Girish Karnad is an eminent playwright, actor, screenwriter, and movie director in Kannada. During the 1960s, Girish Karnad rose to prominence as the one of the eminent playwrights in Kannada; and he introduced a new wave of plays that were entirely different.
Girish Karnad revolutionized Kannada writing in the same way as Badal Sarkar, Mohan Rakesh and Vijay Tendulkar who made significant contributions to Bengali, Hindi and Marathi plays. He won several awards during the course of his career as a playwright.
Girish Karnad created beautiful compositions by incorporating historical and mythological references, and he translated his plays into English too. His plays were adapted and directed by eminent playwrights and directors like B.V Karanth, Ebrahim Alkazi, Prasanna, Alyque Padamsee, Satyadev Dubey, Arvind Gaur, Shyamanand Jalan, Vijaya Mehta, and Amal Allana.
His Early Life and Education
Girish Karnad was born in a Konkani Speaking family of Saraswat Brahmins, who were based in Matheran, a small hill station near Mumbai. He did his elementary schooling at Sirsi, Karnataka, and there he got introduced to Natak Mandalis. Young Girish was also drawn to Yakshagana – the classical dance form of Karnataka.
In 1958, Girish earned his BA (Bachelors of Art) in Mathematics and Statistics, from the Karnatak Arts College. Post his Bachelors, Karnad proceeded to earn his Masters of Arts degree in Philosophy, Economics and Political Science.
His Career as a Playwright
Girish Karnad took up full time writing during his tenure with Oxford University Press in Chennai, and in Chennai, he worked with various amateur groups. He headed the Film and Television Institute in 1974-1975 and the Sangeet Natak Academy, the National Academy of the Performing Arts in 1988-1993.
He served as a Fulbright playwright in residence and visiting professor at the University of Chicago during the year 1987-88. During his tenure at Chicago University, his play Nagamandala was premiered at the Gutherie Theater in Minneapolis.
He also headed the cultural wing at the Indian High Commission during 2000-2003. He was later appointed as the chief of Nehru Center.
His Literary Contributions
- Tughluq – A play dedicated to Muhammad bin Tughluq, a sultan who ruled Delhi in the 14th century. The play was staged at various locations across the world and the most prominent reference was its presentation in London by the students of the National School of Drama.
- Hayavadana – This play was inspired from Kathasarithsagara. The play was adapted by different playwrights like Vijaya Mehta.
- Nagamandala – This play fetched him the Sahitya Academy Award. Nagamandala was honored as the Most Creative Work in 1989. This play was directed and presented by J. Garland Wright, as a part of the 30th anniversary celebrations of Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
- Agni Varsha – This play was made into a movie in 2002.
- His movie Samskara marked his debut as a screenwriter and actor. This movie brought in accolades for Kannada cinema in the form of the President’s Golden Lotus Award. This was first Golden Lotus that was provided to Kannada cinema.
- His movie Vamsavriksha, shot in the year 1970, marked his debut as a director.
- Godhuli (1977) and Utsav (1984) marked his debut in Hindi.
- Girish played the popular role of Swami’s father in a popular television series Malgudi Days.
Awards, Recognition and Honors
- Sangeet Natak Academy Award
- Padma Shri
- Padma Bhushan
- Sahitya Academy Award (Kannada)
- Sahitya Academy Award
- Jnanpith Award
- Kalidas Samman
Girish Karnad presently resides in Bangalore with his wife Dr. Saraswathi Ganapathy and two children Raghu Amay and Shalmali Radha.