Mitra Mandali was started in the year 1942 in the month of July. This theatre company was started by the great K. Hirannayya
. He had varied experiences of the stage for about 15 years as a partner and actor in different professional troupes like the Sugunabodhaka Samaja of Bengaluru
(1932), the Seetamanohara Company of T. Seetaramaiah of Tumkur (1934), the Gubbi Company
(1935), and the Sahitya Samrajya Nataka Mandali (1938). He had made himself known as a playwright and actor of no mean calibre, before he set out to Madras (Chennai
) to enter the films. After a good start in the film world, he returned to Mysore
to start his Mitra Mandali.
This theatre group, Mitra Mandali held the stage mainly on the merit of its social plays which delivered to its crowded audiences. The Mitra Mandali, with its inimitable talent and zeal made the social play more popular than mythological and historical ones. The old modes had to make way for the new. The troupe toured in Karnataka in 1944 with Devadasi
, its masterpiece. It came to Bengaluru early in 1945, and staged 93 shows of Devadasi. In 1946, Hirannayya set out on a tour of North Karnataka covering Belgaum district
, Jamkhand, Sholapur, Raichur and other prominent centres in Karnataka. From 1947 onwards, the troupe got up a number of new social plays replete with humour, like Makrnal Topi and Panganama. Serious plays like Devi Mandodari, Basaveshwara and Anasuya were also staged but with scant success. Hirannayya with his inimitable genius immortalised characters like the pimp, Najukayya, in the play Devadasi, the henpecked Nani in Makmal Topi and the cook Praneshachari in Panganama. Under the surface of his bubbling mirth, there was always an undercurrent of passionate denunciation. His plays were at the core powerful attacks against social evils like drinking (Devadasi) social inequality (Panganama) and the problem of unequal marriage (Makmal Topi).
The troupe earned a good name mainly because of its social themes and intelligent use of the spoken word. However, Hirannayya was the first to introduce the Kannada language
dialect with all its angularities into the professional stage and it indeed provided great charm to his plays. He proved that the professional stage could do with the time honoured mythological themes, gorgeous but unnatural make-up, heavy settings and even the burden of stage songs which had tried the patience of modern audiences. He was a bold experimentalist. He was sure of his themes and was in close touch with the changing taste of his audiences. In addition, he showed that the best method of managing a professional troupe was by avoiding the distance between the proprietor and the actor. His was literally a Mitra Mandali - a family of friends - and it included some of the gifted and experienced artists like Murarachar, Seetharamarao, Chinnappa and Ballary Lalita.
Artists of this troupe defied the common notion backed with noticeable evidences that it is the second nature of an artist to hop from troupe to troupe all the life long. It was indeed a great blow to the modern professional stage, that Hirannayya, an enthusiastic and intelligent playwright and a gifted actor, died a premature death, bringing down the curtain on the glorious career of a marvellous troupe. The professional theatre of Mysore that came into being in 1880 was nursed by the patronising palace and steadily developed with scores of troupes, some of which were able and sustaining while others, too feeble to do any thing substantial. Still, they strove to keep the stage going. The well established ones went out to different linguistic regions as the ambassadors of the art and culture of Karnataka
. Mysore produced some of the most outstanding actors and troupes in South India who reigned on the theatre-world of the South for almost four decades from the beginning of the 20th century.