By: Keerthi Mohan
ACCLAIMED Indian actor Girish Karnad, who died on Monday (10) at his Bengaluru residence at the age of 81, wore many hats throughout his career spanning five decades.
But it wasn’t his role as a scholar or a director he is was most associated with. Karnad was best known for his plays, where he drew inspiration from India’s history to address contemporary socio-political issues.
He wrote his first play Yatati at the age of 23 in 1961. Tughlaq, his play on Muhammad bin Tughlaq, the 14th century Sultan of Delhi, is considered Karnad’s most famous works.
He made his acting debut in 1970 with Samskara, which he adapted from acclaimed Kannada author UR Ananthamurthy’s novel of the same name. The film dealt with caste issues, and it went on to win the India’s prestigious National Award for the Best Feature.
Karnad also appeared in commercial films such as Iqbal, Tiger Zinda Hai and Shivaay.
In television, Karnad played Swami’s father in the TV adaptation of RK Narayan’s Malgudi Days. He also hosted popular science show Turning Point on Doordarshan.
Karnad was born in Maharashtra in 1938 as the third child to Dr Raghunath Karnad and Krishnabai. His family later shifted to the neighbouring state of Karnataka. As a youngster, Karnad watched a number of travelling plays, and this laid the foundation for his future in the literary world.
A brilliant student, Karnad studied mathematics and statistics at the Karnataka Arts College in Dharwad and then at Magdalen College in Oxford. He was a Rhodes Scholar there. In 1987-88, he was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago.
Karnad was fearless in his political beliefs. He was among the 600 theatre personalities who signed a letter ahead of India’s general election, asking people to vote out BJP and its allies.
For his contribution to arts, the Indian government presented Karnad with the Jnanpith, India’s most prestigious literary award, in 1998. He was also awarded the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, among the country’s highest civilian honours.
The late actor is survived by his wife, Saraswati; son Raghu and daughter Radha.