades. Sarma had also dramatised and directed a number of popular plays. Its doubtable if there's any other actor who's had a bigger influence on mobile theatre than Mahananda Sarma. It has to be mentioned that Mahananda Sarma was the first ever actor to appear in dual roles in a number of plays, most notably 'Kabuliwala', 'Saru Buwari', 'Alankar', 'Chandragrahan' among others. He along with dramatist, director and actor, late Bhaben Barua introduced the concept of double stage in mobile theatre. He was also the producer of Aparupa Theatre which he ran for six years from 1984 to 1989. But his stint as a producer didn't exactly turned out to be a fruitful one. Aparupa Theatre suffered crushing losses, and consequently he had to shut down the theatre group.

Mahananda Sarma had always sought authenticity with his plays and parts. In a rare novelty, he once shocked theatre goers by exhibiting a live snake and a deer on stage. The play 'Nagkanya' proved a huge money-spinner and is still remembered by audiences.

A number of big-screen roles also followed while Mahananda Sarma continued to act on stage, so much dear to his heart. As with his plays, Sarma infused his movie portrayals with the same degree of honesty and genuineness. His performances in movies like 'Lalita', 'Black Money', 'Ponakan', 'Sonmoina', 'Kadam Tale Krishna Nache' and 'Nilakantha' were appreciated by critics and audiences alike. He was also associated with a number of serials in Doordarshan. Many in the film and theatre industry will greatly miss him. The void left by him can never be filled.

He is survived by his wife Khiroda Devi, two sons Anup Sarma, Arup Sarma and a daughter Miturani Sarma.


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