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3-min read

Master Hirannaiah, Iconic Theatre Artist Who Once Made Chief Guest of His Show Buy Ticket, No More

Master Hirannaiah, who was undergoing treatment for a liver ailment, died on Thursday at a private hospital in Bengaluru. He was 84.

Revathi Rajeevan | CNN-News18

Updated:May 2, 2019, 5:00 PM IST
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Master Hirannaiah, Iconic Theatre Artist Who Once Made Chief Guest of His Show Buy Ticket, No More
Hirannaiah, who also acted in several Kannada movies and television serials, was an iconic figure in Karnataka.
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In 2014, an 80-year-old political satirist in Karnataka announced retirement after more than six decades of staging plays. Plays that constantly had corruption as their theme and political leaders as their subjects.

Noted Kannada theatre personality Master Hirannaiah decided to stop performing after Congress workers staged a protest against him for the language he used against former chief minister Siddaramaiah during one of his shows. He tendered an apology and made his speech in Mysore, which he said would be his last public performance.

One-and-half-years later, he performed again for an NGO. The performance was 'Mastrayana', with selected scenes from his notable works 'Lanchavathara' and 'Makmal Topi'. He had undergone a surgery that restricted free movement and he enacted the play seated. The cause was greater for him. By this time, 'Lanchavathara', focusing on 'lancha' (bribe), was staged more than 11,000 times in a span of 45 years in India and abroad. What was interesting was that the play stayed relevant for close to five decades it went on stage, with constant updates.

Siddaramaiah or one party alone was not his subject. Hirannaiah’s plays had lines about former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, former chief ministers Sadananda Gowda, SM Krishna and several others that made the audience burst into laughter and provoked them to think. Hirannaiah ridiculed all parties, the system and the common man through satire which he called “nothing but the truth”.

"There are two kinds of people", Hirannaiah once said in a speech. "Those who live as they are dead and those who live even after they are dead. The first kind, those who live as they are dead.. you can see them everywhere. You want to see them at one place? Go to Vidhana Souda (state assembly). It is houseful. Why are they called alive? Because their hands move — to take bribe and salary. The others are those who live even after they are dead. Like Kuvempu (poet), Rajkumar (actor), Masthi (Venkatesha Iyengar)... I want to be alive even after I am dead," he said.

Former editor of Outlook, Krishnaprasad, recalls that Hirannaiah had a humorous side, even off stage.

He was once in the US, attending an NRI event. There were hundreds of South Indians present. An American sitting next to him on the dais asked how he (Hirannaiah) could distinguish one from the other.


"That's easy," said Hirannaiah.
"You ask a question in Telugu. If the person answers in Telugu, he is a Telugu.
"You ask a question in Tamil. If the person answers in Tamil, he is a Tamilian.
"You ask a question in Malayalam. If the person answers in Malayalam, he is Malayalee.
"You ask a question in Kannada. If the person answers in English, he is a Kannadiga."


It was not just politics and corruption that Hirannaiah dealt with in his plays. His plays also touched upon social evils like casteism, dowry and sati. His other notable plays include Bhrashtachara, Devadasi, Nadubidi Narayana, Anaachara. He is known to have funded his schooling by selling newspapers and took over his father's K Hirannayya Mitra Mandali after his death, completing his education only up to the intermediate level. But he had vast knowledge of current affairs at all times and constantly updated his plays with it. He also donned the hats of director, singer and writer and acted in around 40 Kannada films.

ER Ramachandran, a columnist, recalls in a tweet, "For his show 'Lanchavathara', Hirannaiah once said his livelihood comes from those who buy tickets by paying 4.6 anas and not dignitaries who come to inaugurate his show. Chief guest JB Mallaradhya promptly walked outside, bought ticket and came back!”

Hirannaiah was a recipient of state's most prominent awards, including the Karnataka State Award, Rajyotsava Prashasti, Gubbi Veeranna Award and Drama Academy.

After a career spanning over six decades, his advice for the young remained the same as what he probably followed himself throughout — to speak without hiding the truth and not worry about the danger.

Master Hirannaiah, who was undergoing treatment for a liver ailment, died on Thursday at 9.30am at a private hospital in Bengaluru. He was 84.
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