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Remembering Karnad: The man who fought for freedom of creative expression

Karnad (1938) a Rhodes scholar, Jnanpeeth Award winner, actor breathed his last at his Bangalore resident on June 10, 2019 after a prolonged illness

pune Updated: Jun 11, 2019 15:30 IST
Prachi Bari
Prachi Bari
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,Karnad,Rhodes scholar
Girish Karnad during his tenure at FTII, Pune.(HT FILE PHOTO)

With the passing away of Girish Karnad we lost the last of the four giants who shaped modern Indian theatre since 60’s. Others were Vijay Tendulkar, Badal Sarkar and Mohan Rakesh, said Satish Alekar, playwright.

Karnad (1938) a Rhodes scholar, Jnanpeeth Award winner, actor breathed his last at his Bangalore resident on June 10, 2019 after a prolonged illness. He was 81- years-old.

Alekar said, “I knew Girish personally since 70’s when he was heading FTII in Pune. His plays reinvented Indian myths to give contemporary relevance.”

“He was not afraid to express what he believed in and steadfastly guarded his own freedom of expression. And reminded others that this freedom of creative expression is what democracy is about,” said Alekar.

Dr Jabbar Patel remembers Karnad as a pleasant, nice, forthright, frank person who was logical and highly intelligent and had a good command over English and Kannada languages.

Girish Karnad at FTII, Pune. ( HT FILE PHOTO )

“He had profound knowledge of mythology, history and even contemporary research. He was advocator of freedom of speech and he even faced consequences, but he always stood up for everyone,” said Patel.

“Initially he was reluctant to act in my film ‘Umbartha’, but I needed an actor who could speak both Hindi and Marathi, and Vijay Tendulkar suggested his name,” said Patel.

“Acting was not his forte, he was a playwright and it took me 15 days for me to convince him but once he is in character, he is fantastic and there is a kind of tuning,” said Patel.

Students and staff members of FTII Pune pay tribute to Girish Karnad ( Rahul Raut/HT PHOTO )

Ashok Kulkarni, trustee, Sahitya Rangbhoomi Pratisthan who was Karnad’s friend for 60 years said, “We have been friends since our college days in Dharwad, in Karnatak University where we met during an intercollegiate debate. Later, we both studied in Bombay (Mumbai) University for two years where I studied Economics and Karnad studied Statistics, where he expressed that he wanted to become a poet and wanted to go abroad on a scholarship.”

“Karnad particularly loved Vijay Tendulkar’s plays,” added Kulkarni.

“Last five years, Girish had been suffering from lung disease. He couldn’t generate oxygen and would survive on external oxygen cylinder,” added Kulkarni.

Karnad’s last play was written four months ago in Kannada called history of Hampi, which has been published in Kanada and will soon be published other languages, added Kulkarni.

There was a condolence meet held at Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) where Girish was the Institute’s former director and chairman. “Girish Karnad was the first non-civil servant who served as the director of the institute for two years (1/1/74-31/12/75) and as chairman for 30 months (16/2/99 -10/10/2001),” said Bhupendra Kainthola, Director, FTII.

“He is remembered as an accessible administrator. He was straightforward, friendly and open,” said Bhupendra Kainthola, Director, FTII


I have always admired his courage to stand up against the establishment. My bond with him since 1967 has been so enriching that today’s loss will always remain irreparable.

- Amol Palekar, actor, director, producer

“In spite of his accomplishments he was down to earth. My first assignment after passing out of FTII was editing his first directorial venture ‘Vamsha Vriksha’.”

- Arunaraje Patil, FTII Alumna, 1969 Editing batch

First Published: Jun 11, 2019 15:30 IST