Multi-lingual actor Girish Karnad dead.
Multi-lingual actor Girish Karnad dead.

Veteran film and theatre personality Girish Karnad dies in Bengaluru

  • Jnanpith award winner Girish Karnad was 81
  • Girish Karnad was known for his seminal plays mixing history, folk tales and mythology

Bengaluru: Girish Karnad— one of the best-known faces of Kannada theater, author, filmmaker and activist— died in a Bengaluru hospital on Monday, his family said. Karnad, 81, was awarded the Padma Shri in 1974, the Padma Bhushan in 1992, and the highest national award for literature, the Jnanpith Award in 1998.

Karnataka has declared a public holiday on Monday to pay respect to the artist.

"It will be a holiday today for one day for all government offices, schools and colleges due to the sudden demise of Jnanpith awardee Girish Karnad. He will be cremated with state honours and there will be three days of mourning. It is also clarified that this is in accordance with the steps taken by the government when Jnanpith award winners have previously passed away", said a press statement from Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy.

Karnad, a giant of the theatre world, especially in the south and in his native Karnataka, was known for his seminal plays mixing history, folk tales and mythology. He was also a fearless political activist.

When journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh was allegedly killed by Hindu extremists in 2017, Karnad came out on the streets in protest, despite being on a breathing tube due to prolonged illness. The police later said Karnad was also on the hit list of the murderous gang who killed Lankesh.

In his heart, he was a modernist, one who challenged traditions and hierarchy and privilege. He wrote his first play, an instant hit, Yayati in his early 20s when he was a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford University. His later plays Hayavadana, Nagamandala, Bali and The Fire And the Rainworks, along with his works and debates with B.V. Karanth, another playwright, defined the shape and form of Kannada theatre, a medium that was once powerful enough to influence political discourse in Karnataka.

Later, when cinema started having an impact across the country, he made a transition to movies, making his acting and screenwriting debut in Kannada movie "Samskara" in 1970.

"Among all his contemporaries, it is Karnad who is able to negotiate and express an urban modernity, even in his mythological and historical plays. Whether it’s Tughlaq or Tipu in The Dreams of Tipu Sultan, or even Basavanna in Taledanda, the historical figure transcends his time and becomes an allegory for the present," wrote Arshia Sattar in a profile of Karnad that Mint did in 2015.

"Playwright, actor, institution-builder and patriot, Girish Karnad was a colossus. It was a privilege to have known him, a far greater privilege to have seen his plays and read his work...," tweeted writer and historian Ramachandra Guha on Karnad’s demise.


Close