Girish Karnad, writer, playwright, actor and public intellectual, passed away in his sleep at his residence here on Monday morning. He was 81 and is survived by wife Saraswati Ganapathi and two children. The Jnanpith and Padma awardee was hailing due to degenerative respiratory issues for some time and was on oxygen support. His cremation was held without religious rituals, public viewing or state honours, as per his last wishes, at Kalpalli cemetery in the afternoon.
While the State government declared a day’s holiday and three-day State mourning, a cross-section of writers, actors and political leaders. In a tweet, historian Ramachandra Guha said, “In his life, he embodied the richness and depth of Indian civilization more nobly and less self-consciously than anyone else I knew.”
GIRISH KARNAD (1938-2019)
Born in May 1938, Mr Karnad was one of the most prominent playwrights of the 1960s and 1970s, a period regarded as epitomising the renaissance of Indian theatre. He worked with mythology and history and gave them a contemporary resonance in plays such as Tughlaq and Hayavadana. .He wrote his first play Ma Nishada in 1960 and followed it with his breakout play Yayati in 1961 when he was a Rhodes scholar in England.
Mr Karnad also translated most of his plays into English. His last play was Rakshasa Tangadi, published last year, set in the last years of the Vijayanagara empire.
He was also an acclaimed filmmaker and actor, his acting début being in the classic Samskara, directed by Pattabhirama Reddy and based on a novel by U.R. Ananthamurthy. He made a name not only in parallel cinema but also for his roles in mainstream films in multiple languages. His films include Manthan, Kadhalan, Minsara Kanavu, Hey Ram, China Gate and Tiger Zinda Hai, among others. He directed films like Utsav, Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane and Kaadu.
Mr Karnad was also an institution-builder and headed the Film and Television Institute in Pune, the Nehru Centre in London and the Sangeet Natak Akademi. He played a significant role in developing the theatre space Ranga Shankara in Bengaluru.
A highly regarded public intellectual, Mr Karnad often became the target of the Hindutva right. His name was on the hit-list of the right-wing outfit that allegedly killed editor-activist Gauri Lankesh, and he was provided security by the police. While it was the demolition of Babri Masjid that pushed him to political activism, his first active involvement was over the Bababudan Giri issue in 2002, when Sangh Parivar groups tried to convert this syncretic shrine into an exclusively Hindu one.