'The Man with the Golden Voice' – Mahananda Sarma

Prantik Deka pays tribute to Mahananda Sarma, a versatile actor and icon in Assam's theatre, known for his unique style and contributions to mobile theatre.

Jun 16, 2024 - 10:30
Jun 16, 2024 - 10:31
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'The Man with the Golden Voice' – Mahananda Sarma
'The Man with the Golden Voice' – Mahananda Sarma
'The Man with the Golden Voice' – Mahananda Sarma

For the theatre lovers of Assam and the North East, he was known as the 'Golden Voice'. A versatile actor and an undisputed stage icon, Mahananda Sarma was a beloved figure to millions of theatre-loving audiences.

The artiste who won the hearts of people with his innate simplicity, once occupied a special pride of place in Kalaguru Bishnu Prasad Rabha's heart. Coincidentally he passed away on the same day as his beloved Kalaguru, on June 20. This year, the day will mark his 9th death anniversary.

Mahananda Sarma was a glamorous artiste of the mobile theatre, a hero's hero. He was a worthy successor to Natasurya Phani Sharma, Bishnu Rabha, among others, who determined the very course of acting, giving it a new dimension. He was a symbol of versatility, an artiste who was unique in the true sense. Mahananda Sarma was one of the very few people responsible for making mobile theatre an integral part of Assam's cultural landscape, cultural heritage and tradition.

The magnetism and the kind of range that he possessed, whether it was on the Jatra stage, the mobile theatre stage, in cinema or serials, was incomparable. Sarma is revered by generations of theatre and cinema artistes for his unique acting style. Mahananda Sarma is a shining example of a person whose education and profession are the same.

Born to 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 the 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. 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 didn’t want to trade for anything else in the world. He tried to find out ways that would make it possible for him to make a living around his passion. But as opportunities were scarce to come by, Sarma utilised his free time to learn magic from a close friend. He even performed his tricks in public, in and around Nalbari, receiving wide popularity and appreciation. 

In 1958, Sarma came to Guwahati and lived near Dr Bhupen Hazarika’s house in Nizarapar. 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. Within the first six months, he found a professional acting job in a local drama group. A fluent speaker in Bengali, Sarma earned a great deal of praise and appreciation from the audiences for his natural, spontaneous performances in a number of notable 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 the Lakshmi Printing Press owned by brothers Jatindra Narayan Dev and Dwijendra Narayan Dev, in Panbazar, Guwahati. But soon enough, Sarma, who loves 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 Kalaguru Bishnu Prasad Rabha. 
Things suddenly took a turn; there was no looking back for him after that. Purbajyoti was followed by performances in mobile theatre troupes like Natraj, Suradevi, Asom Star, Kahinoor, Aparupa, Bhagyadevi, Hengul, Sankardev, Udayan, Meghdoot, Saraighat, Rajtilak among others. He was totally, deeply committed to theatre. 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. 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 turn 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 instance, 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. 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 Tole Krishna Nache’ and ‘Nilakantha’ were appreciated by critics and audiences alike. He was also associated with a number of serials in Doordarshan.

His life reached its dramatic conclusion on June 20, 2015, at the age of 79 years. He is survived by his wife Khiroda Devi, two sons Anup Sarma, Arup Sarma and daughter Miturani Sarma.

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