BRAHMANJALI To the playwright, actor and a great human being
Gracious physique, expressive large eyes and an unforgettable scholarly personality; Girish Karnad, the multifaceted legend and pride of our nation and Kannada language has passed away, much to the dismay of his fans and admirers from diverse fields. Survived by his spouse Doctor Saraswathi and two children, Girish the noble soul was cremated in silence with a few attending his funeral, marking an end to a well-lived life dedicated to literature.
Young Girish had dreamt of gaining international fame with his English poesy, but he won all of it in his adopted tongue Kannada, not in English or his mother tongue Konkani. After graduating from Dharwar University, he won the Rhodes Scholarship in Oxford University and completed his Masters in Philosophy. Director, actor, translator, critic, playwright, and above all a social activist, he made his mark in all fields. 'I wanted to be a poet but could not become one," he laughed off during one interview. His father wanted him to be an IAS officer, but he said, literature happened to him and he lived it. He always said that he did not force any of his interests upon his children and let them free to choose their professions.
He was a determined and non-compromising artist and called himself an urban naxalite and fought against social injustice, which reflected in his writings. He wrote his first play "Yayathi' in 1960 that earned him great applause and made his publishers ask for yet another. Growing up in a small town Sirsee, listening to mythological stories, it was an evident inspiration that Girish wrote his first play on Yayathi, a king from Mahabharata. He said he felt the characters were speaking to him and he was the only scribe to put them in black and white. Reacting to the criticism that there were no proper historical plays in Kannada because Kannadigas did not know to properly present history, Girish chose to write his play 'Tuglaq'. Both Yayathi and Tuglaq won him great fame. Achieving Homibhabha scholarship gave him opportunity to study folk theatre, based on which, he wrote the socio-fantasy 'Hayavadana' (the horse-faced), in which he also introduced music, which was not a feature of drama till then. This displayed his experimental nature and his vivacious application of his study.
In 1974, he was awarded the national honour - Padmasri and later Padmabhushan too. He was awarded the highest honor in literature, the Jnanpith award for his valuable contribution to Kannada literature. His works were translated into various Indian languages and directors like Ebrahim Alkazi, BV Karanth and Alyque Padamsee worked along with him in direction. He often used mythology and history to tackle contemporary issues, which made him unique.
His screen writing debut and acting for films began with a 1970 Kannada move 'Samskara'. The film is based on a novel by another great scholar UR Ananthamurthy and directed by the Telugu director Pattabhirama Reddy. 'Samskara' won the first President's Golden Lotus Award for Kannada cinema.
He admitted that he turned an actor by accident. He wanted to make money and did so by working in Hindi films. Working with great directors like Shyam Benegal earned him applause and job satisfaction too, he had shared. In Telugu, his appearance in few commercial films like 'Rakshakudu', 'Dharmachakram' made him close to the Telugu people. We must thank our beloved Telugu director Jandhyala who introduced this man of mettle to Telugu film audience. It was in 1980-81, K Vishwanath made an indelible trendsetting mark with his masterpiece 'Sankarabharanam', and in 1983, with great courage Jandhyala brought out 'Anandabhairavi', his ode to dance. This movie won international fame and the Telugu audience had the opportunity to know Girish Karnad, who was by then a Padmasri and Padmabhushan awardee for his contribution to theatre.
'Anandabhairavi' written by Kondamudi SriRamachandra Murthy and directed by Jandhyala is a 1983 bilingual film simultaneously shot in Kannada and Telugu. The film was premiered at International Film Festival of India. The film received very positive reviews and has garnered the Nandi Awards for Best Feature Film and Best direction. The main character of Girish Karnad as a sincere Kuchipudi Natya Guru , who wants to pass on the legacy to a girl (forbidden in classic Kuchipudi, as only men performed the Bhamakalapam), and in doing so, chooses a young girl from a Dalit community, as his son is not interested in the art. He ardently trains her and makes her a great dancer. It is an unforgettable role and felt as if Karnad was made for it. Utsav (1981), a movie based on the famous play of Sudraka "Mrichhakatikam" (the clay cart), directed by Karnad won the national award as best actress for Rekha amongst other accolades. His "Swami" based on the story of Saratchandra Chatterjee, directed by Basu Chatterjee, starring Shabana, Utpal Dutt, and Vikram is an evergreen classic. No one can forget his role in the all-time favourite television serial 'Malgudi Days' as father of Swami.
A profound critic, who could comment that Nobel Laureate Tagore was a second-rate playwright, Karnad was a man of controversies too. The movie "Life goes on" 2009 marked his best performance as the father of three daughters and surviving the sudden demise of his dear wife. This role of his was similar to the modern "King Lear", which he outstood in his performance. Indian theatre should be indebted to such a scholarly playwright and a man of letters for his passionate contribution to the genre of drama.
- The writer is a bilingual author, translator and a critic.