Girish Karnad who passed away on 10 June 2019 at the age of 81, will be remembered as a multi-lingual actor who was known for his bohemian views and who often courted controversies for the same.
As late as 2016, he was seen in the movie Chalk-N-Duster that also starred Shabana Azmi and Juhi Chawla. He was seen in Salman Khan starrer Ek Tha Tiger too. He also acted with Hema Malini in the film Ratnadeep (1979) that was directed by Basu Chatterjee. Among all his Hindi film roles, he is still remembered for his role as the kind hearted Ghanshyam in Basu Chatterjee’s Swami (1977) and Shyam Benegal's Manthan (1976) that was based on Dr Verghese Kurien's valiant attempts to establish a milk co-operative in Anand. Swami was based on a novel by Bengali writer Sarat Chandra Chatterjee and the film won rave reviews.
The film was produced by Jaya Chakravarthy, Hema Malini’s mother. The songs "Pal Bhar Mein Yeh Kya" and "Ka Karoon Sajni Aaye Na Balam" are still popular among cine goers.
Born on 19 May 1938, Karnad’s oeuvre was vast. He was an actor, film director, writer, playwright and a Rhodes scholar. His villainous roles in Tamil movies like Naan adimai Illai (1986) and Kadalan (1995) are still remembered.
He received the Jnanpith award in 1998. He is considered to be a modern playwright in Kannada on the lines of Vijay Tendulkar (Marathi), Badal Sarkar (Bengali) and Mohan Rakesh (Hindi). He was also conferred the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan by the government of India and won four Filmfare Awards for Kannada films.
Karnad was born in Matheran and his father Dr Raghunath Karnad was a medical practitioner. His family moved to Dharwad in Karnataka in 1952. He worked briefly for Oxford University Press and then got involved in theatre. He was the director of FTII between 1974 and 1975 and served as the Chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi from 1988 to 1993.
Karnad’s foray into Kannada literature was marked by a story in the Mahabharata called Yayati. It was published in 1961 and won rave reviews. His play Tughlaq (1964) won critical acclaim. His other plays like Hayavadana (1971) and Naga Mandala (1988) added more fame to his repertoire.
His Kannada debut was in the movie Samskara (1970) that won the President’s Golden Lotus award. He directed a movie Vamsha Vriksha (1971) which won him a national award. Among the Hindi films that he was seen in, Nishaant (1975), Manthan (1976) and Swami (1977) remain notable. Winner of several national and state awards, Karnad proved that he was a man to watch out for.
Intrepid as he was, Karnad was one who was blunt and always called a spade a spade. In 2012 at an awards function, he made a scathing attack on VS Naipaul for his hatred towards Indian Muslims. Later he commented that Rabindranath Tagore was someone who had got more than what he deserved and condemned him for his plays of “poor quality”. He also carried a torch for Tipu Sultan and his comments that the Bangalore airport should have been named after Tipu Sultan created uproar in Bangalore.
Karnad is survived by his wife Saraswathi (who hails from Coorg) and son Raghu.
(After working in the corporate world for close to two decades, Bhagyalakshmi Seshachalam started her second career innings as a head-hunter. She is passionate about Hindi movies and loves retro music. When her family shifted to Chennai in the 80s, Bhagya had a taste of Tamil cinema too. In the long term, she plans a book on two of her favourite directors – Guru Dutt and K Balachander. She travels across the country on work and is based in Mysore.)