Girish Karnad, one of India’s most respected actor-directors, has passed away

Revered on screen and off it, too.
Revered on screen and off it, too.
Image: AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi
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Girish Karnad, one of India’s most revered theater and film icons, passed away today (June 10). He was 81.

The veteran actor, dramatist, and filmmaker succumbed to respiratory problems at a Bengaluru hospital.

Karnad made his first and biggest marks in regional theatre. In the early 1960s, as a Rhodes scholar at the University of Oxford, Karnad wrote Yayati, his first play about a mythological king.

Since then, he came to be one of Kannada literature’s most acclaimed playwrights. His 1964 play, Tughlaq, and Hayavadna (1972) are ranked among his most acclaimed. These have been translated and performed several times over the years.

In 1970, Karnad made his acting and screenwriting debut simultaneously with the Kannada film Samskara, based on a book by another legendary Kannada writer, the late UR Ananthamurthy. A man of many talents, Karnad donned the director’s hat in 1971 withVamsha Vriksha, based on a Kannada novel by SL Bhyrappa. In the past five decades, he has acted in over 100 Kannada, Marathi, Hindi, Malayalam, and other films and TV shows, besides writing and directing.

Karnad was conferred the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honour, in 1974. Nearly 20 years later, in 1992, he received the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award. In 1999, he was given the Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary prize, for his contributions to literature and theatre.

He was last seen on the silver screen in the 2017 Bollywood release Tiger Zinda Hai. Many from the film and literary worlds expressed grief over his death.

Karnad’s strong political opinions often took centerstage in his life. Amitav Ghosh, another Jnanpith awardee, called Karnad “a great writer and very important public voice.” Historian Ramachandra Guha, who in June 2017 participated in the “NotInMyName” campaign, alongside Karnad, against lynch-mob incidents across the country, was also all praise for the late artiste.

Last year, despite being ill, Karnad attended a protest march against the murder of Bengaluru journalist Gauri Lankesh. Karnad, too, was on the hit-list, investigations later revealed.

Karnad was a harsh critic of religious fundamentalism and Hindu nationalism. He was also a vocal dissenter against prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist outfit.