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A man of many voices

It was the winter of 1971, when eight-year-old Harikishen found his true self. He was chosen to deliver the historic speech of Swami Vivekananda at the Chicago Parliament of Religions and the philosophical undertones were just not coming across to the boy. He memorised the text and then decided to get dramatic while rendering it.

As his 'chilaka-paluku' voice took sudden sharp modulations one moment only to crash into a whisper the next minute, the audience was left gasping! This was the first public speech delivered by a boy who would grow up to become the famous mimicry artiste 'Anukarana Samrat' Harikishen of Hyderabad.

This scribe caught up with him during a recent show organised by the HPCL family and got glimpses of his life.

Harikishen's childhood had a very positive influence on his mental growth. His father, V.L.N. Chariar, was an actor and composer himself. But the greatest influence on him came from his aunt, Choodamani. She egged him on to be different and taught him the art of voice recognition. It was a chance meeting with the mimicry maestro Nerella Venu Madhav in 1975 at the international Telugu Mahasabha that made Hari decide in a flash that his voice was going to be his fortune. Venu Madhav became his role-model inspiring him to learn the different aspects of mimicry and ventriloquism. ''It's all about pulling the right strings and hitting the right chords,'' quips Hari.

This artiste was always a bright student. Today he is a sought after stage performer all over India and is a full time Assistant Professor in the Department of Mimicry of the Potti Sriramulu Telugu University. His earlier stint as English teacher at All Saints High School brought him close to growing children, and he was an instant hit with them. When reading a story he would enthrall the young folks by modulating his voice for each character. The result would be phenomenal, and learning became a child's play for his students. No wonder, when he resigned this job, the students sulked like nobody's business.

Here is an artiste who is a crafty human voice manipulator. His excellence in imitating the late N.T. Rama Rao's voice and the landing of a plane are the highlights of any of his shows. He is an education and information mimic and prefers to leave a moral and new dimension to every aspect of presentation. An avid reader, Harikishen constantly updates his knowledge bank on current affairs. Be it the sudden collapse of a government, Laloo's antics or the World Cup cricket match, he has his finger on the pulse. He is widely travelled and extolled in NRI circles in Dubai, the US and the UK. However, he thinks Vizag is an artiste's paradise. ''Here every artiste gets a good reception and the respect people give to such persons is overwhelming.'' He is a constant visitor to this city but his audiences always find him fresh and different. With over 1,000 shows to his credit to date, Hari's impeccable command of English, Telugu and Hindi makes him a multi-lingual treat for the masses.

``Mimicry cannot be taught to a layman,'' says the expert, ''You have to have an inherent talent and propensity to be an actor, singer and dancer at the same time.'' His top favourites are Johnny Lever, Asha Bhonsle and Ram Srivastav and closer home actor Brahmanandam and the inimitable AVS. He is fond of serious comedy and says: ''The best effect comes when the comical interludes are rendered with gravity and seriousness. The audiences love the contrast and it takes a while for them to react. But, when they do, they laugh till they cry!''

Harikishen is now getting ready for yet another foreign trip to attend the Telugu Mahasabha in Singapore. But he will be back to catch up with the New Year festivities in this city. His dream is to start his own mimicry school as a fitting salutation to his great friend, philosopher and guide, Venu Madhav. ''It is the story of life. As the curtains go down on me and my talents, I want to mould a few young artistes to carry the baton of the art form,'', says Harikishen, his voice choked with emotion. This time he used his original voice!


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