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Prahlad Acharya & His Speaking Shadows

Prahlada Acharya - Speaking Shadows

After staging elaborate escapes and illusions, this magician will have light and dark at his mercy

All he ever wanted was a magic bowl that would give him an unending supply of laddoos and candy. So the then nine-year-old Prahlad Acharya pored over books on magic, only to be disillusioned. “It was disappointing to know that laddoos did not pop out of the bowl on their own and that one had to put them in it for them to ‘magically pop’,” recalls Acharya.

The 40-year-old is the renowned magician who escaped from the maximum security prison in Bellary and Bangalore; he also made the golden chariot at the famous Udupi Sri Krishna Temple disappear — legally. Acharya is currently based in Bangalore and travelling the world performing a unique show that uses shadows.

Once he got over his frustration of not finding laddoos in the magic bowl, Acharya embarked on his journey to become a magician. He encountered magician Uday Jaadugar, author of the magic books that Acharya loved to read. Jaadugar offered to teach him the tricks of the trade and also ventriloquism and shadow play.

For two decades, Acharya gained fame and fortune as a magician before he turned to shadow play full time. It was his four-minute shadow performance that led him to this decision. Three years ago when he was invited as part of an entourage of artists that were to showcase Indian art and culture and performed regularly for 8 months all over Germany, Acharya was astounded by the response he received from the Germans who loved the show where various animals came alive in shadows. He came back to India and shut himself in a dark room for almost 10 hours each day for the next six months, experimenting with light. “I decided to take up shadow play full-time because I realised there were just a handful who had taken to this art seriously when there was so much one could do with it,” he says.

Acharya’s shadow play is distinctive in style: detailing topped with folklore. “Shadows are all about angles, light and precision. Even a millimeter difference in positioning the fingers or changes in the angle of light will turn a tiger into a dog and man into a monkey,” explains Acharya.

So one can only imagine the exactitude of Acharya’s craft when, at the festival, he will have human-like shadows dancing to the tune of Mile sur mera tumhara. Acharya typically showcases two songs of six minutes each with numerous characters narrating many a tale. Go watch shadows come alive.

– Adapted from ‘Shadows at his fingertips’ by Harsha Bhat, published in the Bangalore Mirror on January 6, 2014