Girish Karnad: The Explorer of the Present through the Past

Girish Karnad: The Explorer of the Present through the Past


Veteran actor, writer and playwright Girish Karnad passed away on Monday, June 10 at Bengaluru after a prolonged illness. A Rhodes scholar and great Indian playwright he was a fabulous actor too. He worked predominantly in South Indian cinema though some of his work in Hindi cinema won him national acclaim.

He is survived by his wife Saraswathy and two children Raghu and Radha.Karnad wrote mainly in Kannada and explored the present by way of the past. After graduating from Kannad University in 1958, he studied Philosophy, Economics and Politics as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University from 1960-63. His first play Yayati was written in 1961 while he was still in Oxford. It was critically acclaimed and the very first play established Karnad’s use of themes of mythology, history and folk lore which he adapted into drama.

His second play Tughlaq remains his best known play. Written in 1964 it tells the tale of Mohammed Bin Tughlaq the 14th century idealist Sultan. A play of 13 scenes it is an allegory on the Nehruvian era which started with ambitious idealism and ended in disillusionment.

Samskara marked Karnad’s entry into film making in 1970. This was followed by Vamsha Vrishka the next year. In the same year he wrote the play Hayavadana. For his contributions to Indian theatre he was awarde the Padma Shri in 1974. Other plays he wrote include- Taledanda, The Dreams of Tipu Sultan, Odakalu Bimba, The Fire and the Rain.

In 1992, in recognition of his contributions to arts he was awarded the Padma Bhushan. He was awarded the nation’s highest literary award, Jnanapith Award in 1999 for his contributions to literature and theatre.

He acted in numerous Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi movies. . Nagamandala proved to be a hit. His foray into Hindi movies both as director and actor was successful. Among the notable ones were Nishaant, Manthan, Swami, Pukaar, Dor, Ek Tha Tiger and Aashayein.

He was last seen in the 2018 Kannada film Neenillada Male.His body of work stands testimony to the artistic genius that he was. He was a progressive writer who gave Kannada literature a modern face.