Shadow play artist Prahlad Acharya speaks to AKILA KANNADASAN about how uses just a light source and his hands to create magic
Prahlad Acharya was 12 when he saw magician Uday Jadugar conjure candies during a show in his school in Udupi. He too wanted to learn the trick. “I thought I could conjure as many candies I wanted!” recalls Prahlad. Faced with poverty at home, all Prahlad thought about when he approached the magician was that he could “eat a lot” if he learned magic. “He gave me a small booklet with some tricks. When I learned that magic was not real and that it was based on tricks, I was disappointed,” smiles Prahlad.
The journey begins
But when he saw the excitement on the faces of his audience when he performed magic for them, he decided to take the job seriously. When Uday came to Udupi to perform during the Paryaya festival the next year, Prahlad asked if he could learn magic from him. Thus began Prahlad’s journey. Uday even shared his stage with the talented youngster.
After his SSLC, Prahlad travelled with Uday for six months. It was the best thing that happened to him — Prahlad learned all the tricks of the trade. He got to watch his teacher perform magic tricks, ventriloquism and shadow play up-close, and absorbed them. He even learned to write and put up posters and assist a magician on stage.
Prahlad started doing his own magic shows from his PUC days. He performed in schools and colleges in the evenings and soon became well-known in the area.
Books on magic were a big help as he learned escape stunts from them. Underwater escape, fire escape, jail breaks…Prahlad successfully attempted stunts that few in the country did.
To a magician, magic is much more than entertainment, says Prahlad. “You have to go through a lot for a successful trick.” He recalls how during a water torture escape, a technical flaw gave him an electric shock. “My assistants turned off the power at the right instant,” he says.
Anything can happen on stage. Even a trick that one has been doing for years can go wrong. “You need to keep practising,” he adds. Everything should take place like clockwork.
In 1992, Prahlad formed a troupe of 20 people called ‘Yakshaloka’ and performed magic across the country. But it was after a trip to Germany that he started experimenting with shadow play. “I performed the six-minute shadow play performance I learned from Uday in Germany,” he says.
Inspired by the “tremendous response”, Prahlad decided to delve deeper into shadow play back in India. He shut himself in his house for six months and built characters from scratch. “It was just my torch, the shadows and I,” he says.
Today, the 40-year-old has travelled across the globe, telling stories using shadows. He can perform the Panchatantra tales, Kannada folktales such as the story of Punyakoti, the holy cow who kept her word to a tiger by offering herself to it after she fed her calf… Why, he can make shadows dance to the tunes of ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’. He is currently working on giving shape to national leaders such as Gandhiji and Lakshmi Bai using shadows.
Prahlad has a Coimbatore connection too. He was born in a hospital in Gandhi Park!