Early Life of Phani Sharma
Bolin da, as he was dotingly called by his admirers, had his umbilical chords attached to a family of Tezpur in 1910. He lost his mother Homeswari Devi at an early age. Molan Chandra himself was an apt actor and Phani Sharma regularly went to the Ban stage and closely observed the distinguished acting styles of a number of veteran actors like Indreswar Borthakur, Lalita Mohan Choudhary. Cultivating a passion for acting as if was his forte as he would often mimic the gestures of actors on the riverside of the mighty Brahmaputra. He would listen to the sound of nature and train his voice behind the tall rocks on the banks of the Brahmaputra in Tezpur, away from the questioning eyes.
Career of Phani Sharma
In 1930, he joined the Kohinoor Opera, the first mobile theatre group in Assam, which was started by Natyacharya Brajanath Sharma. In this new stint as a mobile theatre artiste, Phani Sharma enthralled the spectators with his unique style of performance. Thousands of audiences thronged the stage just to watch him perform.
In 1931, Brajanath Sarma, with the help of Phani Sarma introduced female actresses for the first time to appear in their drama productions, at a time when male acting was completely dominant, thereby revolutionizing the nature of Assamese theatre.
The friendship between Brajanath Sarma and Phani Sharma paved the new beginning in the theatrical history of Assam. Together they set a milestone in the Assamese theatre. Apart from initiating a theatrical movement, Kohinoor Theatre introduced co-acting on the stages of Assam.
Phani Sharma was the most important figure in the world of drama during the mid-century, a time that fell between the romantic age which had brilliantly ended with Jyotiprasad Agarwala and the beginning of a modern age of experimental drama. He had the keen sense of the zeitgeist, i.e., the spirit of the great. He dramatized hunger and oppression, as well as corruption and humane values in a convincing manner. Sharma was abreast with modern ideas and ideals of theatre. He assimilated the ideas of Ibsen to pinpoint the social morass.
In 1933, Phani Sharma played the legendary role of Ghati Khan in the first Assamese feature film Joymoti, directed by Jyotiprasad Agarwala. The notable acting of Phani Sarma in that role was a special feature of the film which was released in 1935. After this, Sarma went on the star in Agarwala's second film Indramalati. In 1945, along with Bishnuprasad Rabha, he made a feature film called Siraj, based on a popular short story by Deshapran Lakshminath Sharma. Siraj was widely appreciated by people and the film was a huge success. In 1955, he directed and starred in Pioli Phukan where he also played the role of the film's protagonist. His last film was Ito Sito Bahuto in 1963, where he appeared as an actor rather than taking the director's helm. He was also credited with translating J B Priestley's eminent drama, An Inspector Calls into the Assamese language.
Works of Phani Sharma
Apart from his remarkable performance on the stage and screen, Phani Sharma also earned a name as a playwright, an area where earned great acclaim. As a playwright, Sharma stressed more on its dramatic side rather than on its fictitious side. His plays had a universal appeal and substance. All his dramas were written keeping in mind the Assamese people and its culture. He gave a touch of his own unique treatment and approach to these dramas. Bhojraj was one such powerful drama. He wrote a historical drama Bhograja on the basis of a rebellion that took place during the Ahom King Sunyeophaa's reign. He wrote a number of dramas like Sonit Kunwari, Karengar Ligiri, Lobhita along with few other plays. He wrote dramas keeping in mind the culture of the Assamese people. He had his own dramatic approach and treatment. Bhogjara was a powerful drama. He penned a drama version of his film Siraj which was regarded as a document of Hindu-Muslim integrity.
He even penned down a drama version of his film Siraj, which depicted the unity between two communities, Hindu and Muslim. It was considered as a document of Hindu- Muslim solidarity. An extremely constrained artiste, he played the role of Siraj in two modes, one for the rural audience and the other for the urban; both turned out to be huge success. Phani Sharma performed Siraj through the length and breadth of the State, often himself acting in the play.
He had a group of promising artistes from across the State, who accompanied him in his endeavours. People would often come to see the drama just to see Phani Sharma perform.
Throwing light to some aspects of his own life, Phani Sharma scripted his tale in the form of Kiya, a drama. Kiya was the tale of an artiste, who dedicated his life to entertaining people. He often integrated humour and social cause in his dramas. Kola-Bazar was one of such drama. It addressed the issue of injustice and inequality. Kiya was indeed a portrayal of Sharma on the stage and it represented his commitment and dedication to drama. He believed that an artiste had a great role to play in nation building. But he was shocked to see the ruthless exploitation of the poor by the affluent section of the society. Kiya was a powerful depiction of the plight of an artiste in post-independence Assam. Throughout his life till 1970, he entertained people with his mesmerizing performance. And the audiences of Assam did not fail to appreciate his role as a great dramatist. He received the title of Natyasurya for his contribution to the Assamese theatre. His plays still hold relevance in the present day society. He took Assamese theatre to another height. He has left an indelible mark in the minds of several theatre lovers of the State and inspired a generation of artistes from this corner of the country. He was a social reformer, who viewed the society as a stage and through this stage; he tried to reform the society.
His film Siraj in the wake of the ongoing ethnic clashes is still relevant, where a Muslim girl is given asylum by a Hindu family. Such plays still could be staged to foster brotherhood among the various communities.
On the basis of his own experiences as an actor he wrote the social drama Kiya. It was a tale of an artiste who dedicated his own personal life to entertain other people. He addressed issues of isolation and corruption in his drama of later period Nag-Pas. He often integrated humour into such dramas. The drama Kola-Bazarthe had comic elements along with serious issues of social injustice and inequality. He is also credited with translating J. B. Priestley's eminent drama An Inspector Calls into the Assamese language.