Girish Karnad – tribute to a great theatre personality

Girish Karnad – tribute to a great theatre personality

Girish  Karnad died at a hospital in Bengaluru at 6.30 am on 10th June. He was 81 years old.  Jnanpith Award winner and recipient of the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan Girish Karnad was one of the most noted playwrights in India. 

He is survived by his wife Saraswathi, Son Raghu Karnad, a Journalist and writer and daughter Radha who is a doctor based in Kenya. 

Early Life of Girish Karnad :

Girish Raghunath Karnad was born in Mathern, in present-day Maharashtra in 1938.  His mother Krishnabai née Mankikar was a young widow with a son, and while training to be a nurse, met Dr. Raghunath Karnad who was a doctor in the Bombay Medical Service.

For five years they could not get married because of the prevailing prejudice against widow remarriage. Finally their marriage was sanctified under the dispensation of the Arya Samaj. Girish was the third of the four children born thereafter.

Girish Karnad’s initial schooling was in Marathi. In Sirsi, Karnataka, he was exposed to travelling theatre groups, Natak Mandalis, as his parents were deeply interested in their plays. 

Education :

As a youngster, Karnad was an ardent admirer of Yakshagana and the theater in his village. His family moved to Dharwad in Karnataka when he was 14 years old, where he grew up with his two sisters and niece.

He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and statistics from Karnatak Arts College, Dharwad (Karnataka University) in 1958. Upon graduation Karnad went to England and studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Magdalen in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar (1960-63), earning his Master of Arts degree in philosophy, Political Science and economics.  Karnad was elected President of the Oxford Union in 1963.

Literary works of Girish Karnad :

Girish Karnad has written many plays in Kannada and is considered one of Kannada literature’s famous playwrights.  Karnad wrote his first play, the much critically acclaimed Yayati  in 1961, while he was still at Oxford.

Girish Karnad’s next play Tughlaq in 1964 made him a name with among playwrights in the country.  The play is set during the reign of Muhammad bin Tughlaq.

He wrote Hayavadana in 1972 and Nagamandala in 1988.

Girish Karnad’s foray into cinema industry :

Karnad’s acting and screenwriting debut came in 1970 in the Kannada movie Samskara which was released in 1970.  The movies is based on a novel by UR Ananathamurty.  This film won the first President’s Golden Lotus Award for Kannada cinema.

Karnad’s work followed with Vamsha Vriksha which was released in 1971 with BV Karanth.  The other well known films in kannada includes Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane in 1977 and Ondanondu Kaaladalli in 1978. 

He also worked in Hindi directing the famously acclaimed Utsav in 1984 which is an adaptation of Shudraka’s 4th century Sanskrit play Mrichakatika.

He provided the voice of A.P.J.Abdul Kalam former President of India, in the audio-book of Kalam’s autobiography by Charkha Audio-books Wings of Fire.

Awards and Honors receive by Girish Karnad :

For Literature :

  • Sangeet Natak Akademi award and Varthur navya Award – 1972
  • Padma Shri  – 1974
  • Padma Bhushan – 1992
  • Kannada Sahitya Parishat Award – 1992
  • Sahitya Academy award – 1994
  • Jnanpith Award – 1998
  • Kalidas Samman – 1998
  • Rajyotsava Award

University of Southern California, Los Angeles – 2011.

His plays in English includes :

  • Collected Plays, Vol.1, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005 (Tughlaq, Hayavadana, Bali: The Sacrifice, and Naga Mandala)
  • Collected Plays, Vol.2, Oxford University Press, 2005 (Tale-Danda, The Fire and the Rain, The Dreams of Tippu Sultan, Two Monologues: Flowers and Broken Images)
  • Yayati, Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Wedding Album, Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Boiled Beans on Toast, Oxford University Press, 2014.

Awards for Cinema :

National Film Awards : s

  • 1971: Best Direction – Vamsha Vriksha (with B.V.Karanth )
  • 1971: Best Feature Film in Kannada – Vamsha Vriksha
  • 1973: Second Best Feature Film – Kaadu 1977: Best Feature Film in Kannada : Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane
  • 1978: Best Screenplay – Bhumika (with Shyam Benegal and Satyadev Dubey)
  • 1978: Best Feature Film in Kannada – Ondanondu Kaladalli
  • 1989: Best Non-Feature Film – Kanaka Purandara
  • 1990: Best Non-Feature film on Social Issues – The Lamp in the Niche
  • 1992: Best Film on Environment Conservation – Cheluvi
  • 1999: Best Feature Film in Kannada – Kaanuru Heggadathi

Filmfare Awards South :

  • 1972 : Filmfare Award for Best Director – Kannada– Vamsha Vriksha 
  • 1974: Filmfare Award for Best Director – Kannada – Kaadu
  • 1978: Filmfare Award for Best Director – Kannada – Ondanondu Kaladalli
  • 1983: Filmfare Award for Best Actor – Kannada – Ananda Bhairavi

Filmfare Awards – Hindi

  • 1980: Filmfare Best Screenplay Award – Godhuli (with B.V.Karanth)
  • 1980: Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award : Aasha : Nominated
  • 1982: Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award : Teri Kasam : Nominated

Karnataka State Film Awards :

  • 1971-72 : First Best Film – Vamsha Vriksha
  • 1971-72 : Best Dialogue Writer – Vamsha Vriksha
  • 1973-74 : Second Best Film  – Kaadu
  • 1989-90 : Best Supporting Actor – Santha Shishunala Sharifa
  • 1995-96 ; Best Supporting Actor – Sangeetha Sagara Ganayogi Panchakshara Gavai
  • 1999-00 : Second Best Film  – Kanooru Heggadathi
Others :
  • Gubbi Veeranna Award Award for his services to theatre (as a playwright)
  • Karnad served as the director of the Film and Television Institute of India from 1974–1975, the Indian co-chairman for the Joint Media Committee of the Indo-US Sub-Commission on Education and Culture from 1984–1993, Chairman of the Sangeet Natak Academy from 1988–1993, and president of Karnataka Nataka Academy from 1976–1978.
  • Honorary Doctorate from University of Southern California, Los Angeles – 2011. 
Movies directed by Girish Karnad are :
  • Vamsha Vriksha in 1971, Kannada)
  • D.R.Bendre in 1972, Documentary)
  • Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane in 1977, Kannada
  • Godhuli in 1977, Hindi
  • Ondanondu Kaladalli in 1978, Kannada
  • Kanooru Heggadithi, Kannada
  • Kaadu in 1973, Kannada
  • Durga in Mahendar
  • Utsav in Hindi
  • Woh Ghar in 1984, Hindi based on Kirtinath Kurtakoti’s Kannada play Aa Mani
  • The Lamp in the Niche (1990) (documentary)
  • Cheluvi (1992, Kannada and Hindi (dubbed))
  • Chidambara Rahasya (2005, Kannada) (tv film for DD1)
Controversies and Activism – Girish Karnad :

Controversy always followed Girish Karnad.   He was a proponent of multi-culturalism and freedom of expression. Karnad had been a critic of religious fundamentalism and Hindutva in our country.

He publicly condemned the Demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and later spoke against the attempts to create controversy about the Idgah Maidan in Hubli.  He is a proponent of secularism and has opposed RSS and BJP and other Hindu organizations on several occasions.

It is the end of an era in Indian Cinema and theatre.  The country has lost a “cultural ambassador”. team is Saddened by his demise. May his soul rest in peace.

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