Magician-turned-shadowgrapher Prahlad Acharya speaks with Sangeeta Yadav about getting a standing ovation on India’s Got Talent for his patriotic shadow act, what prompted him to leave magic for shadowgraphy and what challenges he faced to create a market for this art form
You got a standing ovation recently on India’s Got Talent for your shadow act. Where did you learn this art form?
I am a magician first and then a shadow artist. There is no course available to learn shadowgraphy. In fact, there are hardly 10 people across the world that have made a profession in shadow art. My inspiration is magician and shadow artist Amar Singh from West Bengal. He is the only person who does shadow art professionally, but I never got a chance to meet him and get trained. My mentor Uday Jadoogar in Karnataka, taught me magic and little bit of shadow act. But whatever I have learnt, I did it from my observation, imagination and knowledge about dimension, distance and angle of the light and hand and clarity in projection.
How did your parent’s react when you told them that you want to be a magician?
For my parents, education mattered the most. My father told me that ‘if you don’t have right education, there will be no difference between a street side madari and a stage performer’. They made it very clear that if I’ve to take up magic as a profession, I would have to complete my graduation. I took up law because it was the only study which was from 8am to 12 pm. The rest of the time I used to spend performing magic at various events. After graduation, I took up magic as a full-time profession and built my team of 20 members to perform across the country.
How did shadowgraphy happen?
As a magician, I was known for escape acts like jail break, underwater escape, fire escape etc. In 2009, I was asked to come to Germany to perform a magic show on India showcase event. There were many other artists from India who had come to showcase their talent. The next performance was taking a lot of time and I though why not present a small act of shadow play as a filler.
This filler turned out to be super hit and I got a standing ovation. I was overwhelmed by the response and that moment I decided to switch my profession from magician to shadowgrapher. That was the turning point in my life. But it was a big risk as I had to establish myself and create a market for the shadow art, which was never seen before.
What was your friend and family’s reaction when they got to know that you want to carve a niche foryourself as shadowgrapher?
My children were very young at that time and had little idea about shadow act. They just used to enjoy watching me practice over voiceovers. But my wife got very worried as we were not financially strong and we had moved our base to Bangalore. She was worried whether we would be able to pull it off financially. But she had a lot of confidence in me. Our biggest problem was dealing with nosey neighbours who thought I was up to something or we were hiding some serious ailment. My poor wife had a tough time answering everyone’s questions.
Tell us about your first act?
I picked one folk play, which was a short story of a cow and tiger and themed on the value of truth. It took me six months to complete the act and get clarity in my performance. I was apprehensive that my act would bore the audience and they may not understand it.
Without much courage, I put up the act on the stage in a village community programme. I was shocked and nervous to see Master Hirannaiah who is famous as the encyclopedia of theatre and was the senior most critic, sitting in the front row. After my act, he was in tears, he came up on to the stage and praised me for the performance. It was an unique experience for me.
Later, I choreographed a shadow art on ‘Mile sur mera tumhara’ track, but this one took three months. I started projecting animals, actor’s faces, monuments, etc. I learn from cartoons and sketches and try to put it on the screen. After a couple of performances, I became popular and my act became viral. I felt proud that I took the right decision. I started earning from Rs500 to now Rs40,000 by my performance in kindergarden, schools, colleges, old age homes and during marriages, annual events etc.
How much time did you take to prepare the shadow act on patriotism for IGT?
It took hardly a week to prepare the patriotism act for IGT because I did something similar where I projected famous actors at a different event.
What is the biggest challenge in shadowgraphy?
Sometimes, two hands are not enough so I had to take help from my wife, who is a magician. Also, if you make even a small change in the angle of light and hand, your tiger would look like a dog. So all these things required a lot of practise for perfection.
What are your going to showcase in the semifinals of IGT?
It will be an act for the entire family with a lot of animals and many other things. It’s a surprise for my favourite audiences.