Keremane Mahabala Hegde
Considered as one of the all time greats, Mahabala Hegde was a star actor, plus an expert in the various aspects of the art form.
Shri Hegde had a strong family tradition. Born in the famous Keremane family at Gunavante as son of Rama Hegde, an art lover and singer. His uncle Shivarama Hegde is one of the greats, probably the greatest actor of his style of Uttara Kannada Yakshagana. His village and surroundings were buzzing with Yakshagana activities during his childhood. As a young boy, he was initiated into devotional singing (Bhajan). Later he underwent training in Hindustani classical vocal and harmonium.
Mahabala joined his uncle's Idagunji Mahaganapathi Yakshagana Mandali, and was quickly recognized as Kumara Mahabala (boy Mahabala - meaning good at young boy roles). Later he took up female roles and then various other roles. Since then there has been no looking back. He also learnt Yakshagana singing, and used to be a singer occasionally on the stage.
By the age of about thirty, he became and established actor and an able foil to his uncle. Around 1955 he came into contact with Dr.Shivarama Karanth, participated in his Yakshagana seminars and in his experimental Yakshagana dance dramas (ballets), which gave big turn to his career.
"Two Shivarams had a great influence on my life" say Hegde, the first being Shivarama Hegde and the other, the multifaceted cultural genius, Shivarama Karanth from udupi. These two shaped his art skill and thinking. His uncle was his guardian and mentor.
Idagunji Troupe was wound up for some time due to difficulties. Mahabala Hegde joined the Saligrama Troupe (along with his uncle and cousins Shambhu and Gajanana). This started the next phase. He served the troupe for six years, then two more years in other troupes. These years of Keremane family's service in the Badaguthittu, made such an impact that led the way to the basic shake up and change of the Middle Badagu (Kundapur) style of Yakshagana that has led to the merger of the Uttara Kannada and Kundapura sub styles.
In 1974, his cousin, another maestro and organizer Shambhu Hegde, revived the Idagunji Troupe, which he joined, and was with it for about 10 years. The three cousins proved to be an excellent combination which shaped and provided the design for a number of productions. The influence is seen everywhere even now, on the stage in that area.
Sri Mahabala Hegde is a capable actor, efficient of handling a wide variety ranging from Sri Krishna to Kamsa, to Dustabudhdhi. Endowed with a powerful voice, high quality of theatrical talent, very good grip over the spoken word and emotional expression, he was the top actor of his theatre for about three decades. He was well versed in dance and stage technique too. His dialogues are well articulated, very effective and were full of wit. His concept of characters was clear and exposition was classic.He stregthened the age-old tradition of doing Abhinaya with singing the verses from the Prasanga(the 'Act').He himself was a Bhagavatha(or the singer) and a learned Hindustani Classical Vocalist.
Ashwathama in Gadhaparva and Dustabudhdhi in Chandrahasa, are the two roles which brought him the great fame. Bhishma, Duryodhana, Sudhanwa, Arjuna, Sri Krishna, Dasharatha, Sri Rama, Bharata, Shiva, Karna, Magadha - are some of his leading roles which have won him acclaim and have made a deep impact on the theatre.
He has been honored with National Award for excellence in art, the Sangeeta Nataka Akademi Award, besides a number of public honors and felicitations. He was awarded honorary doctorate by Karnataka University in the year 2009.