How Girish Karnad’s legendary performs have redefined Indian theatre

If you are a youthful Hindi film-goer you probably know Girish Karnad as the Indian spy Tiger’s (Salman Khan) manager in Ek Tha Tiger and Tiger Zinda Hai or as the wily cricket mentor Guruji who tries to destroy the hero’s (Shreyas Talpade) occupation in Iqbal. The 1980s technology could recall him for his collaborations with the arthouse director Shyam Benegal or as Swami’s stern father in Malgudi Days. While Karnad was a revered actor it turns out performing wasn’t definitely his true calling. Like Naseeruddin Shah, his mate and co-star from Manthan and Iqbal, Karnad’s to start with really like remained the penned phrase and theatre.

Karnad, whose 84th birth anniversary falls on May perhaps 19, was much more very well acknowledged in particular circles as a playwright — and rightly so. Acting undoubtedly introduced him fame inspite of the truth that he was not “interested in being an actor,” as he insisted to India These days magazine in 2015. But it was dramaturgy that received the Bengaluru-based Bard laurel. He would go on to use that platform responsibly and for the trigger of his have intellectual ideals. The Hindu newspaper explained him as a “restless storyteller” and since he was a public mental and doyen of the cultural globe lording about it for 50 % a century and a guy adept at lots of mediums, be it movie course, acting, theatre or screenwriting, the exact newspaper was also felt compelled to connect with him “our individual Forrest Gump.”

Girish Karnad passed away in 2019. (Photograph: Convey Archives)

A Palimpsest of East and West

Karnad’s iconic plays, these kinds of as Yayati, Tughlaq, Hayvadana, The Goals of Tipu Sultan and Odakalu Bimba, are generally credited with acquiring ushered a modern-day period in Kannada theatre. Still, most of these operates had been centered on historical Indian mythology and historic texts which Karnad updated with his flexible eye and literary pursuits. For case in point, Yayati, his very first giving whilst he was researching at Oxford, was equivalent parts Mahabharata and Ibsen. None other than Vijay Tendulkar was amazed by Yayati’s realism and evidently required to know why the characters appeared so legitimate to lifestyle. Karnad replied, “Oh, I met them all in my childhood in the streets of Sirsi (in which he lived right before transferring to Madras, Bombay and Oxford as an grownup).” Hayvadana, much too, was a contemporary offspring of two of the most abnormal sources, the 11th century Kathasaritsagara and Thomas Mann’s novella The Transposed Heads. The regular Kannada kind of Yakshagana was also an affect on it. In other text, his work was a palimpsest of Japanese and Western traditions.

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Regarded as a person of his most unique and initial performs, Nagamandala could be noticed as a close to-excellent example of the way he blended the different things of fantasy, religion, feminism and folklore to make a little something that has present day-day relevance. Nagamandala was fundamentally a potent condemnation of male chauvinism, misogyny and gender discrimination. Most likely, it is a participate in that very best expressed his own ideology and politics. Through his function, there was usually social commentary and challenges of the contemporary entire world that Karnad felt deeply about. Karnad, who handed away in 2019 at age 81, wasn’t just a writer.

A Jnanpith Award winner, he was also a thinker and philosopher, with a multifaceted life rich in reading and imbibing. For instance, his understanding of Sanskrit (a language he learnt from his mother) knowledgeable his composing. He afterwards taught the intricacies of this classical language to curious pupils. His adore of literature could be traced back to his days as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford. He has composed lovingly about his campus ordeals in his memoir, This Lifestyle at Participate in. Amid the astonishing admissions in the e-book is one about opera. This most ardent of theatre enthusiasts was after bored out of his wits by Mozart’s Magic Flute, falling “asleep in the to start with act alone.”

In This Everyday living at Engage in, he shares yet another attention-grabbing insight about owning picked up the ropes of playwriting not from any acclaimed engage in or ancient textual content but in fact from a film. That was David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai. “As I viewed it,” he writes, “I felt as if a person was educating a course on screenwriting — or in a sense, playwriting.”

The exact is genuine of Karnad’s operate. It is a masterclass on its have.