Left Menu
Development News Edition

Girish Karnad: A wordsmith who championed the idea of India

PTI | Bengaluru | Updated: 10-06-2019 18:18 IST | Created: 10-06-2019 18:12 IST
Girish Karnad: A wordsmith who championed the idea of India
Image Credit: Twitter (@aliabbaszafar)

His plays were a mix of myth and history but they always spoke of the contemporary reality and there lay the importance of Girish Karnad, a multi-hyphenate cultural icon who championed the freedom of expression and inclusive idea of India through his life and work. Karnad, who died on Monday at his Bengaluru residence at the age of 81, lived several lives not only on the stage but also as a scholar, theatre personality, an actor and director in a career spanning over five decades.

But it was the identity as a playwright that he most associated with, often drawing from the rich mythological and historical legacy of the country to weave stories about current sociopolitical issues. A brilliant student, who graduated in mathematics but chose arts as his playing field, Karnad wrote his first play "Yayati" at the age of 23 in 1961.

He and theatre great Ebrahim Alkazi influenced each other to a great extent. It was at Alkazi's home that Karnad was first introduced to mythology through a Hindi adaptation of Greek tragedy "Antigone" by Jean Anouilh. "Tughlaq", his play about the impatient but idealist Muhammad bin Tughluq, the 14th century Sultan of Delhi, is considered his most famous stage work.

An allegorical story about a Sultan, who spirals into disillusionment after failing to implement his visionary ideas, "Tughlaq" also reflected the disenchantment with Nehruvian ideals. It is considered relevant even today for its portrayal of the dangers of authoritarianism. The play was staged by the National School of Drama Repertory, first by Om Shivpuri and later by Alkazi. It is considered one of the most stunning productions in Indian theatre history as Alkazi chose Delhi's majestic Purana Qila as its setting.

Karnad's other famous plays include "Hayavadana", "Angumalige", "Hittina Hunja", "Naga-Mandala", "Tale-Danda", "Agni Mattu Male" and "The Dreams of Tipu Sultan". He was given Jnanpith Award, the highest literary recognition in India, in 1998. His contribution to Kannada playwriting parallels that of Mohan Rakesh's in Hindi, Vijay Tendulkar in Marathi, and Badal Sarkar in Bengali.

Literature remained an important foundation of his work in cinema. He made his movie and screenwriting debut with the adaptation of U R Ananthmurthy's seminal Kannada novel "Samskara" in 1970. The film won the President's Gold Medal in 1971. He ventured into the parallel cinema movement of the '70s with the Shyam Benegal-directed "Nishant" and "Manthan". He played the lead role in Basu Chatterjee's "Swami" opposite Shabana Azmi.

Karnad played Swami's father in the TV adaptation of R K Narayan's "Malgudi Days" and hosted "Turning Point", a science programme. As a director, he helmed Kannada films such as "Vamsha Vriksha", "Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane", "Ondanondu Kaladalli", "Kanooru Heggadithi" and Hindi films "Godhuli" and "Utsav".

Karnad was born in Maharashtra in 1938 as the third child to Dr Raghunath Karnad and Krishnabai. His family later shifted to Sirsi and Dharwad in Karnataka where he spent his formative years. After his higher studies, Karnad, a Rhodes scholar, worked with Oxford University Press from 1963 to 1969.

Karnad has also acted in several Kannada and Hindi commercial movies, most recent being 2017's "Tiger Zinda Hai". He was a known critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and was among the 600 theatre personalities who had signed a letter ahead of the Lok Sabha polls asking people to "vote BJP and its allies" out of power, arguing that the idea of India and its constitution were under threat.

He also led protests after the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh. Karnad had also criticised Nobel laureate V S Naipaul for his controversial views on Muslims in India, saying the writer had no idea of the community's contribution to the country's history.

Calling Naipaul an unreliable writer of non-fiction as far as India was concerned, Karnad had said, "He really doesn't pay much attention to the details of the texts he studies." Following a controversy over Karnataka government's decision to celebrate Tipu Jayanti, Karnad had said the 18th century Mysore ruler would have been celebrated as much as Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji, had he been a Hindu, not Muslim.

Karnad's extensive list of honours includes 10 National Film Awards, Filmfare trophies, Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan by the Government of India, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and Sahitya Akademi Award. He also served as the director of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and the chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi.

At one of his career achievement award ceremonies, Karnad had aptly summed up his life as a playwright calling theatre "a febrile network of human relationships woven in words". "This is what makes theatre such an intricate world... and this is why when, at the end of it all, one is told that one has succeeded, it is such an exhilarating experience," he had said.



Why COVID-19 is unstoppable in USA despite it being ranked at the top of GHS Index?

Several worst-hit countries such as Italy, France, Spain, the UK, Canada, and Russia have peaked COVID-19 cases in April. Almost all of them have gradually flattened the curve. However, the USA is setting new daily records of infections tha...

COVID-19 seems cooking biggest ever global scam

The increasing number of corruption cases on COVID-19 funds from throughout the world and involvement of high profile persons indicate that the countries cant ignore corruption in their pandemic response programs. This has generated the nee...

Health Management Information Systems lack holistic, integrated, and pandemic resilient character

Being a part of the United Nations system, the World Health Organization WHO deserves its share of rebuke for its alleged failure issue COVID-19 health emergency alerts on appropriate time. However, the pandemic has also exposed loopholes i...

Pride in the time of coronavirus: a welcome move online?

This year is different in many ways not least as celebrations are also taking place against the dramatic backdrop of a global health crisis and a resurgence in grassroots activism following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. ...


Latest News

Thousands join anti-government protest in Serbian capital

Several thousand people gathered in front of the Serbian parliament building in Belgrade on Saturday for a fifth consecutive night of protests against government policies, including measures to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak. Protes...

Thousands call on Bulgarian government to resign in anti-graft protests

Thousands of Bulgarians, frustrated with endemic corruption, protested on Saturday for a third day in a row, demanding the resignation of the centre-right government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and the countrys chief prosecutor.Protest...

Mandatory masks, Mickey at a distance as Walt Disney World reopens

Star Wars Stormtroopers enforced mask-wearing and Mickey Mouse waved from a distance on Saturday as Floridas Walt Disney World opened to the public for the first time in four months amid a surge of coronavirus cases in the state. Walt Disne...

Celebrities wish Amitabh Bachchan, son Abhishek Bachchan speedy recovery from COVID-19

With Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan and his son hospitalised in Mumbai hospital with COVID-19, celebrities from the film world and other walks of life sent in their messages wishing the duo a speedy recovery. On social media platforms, m...

Give Feedback