Girish Karnad: Rare photos and lesser-known facts of the veteran artist

Updated: Jun 10, 2020, 10:08 | Nikita Wagh
  • Girish Karnad

    For the 1980s' kids who tasted TV time with 'Malgudi Days', Girish Karnad's portrayal as Swami's stern father, has remained an indelible memory. A Jnanpith winner and a recipient of the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan, apart from multiple National Film Awards and a Sahitya Akademi honour, Girish Karnad was born on May 19, 1938, in Matheran. He graduated from the Karnatak University and was a Rhodes Scholar in the University of Oxford, where he studied philosophy, politics and economics. (All pictures/mid-day archives and AFP)

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  • Girish Karnad

    An expressive conversationalist and liberal who believed in the true spirit of secularism, Girish Karnad was a colossus in India's cultural landscape. "A man must commit a crime at least once in his lifetime. Only then will his virtue be recognised," Karnad has been famously quoted by his fans as well as his detractors.

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    'Yayati' in 1961 marked his first tryst with theatre and established his ability to create dramatic experiences. He wrote Yayati when studying as a Rhodes scholar at the University of Oxford.

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    His work in the theatre world was rich in historical and cultural stories but told with a touch of modernism, which made them conducive for translations in English and other languages that took them to a wider audience.

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    Girish Karnad went on to the historical Tughlaq, followed by Agni Mattu Male, Hayavadana, Nagamandala and Taledanda, emerging as one of Kannada literature's foremost playwrights. 'Tughlaq' is one of the gems, which theatre aficionados of the 1970s, would remember for being showcased in the precincts of Old Fort in the capital city. The play, directed by Ebrahim Alkazi -- the doyen of Indian theatre -- got embedded with the city's cultural life.

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    Girish Karnad made his acting and screenwriting debut with Samskara in 1970, based on a book by legendary Kannada writer UR Ananthamurthy. The film won the President's Golden Lotus Award for Kannada Cinema.

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    Samskara was based on the caste system and Karnad had set the tone of his creative expression - bold and fearless. He continued that streak in a stream of Kannada, Hindi and Marathi films.

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    Shyam Benegal's Nishant was Girish Karnad's early foray into Hindi cinema. The film won a National Film Award, and a Palm d'Or nomination.

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    The multi-faceted author and playwright hosted a weekly science programme on state-run Doordarshan titled "Turning Point". Featuring scientist Yash Pal, the award-winning show explained complex, modern scientific discoveries in simple language.

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    Karnad's Manthan was India's official entry to the 1976 Academy Awards. He had also lent his voice to APJ Abdul Kalam autobiography, Wings of Fire (1999).

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    Beyond the world of showbiz, Karnad was also unafraid of expressing his views on the country's social and political state. In the latest stroke at political activism, Karnad was among over 200 writers and artistes who had appealed to citizens to vote against hate politics and for an equal and diverse India, right before the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

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    He had also worn a placard that read 'Me too Urban Naxal' at an event marking the first death anniversary of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh.

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    Veteran actor Satish Shah had once revealed that Girish Karnad was the one responsible for choosing him, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri for the FTII acting course in 1974 in the days of "conventional chocolate faces".

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    As for his films, the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) rightly captured, how Karnad's movies brought "ruralism, history and mythical pathos with contemporary themes". But in a career spanning six decades, he also featured in a stream of commercial potboilers like 'Ek Tha Tiger' and 'Tiger Zinda Hai' in recent times.

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    Girish Karnad passed away on June 10, 2019. He was 81 and was battling a prolonged illness. An era ended with Girish Karnad!

    In picture: Girish Karnad (R) addressing activists at a peace rally in Bangalore on December 6, 2003, on the occasion of the 11th anniversary of the demolition of the 16th-century Babri Mosque in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya in 1992. Muslims and others across India gathered to demand that those responsible for the 1992 destruction of the mosque in Ayodhya be brought to justice and that the mosque be reconstructed on its original site.

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About The Gallery

It's Girish Karnad's first death anniversary today. The Jnanpith winner and noted theatre personality, actor and playwright passed away on June 10, 2019 at the age of 81 following age-related complications. Here's a look at some vintage photos of Girish Karnad, in his remembrance.