Turkish shadow theatre puppet master. Mehmet Muhittin Sevilen was one of the last great performers of the genre. From the age of eight, he became a dedicated admirer of the masters of that period: Hayali Kâtip Salih, Hayali Memduh, Hayali Ömer Fahri, Hayali Behiç, Hayali Arap Cemal, Hayali Nazif, Hayali Sobacı Ömer, Hayali Serçe Mehmet, Hayali Ömer Aga. That was a golden age of karagöz, with performers in each area of Istanbul.
Following the example of these artists, Mehmet Muhittin Sevilen became the last great inheritor of their knowledge. At fourteen, he assisted his teacher, Hayali Saraç Hüseyin Aga, in performances in the Draman, Fatih area of Istanbul and took the stage name Hayali Küçük Ali (“Master Little Ali”). From 1909, when he finished his schooling at Rüştiye Davutpaşa, to 1969, he continually played in cafes, theatres, and for celebrations, writing original texts, notably Hamam eglencesi (The Turkish Bath Entertainment, 1928), Kâgıthane sefası (Primroses of Kâgıthane Park, 1928), Hayal Perdesi (Dream of the Curtain, 1931). He was recorded in films, notably in 1959, in the well-known short Gülme komşuna gelir başı na (Don’t Laugh at Your Neighbour, It Can Happen to You) and produced for radio and television. Sought after for circumcisions, he played in front of President Atatürk at the circumcision of two sons of Ismet Inönü on September 27, 1934 (with a testimonial to prove it).
He has been assisted in his performances by many members of his family: his son Kemalettin Sevilen; one of his three daughters, Naciye Ergüler; three grandsons, Erdogan and Erhan Ergüler, as well as Tuncay Tanboğa who became, in 1951, at age fourteen, Hayali Torun Çelebi.
Besides being a great actor, Mehmet Muhittin Sevilen was full of life, had a great sense of humour, and a wide imagination which, added to his cultural knowledge and musical ability, he brought a breath of fresh air to the technique and repertory of the traditional Turkish shadow play. Figures he made are in many museums in Turkey and abroad, notably in Paris in the Musée de l’Homme (Anthropology Museum).