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Playwright, actor, Padma Bhushan awardee Girish Karnad dies at 81

The playwright, actor, director and Jnanpith award winner passed away at his residence in Bengaluru on Monday morning.

Our Correspondent

Renowned playwright, actor, writer Girish Karnad passed away in Bengaluru on Monday, 10 June. He was 81. Karnad was suffering from a prolonged bout of illness caused by age-related issues. He is survived by his wife, Dr Saraswathy Ganapathy, and his two children. 

Born Girish Raghunath Karnad in Matheran, Maharashtra on 19 May 1938, Karnad went on to become a graduate in Mathematics from the University of Karnataka (Dharwad) before heading to Oxford to complete his Masters in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics on a Rhodes scholarship. 

Returning to India post his education, Karnad worked at the Oxford University Press in Chennai (then Madras), before quitting to write his first play, Yayati, at the age of 23. 

The play resonates with the themes of Indian myths, folk tales and beliefs that dominated Karnad's work. Starting with his association with the theatre troupe, Madras Players, Karnad went on to become a cornerstone of the emerging Indian theatre scene during the 1970s and 1980s. Over the next four decades, his plays have been performed across the globe by stalwarts like Ebrahim Alkazi, Alyque Padamsee, BV Karanth, Satyadev Dubey, Vijaya Mehta among others. 

Karnad made his foray into films with Samskara (1970) by Pattabhirama Reddy, based on UR Ananthamurthy's novel of the same name. The film went on to win the first President's Golden Lotus for Best Film in Kannada. 

The playwright also had a successful stint on television as the father to Swami in the popular adaptation of RK Narayan's novel, Malgudi Days (1986-87). Karnad also hosted the science magazine, Turning Point, on Doordarshan in the late 1980s. 

His career in film saw him build a creative partnership with the likes of BV Karanth and Shyam Benegal. It was with Karanth's Vamsha Vriksha (1971) that Karnad made his debut as director. He won the National award for Best Direction along with Karanth for the film. 

He went on to direct Kaadu (1973), Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane (1977) and Kanooru Heggadithi (1999), each of which won National Awards for Best Film in Kannada. He won the National award for Best Screenplay for Bhumika (1977) for his partnership with Satyadev Dubey and Shyam Benegal. 

As actor, Karnad was part of the new wave parallel cinema movement through films like Nishant (1975), Manthan (1976), Godhuli (1977), Kalyug (1981) and Umbartha (1982) among others. After a lull through the 1990s, he hit the spotlight as an actor again with Iqbal (2005) before being a part of the Salman Khan films, Ek Tha Tiger (2012) and Tiger Zinda Hai (2017). The latter was the last film Karnad worked in. 

The playwright was awarded with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1972, before being presented with the Padma Shri in 1974. He would go on to be honoured with the Padma Bhushan by the Indian government in 1992, followed by the Sahitya Akademi Award (1994), the Jnanpith Award (1998) and the Kalidas Samman (1998).