Girish Ragunath Karnad, who died in Bengaluru on Monday morning aged 81, was better known as a playwright than for his work as an actor in films.
A brilliant Rhodes Scholar, who was born at Matheran in Maharashtra, Karnad started writing plays in Kannada during the 1960s – a period marked by renaissance of sorts in the Indian language theatre. It saw the rise of legends like Bengal’s Badal Sarkar, Maharashtra’s Vijay Tendulkar and Mohan Rakesh writing in Hindi. Karnad’s strength, like these authors, was how he used his native Kannada to turn out masterly plays, which bridged the wide gap between literature and the common man.
The plays worked because of their affinity to Kannada culture and way of life, and Karnad tasted success and fame that ran parallel to some of India’s greatest movie auteurs – Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Girish Kasaravalli, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Aravindan, among others – who relied on their mother tongue to give us unforgettable cinema.
Apart from the fact that Karnad was well versed in Kannada (he was also brilliant in English and Hindi), he had another important reason for writing in that language. Kannada literature during Karnad’s early years was highly influenced by Western literature and its own renaissance. Kannada writers were inspired by these, and their works looked terribly alien to the local culture and did not gel with the local milieu.