Girish Karnad was a prominent figure in Kannada literary, theatre and cinematic circles
Three days after playwright, actor and filmmaker Girish Karnad died in Bengaluru at the age of 81, Raghu Karnad, posted a moving tribute to his father, painting a poignant picture of one last Sunday evening at home. It was a “sad, but not only sad” moment in the life of a man whose contributions to literature, theatre and cinema were heightened by his unwavering commitment to freedom of expression and the fight against religious fundamentalism.
“The picture that is growing rooted in my mind is of Appa (father) in his spot on the sofa, his hand around a glass of whiskey, gently bubbling with bits of history, legend, song, folktale and philosophy. That was the man I loved,” Mr Karnad wrote in an Instagram post.
“On Sunday evening, the family sat together warmed by the long lines of sun on the terrace. I gave him his physio and my sister cut his nails. We talked about some new, difficult issues with his body. It was sad, but not only sad. On Monday morning he was gone,” he continued.
Girish Karnad was a prominent figure in the Kannada literary scene, rising to fame on the back of three critically acclaimed plays – Yayati (1961), Tughlaq (1964) and Hayavadana (1971). Many of his plays drew inspiration from mythology and traditional stories to create wonderful insights into modern life and helped transform the Kannada theatre scene.
His contributions were not limited to the stage.
He also had a long and prolific career as an actor, beginning with the critically acclaimed Kannada film Samskara in 1970. Though his preferred language was Kannada, Mr Karnad appeared in several well-received Hindi films such as Nishaant, Manthan, Dor and Swami, and also directed films, including Vamsha Vriksha in 1971 and Utsav in 1984.
A fearless social and political activist, Girish Karnad also used his literary skills and, in later years, his popularity, as a platform to fight religious fundamentalism and defend freedom of expression. Despite receiving numerous death threats, he never backed down from expressing his views.
It was this breadth of literary vision, love for languages and social conscience that prompted an outpouring of tribute for Girish Karnad, with some of Indian cinema’s most respected names paying their respects, including actors Shabana Azmi, Kamal Haasan, Anil Kapoor, Rahul Bose and Farhan Akhtar and author Amitav Ghosh.
“Thank you for the many messages about how you felt enriched by his life and work. The reverse is also true. His life and work were enriched and elevated by gurus and professors, aunts and sisters, friends, collaborators, directors, students, publishers, actors, readers, rivals, aides, some very important drivers – and many drinking companions. We’re all feeling a lot of love, relief and gratitude,” Raghu Karnad wrote.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi were also among those who expressed their sorrow.