Usha Wagle Gautam, DOHA: Nepal’s most celebrated comedy duo, Madan Krishna Shrestha and Haribansa Acharya — popular as Maha Jodi among the Nepalese audience — were recently in Qatar for the Nefta Film Awards 2015. They were honoured with the Kala Ratna Award at the ceremony for their contributions to the entertainment field in Nepal.
Method actors since 1975, Shrestha and Acharya have worked in classic Nepalese TV dramas and plays such as 15 Gate, Dashain, Madan Bahadur-Hari Bahadur, Aama, and London Airport. Acharya also wrote a book about himself a few years back, which became an instant hit.
The duo began their journey about 40 years ago in the festival of Gai Jatra. The following year they performed together again and won praises from the audience.
In 1977, the two got together to perform a stand-up comedy act in a show organised by the National Bank of Nepal. Birendra Bir Bikram Shah, the 11th King of Nepal, was the chief guest. The 90-minute show featured about a 100 other artistes, but their performance — Bankeshwor — stood out, sending the audience into fits of laughter.
Thereafter, they recorded an audio drama Kasarat (Exercise). The politically intense drama was sold clandestine but still became a hit. Cassettes of the drama were even smuggled outside of the country.
Acharya lost his job at a bank in 1978 due to his political affiliation, after which he was incarcerated due to his politically charged drama, Hoste ma Haise. After Acharya lost his job, his friend Shrestha also resigned from his job at the state-owned radio station.
Together in 1986, after Acahrya was freed, they established a production house called Maha Communications. Set on establishing themselves, the duo would get to the office as early as 6 in the morning and work on stories and scripts. Their dedication culminated in a TV drama 50-50, which was broadcasted by Nepal Television (NTV). The drama focused on smuggling gold in and out of Nepal, with Acharya playing the role of a smuggler bringing gold from Hong Kong, while Shrestha worked at the airport. They were praised for their impeccable comic timing.
In 1988, they produced, directed and acted in the serial Lal Purja, which was broadcasted for a season by NTV. The serial dealt with the topics of patriotism, inter-caste marriages, and social awareness. Reyukai Nepal also asked them to make a serial with an anti-drug message. One of its kind at the time, the serial made them a large amount of money.
Shrestha believes they work better together. “When we perform together, we get more support from the audience than when we go solo,” he says.
The two stress upon quality in their work. They say they don’t want to repeat the same things over and over again, which helps them keep things fresh. Some of the topics they have dealt with include saving the environment, drinking water, peace, cooperation, unity, and drugs.
Shrestha puts their strong bond to mutual understanding and the fact that Acharya is eight years younger than him. “I treat him like a younger brother,” says Shrestha. “Everybody has a positive and a negative side, [but we both] bring out the best in each other and we are still [performing] together.”
“I am the son of ethnic Newar and he is the son of a Brahmin,” Shrestha says. “When I see our fellow Nepalese divided over caste, I feel very bad.
Acharya has similar sentiments. “[Shrestha] is so intelligent and is never angry even when someone makes a mistake; he treats me like his own younger brother.”
This Maha Jodi (great pairing) has performed in more than 20 countries. The two have also muscled their acting skills in feature films, some of which are Lovipapa, Filim, Rajamati, Silu, Balidaan, Je Bho Ramrai Bho, and Ta Ta Sarhai Bigris Ni Badri.
The two are also gifted musicians, writing and singing their own lyrics. Their comic dohari (folk-duet) songs are a phenomenon in Nepal.
In many of their social satires, they appear in plain uniforms praising the heavens for having blessed Nepal with pleasant hills, magnificent mountains and bountiful plains. But then they subvert these thoughts by lamenting the lack of a good leader, someone who could lead Nepal well. The messages in their plays are easy to spot, but they never overpower their first goal: to entertain the audience. All of their lines feature the right mix of humour and satire.
Recently, the two were actively involved in the relief efforts following the Great Earthquake of Nepal in April. Their production house organised a number of relief efforts, going to earthquake-hit areas to distribute food items, tarpaulin, water and salt.
The duo believes that the government needs to create an earthquake-focused curriculum in schools, so that children will be able to handle such situations in the future. “We teach our children to hide under the bed or table if a quake hits, but these things don’t work in Nepal, as we have big concrete buildings and cement houses,” they say, “The biggest thing that we have learned is that the government must strictly enforce the building code. The contractors who construct new buildings must be aware of the safety protocols.”
The two are now planning to produce a comedy telefilm about Nepalese migrant workers in the Gulf. They hope to get permission to shoot in Qatar. “We will distribute the CD in the hinterlands of our country, from where the youth come here to work.”
:: Duo comedy actor Haribansa Acharya and Madan Krishna Shrestha were in Doha recently for the Nefta Film Awards 2015.
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