Veteran Playwright-Actor Girish Karnad And His Times

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Girish Karnad, the multifaceted genius, passed away on June 10th, 2019.  He left a great legacy of plays, movies and a whole lot of literary treasure behind him, to be cherished by coming generations.

Girish’s name evokes kindred feelings in the mind of the commoner.  He was seen as a literary playwright, but was also a brilliant screenplay writer and actor.  Though he was a Konkani speaking man, he considered Kannada his mother tongue and wrote his works basically in that language.  He was primarily known as a man who reinvented Indian mythology into a sort of retelling of legends in his plays like Hayavadana, Nagamandala and Yayati.

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Girish collaborated with the best of Indian new wave cinema directors.  Be it working with Shyam Benegal, Satyadev Dubey, B.V. Karanth or Govind Nihalani on co writing the screenplay, Girish Karnad excelled in every department of filmmaking.  He was an important cog in the wheel of the new wave movement of Hindi cinema in the 1970s.

Girish Karnad did his post graduation at the University of Oxford and returned to India to pursue his passion of writing plays and being a part of serious theatre.  In the process, he interacted with great Indian playwrights like Satyadev Dubey, Vijay Tendulkar and Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar.

Girish Karnad: His stint in cinema

Karnad was primarily a playwright and an occasional actor.  Shyam Benegal used Karnad to effect in his realistic cinema, starting from Nishant (1975,) where Karnad played the helpless school teacher whose wife is abducted by the local politician’s son, who lusts for her.

Then, Benegal followed it up with the iconic Manthan (1976,) a film based on the monumental efforts of India’s white revolution man, Verghese Kurien.  Girish Karnad played the part of Kurian in this movie which was funded by dairy workers.

Girish Karnad made his monumental contribution to the field of arts through parallel cinema.  The screenplay he wrote for his Kannada movie Kaadu (1973) and the role he played in adopting U.R. Ananthamurthy’s great novel Samskara in cinema in 1970 is worth mentioning.

The scripts of Bhumika and Kondura (Anugraham in Telugu, the only Telugu film of Shyam Benegal) were well crafted and well received by both film buffs and critics as well.


However, the greatest quality in Karnad was, he adapted to the changing times of cinema and looked at it as a wholesome medium.  Girish Karnad acted in Telugu, Tamil, Marathi and Hindi films, apart from his mother language, Kannada. Apart from receiving the Jnanpith Award for his position as a playwright, he also proved to be a mature actor in movies.

At this time of grief, we can only thank Girish Karnad for his lifetime contribution to the Indian arts arena, be it theater, films or writing.

Thank you for everything, Dr. Karnad! May your soul rest in peace.

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