Acclaimed actor-playwright of India Karnad dies at 81

Girish Karnad, above, leading light of new wave in Kannada theatre, films and literature, died at the age of 81 in his home in Bengaluru, southern India, on Monday.

Karnad, who had been suffering from age-related ailments, passed away peacefully around 8 am, his family said.

In his condolence message to Karnad’s family and many who followed his work, President Ram Nath Kovind said India’s cultural world has become poorer with the passing of the doyen of theatre, films and literature.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Karnad will be remembered for his versatile acting across all mediums.

Karnad spoke passionately on causes dear to him and his works will continue to be remembered in the years to come, Modi tweeted.

Karnad made his mark as a writer through his Kannada plays such as Nagmandala, Yayati and Tughlaq spanning four decades. The works were translated into English and various languages and staged across India and the world.

Ebrahim Alkazi, BV Karanth and Vijaya Mehta were among those who directed his plays.

Karnad has won Jnanpith, India’s top literary prize, and Padma Bushan, one of the top civilian awards instituted by the federal government.

He made his debut in films as an actor and screenwriter in the Kannada classic Samskara (1970) based on a novel by UR Ananthamurthy and directed by Pattabhirama Reddy. The film won the President’s Golden Lotus Award for Kannada cinema.

He made his mark as a director in Vamsha Vriksha (1971) which won him the National Film Award for Best Direction along with BV Karanth, who co-directed the film.

His noted films in Hindi include Swami and Nishant.

In television, he played the role of Swami’s father in the TV series ‘Malgudi Days’ (1986–1987) based on writer RK Narayan’s works.

Karnad served as director of the Film and Television Institute of India from 1974 to 1975 and as chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi or the National Academy of the Performing Arts from 1988 to 1993.

Karnad was born in Matheran, a hill station near Mumbai, in 1938. His father Raghunath Karnad was a doctor and mother Kishnabai was a nurse.

Karnad inherited the deep love for theatre from his parents. He got exposed to travelling theatre groups called Natak Mandalis and the classical dance drama Yakshagana after moving to Sirsi and Dharwad in Karnataka.

In 1958, Karnad graduated from Karnatak Arts College, Dharwad, and went to England to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Magdalen in Oxford.

He returned to India and worked with the Oxford University Press, Chennai, from 1963 to 1970.

After getting involved with the local amateur theatre group, The Madras Players, Karnad decided to dedicate his life to the world of arts.