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Girish Karnad (1938-2019): A Look at His Journey in Cinema, Literature and Plays

As we lost one of the finest playwright and director of Indian cinema and literature ever had, we look back at some of Girish Karnad’s famous views on cinema, literature, and plays.

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Updated:June 10, 2019, 7:44 PM IST
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Girish Karnad (1938-2019): A Look at His Journey in Cinema, Literature and Plays
As we lost one of the finest playwright and director of Indian cinema and literature ever had, we look back at some of Girish Karnad’s famous views on cinema, literature, and plays.
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A Padma Shri awardee in 1974 and the Padma Bhushan Awardee in 1992, actor, playwright, and director Girish Karnad was born on May 19, 1938, in Mumbai. A Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, Girish Karnad passed away today on June 10 at the age of 81 after a prolonged illness. He passed away at a Bengaluru hospital at 6.30 am, his family reported.

As we lost one of the finest playwright and director of Indian cinema and literature ever had, we look back at some of the Karnad’s famous views on cinema, literature, and plays.

When Karnad started writing plays, C. Rajagopalachari’s version of the Mahabharata, published in 1951, left a deep impact on him. He published a book on one of the Mahabharata’s famous character Yayati in 1961 at the age of 23. It became an instant success, immediately translated and staged in several other Indian languages.

At the Ranga Shankara theatre festival in 2013, throwing light on his journey towards playwriting beginning with Yayati and The Fire and the Rain, Karnad said, “I didn’t want to be a playwright. I was interested in theatre, but there was never any intention to become a playwright. Then I got the Rhodes scholarship and in those years, it took three weeks to reach England. Suddenly one day, I knew I had to write Yayati. I was reading Rajaji’s (C. Rajagopalachari) Mahabharata and from that, I got both the stories, Yayati, and The Fire and the Rain. I read the Yayati story and the play happened in front of my eyes. With The Fire and the Rain, I had to go through 30-odd years. I knew there was a superb story but I waited and worked on it and didn’t want to waste it by writing it in haste. Yayati just came to me, like a dictation.”

Talking about his journey into filmmaking, Karnad told India Today in a 1976 interview, “It happened purely by accident, actually, because I didn't grow up thinking films. Lavventura came out while I was at Oxford, and I didn’t take the trouble to see it. And I didn't see any of Godard's films, I just wasn't interested. But then, in 1965, my publisher gave me the manuscript of Anantamurthi's first novel, Samskara. I was very excited by the novel and felt that there was material crying out to be filmed. I was involved at the time with an amateur theatrical group called the Madras Players, and Pattabhi Rama Reddy. They also helped me in making this film. It was really as simple and accidental as that.”

In the same interview, Girish also shared his views about the advantages of regional cinema. He said, “Perhaps the biggest advantage of working in regional cinema is the economics of it. If you are careful about costs, it is quite feasible to make a black and white film for a lakh and a half rupees, and even if you are not being frugal, for as little as two and a half lakh rupees. So in terms of publicity and promotional costs, a Kannada filmmaker is still within fighting distance. In Hindi, how could you compete with Sholay, which cost over a crore, and which spent twelve lakhs on publicity in Bombay alone? In Hindi cinema, the problem is to get noticed among the enormous barrage of publicity and output.”

Throwing light on his first directed play, Karnad said at Ranga Shankara theatre festival, “It was Bikhre Bimb (2005). I did it because no one will understand my stage direction. If I give it to someone to direct, he will never be able to get the sense of continuity between the image and the speaker.”

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