S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Monday, 10 June 2019

The passing of a theatre giant

S. Janaki

"I write because I want to be remembered," said Girish Karnad. One of the best known playwrights in contemporary India, actor, director, critic, translator, and cultural interventionist, Girish  Karnad was a versatile theatre personality. He can be counted among the giants who created and popularised modern theatre in India.

Born on 19 May 1938 in Matheran, Maharashtra, Girish Karnad was educated at Karnataka University, Dharwad, and at Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar. He began his career with the Oxford University Press in Madras, and while there worked with the Madras Players as actor and director.

He was among India’s foremost dramatists, with eight published plays including Yayati (1961), Tughlaq (1964), Hayavadana (1971), Naga-Mandala (1988) and Taledanda (1990). He explored a variety of themes, drawing from Indian mythology and history to create a body of work with strong contemporary resonances. Karnad’s work has been translated from Kannada into a number of Indian languages and have been presented on stage by eminent directors like E. Alkazi, B.V. Karanth, and Vijaya Mehta.

Simultaneously, Girish Karnad worked in Indian cinema, and won accolades as an actor, director and scriptwriter. His important films include Samskara (1970) in which he played the lead role, Vamsha Vriksha (1972), Kaadu (1974), Ondanondu Kaladalli (1978), and the non-feature Kanaka Purandara (1989). Apart from acting in mainstream cinema, Karnad also played many significant roles in parallel cinema, notably with Shyam Benegal. He is also remembered for his role in the televised version of R.K. Narayan’s Swami and Friends.

Karnad served as Director, Film and Television Institute of India (1974-75), Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence at University of Chicago (1987-88), Chairman of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi (1988-93), and Director, Nehru Centre in London (2000-03).

Honours came early to him—the Homi Bhabha Fellowship as well as several prestigious awards like the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Padma Shri, Jnanpeeth awards, the Kalidas Samman, Padma Bhushan, the Akademi Ratna or Fellow of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi. he was also the recipient of many awards in Indian cinema. 

The passing away of the multifaceted Girish Karnad at the age of 81, on 10 June 2019 in Bengaluru, is a huge loss to the fields of theatre, cinema and literature.

(An interview with Girish Karnad was published in Sruti 356, May 2014)

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