Wed, May 22 2013
IF you ask a Bulgarian to list the most famous Bulgarian actors of all time, you can be certain that one name will be among the top places. Georgi Kaloyanchev has proven himself to be the favourite for generations of Bulgarians and still continues to enjoy peoples' love and affection. Recently turned 81 (on January 13), Kaloyanchev, known as "Kalata", can be seen performing on the stage of his "beloved" Satirical Theatre together with Stoyanka Mutafova, his lifelong partner on the stage.
As for any exceptional actor, Kaloyanchev's road to national fame was marked with ups and downs. He was born in the Black Sea city of Bourgas and right after completing his military service, was accepted into the Sofia School of Theatre in the early 1940s. The "judgment" of his professors was severe. Kaloyanchev was declared as "not very impressive as an actor, with an unrecognisable face and a voice unsuitable for powerful lines". Kaloyanchev's short, stocky frame did not help to change this perception, but eventually defined his performances on stage.
Kaloyanchev had the fortune, or perhaps misfortune, of studying together with some of the future stars of Bulgaria: Kosta Ttsonev, Katya Dineva and Katya Zehireva. The presence of these distinguished characters made it difficult for the young student from Bourgas to really make his mark in front of his professors and critics. However, the situation changed suddenly one day when Russian director Boris Babochkin went to see a play performed by the young talents of the school. Babochkin was taken by both the humour and drama used by Kaloyanchev in shaping his character in Ostrovcky's Storm play. It was the right impression to make and right after his graduation in 1951, Kaloyanchev was invited to perform for the most prestigious theatre in Bulgaria, the Naroden Teatur Ivan Vazov (Ivan Vazov National Theatre). The same year, Kaloyanchev received his first role in the cinema. The movie was called Dawn Over the Homeland and Kaloyanchev, not surprisingly, played the character of the funny gipsy Sali, the soul of the company.
It was all going in the right direction for the young actor, but then, as suddenly as his success happened, came the deadlock. For the next five years, Kaloyanchev did not receive a single invitation to perform a major part and had to be satisfied performing supporting roles. Directors mostly used his talent as an understudy for leading actors. Kaloyanchev's status at this time is sent up in one of jokes made at the time by a famous Bulgarian actress, Tanya Masalitinova. When one actor was reported sick she said "Call for Kaloyanchev, he can play everything, even women".
Things changed again for Kaloyanchev when he decided to move to the newly established Satirical Theatre, where he hoped to find new acting opportunities. This was turned out to be a smart move, because in that theatre he met Nikola Anastasov, Georgi Partzalev and Stoyanka Mutafova and the four of them later became the trademark for Bulgarian comedy and satire loved by all Bulgarians.
The era of Kaloyanchev started. Since communism was established in Bulgaria, there were not many places where you could speak openly about the faults of the socialist society in the country. The young artists in the Satirical Theatre took their chance and most of their plays were full of messages to the people disguised with humour and self-criticism. People soon realised that going to the Satirical Theatre was something special and tickets were sold months in advance. Kaloyanchev soon became the star of the Theatre and was given plenty of opportunities to prove his talent. The cinema also remembered him and some of the best ever Bulgarian films appeared: Spetzialist po vsichko (Jack of all Trades), Inspectorat i noshtta (The inspector and the night), Kit (Whale), Ezop (Aesop) and others.
Kaloyanchev quickly became the people's favourite and started tours around the country together with his colleagues, which later became legendary for their success. The communist leaders of the country followed the people's affection and pronounced Kaloyanchev as one of the best Bulgarian actors. Todor Zhivkov, former communist leader of the country, was one of the visitors to the Satirical Theatre. Very often critics and audiences thought that Kaloyanchev and his company had gone too far, mocking socialist reality in front of Zhivkov's eyes, but the reaction of the leader was very often positive. An explanation for the special attention that Kaloyanchev received from Zhivkov was soon found. At an official reception, Kaloyanchev approached Zhivkov to tell him that a Western European company was willing to hire him for a film in Italy. By that time, the communist authorities had strictly restricted travel abroad, and Kaloyanchev needed the permission of Zhivkov himself to take up the opportunity. Kaloyanchev recounted that Zhivkov's response to his request was very simple. "I cannot let you go abroad because if you are gone, who will stay here to entertain people. And if there is no one here to entertain them they will soon start mocking me. No, I need you here, you cannot go". Kaloyanchev had to give up hope of success abroad and continued to perform only for a Bulgarian audience. His sacrifice was soon compensated by one of his biggest successes as an actor and the acknowledgement he received both from critics and viewers.
It came with the film version of one of Bulgaria's classic books, Bai Ganio tragva iz Evropa (Bai Ganio on his way to Europe) written by Aleko Konstantinov. Kaloyanchev played the leading role of Bai Ganio, a Bulgarian, who several years after the liberation of the country in 1878, decides to travel to Vienna and gets involved in many funny episodes encountering the Western European way of life. It was the perfect role for Kaloyanchev. The film was shot soon after the democratic changes in 1989 and had much in common with Bulgaria's opening to Western Europe and the rest of the world after 45 years of communism. The film had tremendous success and is still one of the most adored Bulgarian films across generations. Today, after 67 films, hundreds of roles on stage and many awards, Kaloyanchev can most certainly be described as the ever-shining star of Bulgarian comedy and satire.
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