Artists > Girish Karnad

Girish Karnad

Girish Raghunath Karnad is a contemporary writer, playwright, screenwriter, actor and movie director in Kannada language. His rise as a prominent playwright in 1960s, marked the coming of age of Modern Indian playwriting in Kannada, just as Badal Sarkar did it in Bengali, Vijay Tendulkar in Marathi, and Mohan Rakesh in Hindi. He is a recipient of the 1998 Jnanpith Award for Kannada, the highest literary honour conferred in India.

For four decades Karnad has been composing plays, often using history and mythology to tackle contemporary issues. He has translated his major plays into English, and has received critical acclaim across India. His plays have been translated into several Indian languages and directed by eminent directors like Ebrahim Alkazi, B. V. Karanth, Alyque Padamsee, Prasanna, Arvind Gaur, Satyadev Dubey, Vijaya Mehta, Shyamanand Jalan and Amal Allana. He is also active in the world of Indian cinema working as an actor, director, and screenwriter, both in Hindi and Kannada cinema, earning numerous awards along the way. He was conferred Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan by the Government of India.

Karnad is most famous as a playwright. His plays, written in Kannada, have been widely translated into English and all major Indian languages. Karnad's plays are written neither in English, in which he dreamed of earning international literary fame as a poet, nor in his mother tongue Konkani. Instead they are composed in his adopted language Kannada. When Karnad started writing plays, Kannada literature was highly influenced by the renaissance in Western literature. Writers would choose a subject which looked entirely alien to manifestation of native soil.

C. Rajagopalachari's version of the Mahabharat published in 1951, left a deep impact on him, and soon sometime in the mid 1950s, one day he experienced a rush of dialogues spoken by characters from the Mahabharata in his adopted language Kannada. "I could actually hear the dialogues being spoken into my ears..."I was just the scribe," said Karnad in a later interview. Eventually Yayati was published in 1961, he was 23 years old. It is based on the story of King Yayati, one of the ancestors of the Pandavas, who was cursed into premature old age by his father-in-law, Shukracharya, incensed by Yayati's infidelity. Yayati in turn asks his sons to sacrifice their youth for him, and one of them agrees. It ridicules the ironies of life through characters in Mahabharata and became an instant success, immediately translated and staged in several other Indian languages.

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