Bengaluru: Renowned playwright, actor and Jnanpith awardee Girish Karnad, who left his indelible mark in the world of literature, theatre and cinema spanning five decades, passed away at his residence here Monday after prolonged illness, his family said.
A multi-hyphenate personality, who often courted controversies for his fearless vocal stance on several issues, Karnad, 81, is survived by wife Saraswathi, son Raghu Karnad, a journalist and writer, and daughter Radha. Raghu said his father was suffering from lung-related illness.
“He passed away some time this morning and we found his body at 8.30 am. He was sleeping. As you all know, he was quite unwell for some time. He had a lung illness – that is what finally took his life,” Raghu told reporters here. “I’m so grateful to all his fans, his admirers and we hope that his memory will last with everyone in Karnataka for a long time,” he added.
A recipient of Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, Karnad was one of the most important literary minds of the present era, who enriched the Indian literature with his seminal works in his native language Kannada. He wrote, acted in and directed several plays and movies that earned critical acclaim. His most well-known works include the plays ‘Yayati’, ‘Tughlaq’ and ‘Naga-Mandala’, which have been translated from Kannada to English and other Indian languages.
Karnad was also a well-known face in Kannada and Hindi cinema ranging from parallel films such as ‘Samskara’, ‘Nishant’, ‘Manthan’ to commercial outings such as ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’ and ‘Shivaay’.
The mortal remains of Karnad were cremated at Kalpali electric crematorium in the city in the afternoon. In deference to Karnad’s wishes, the family had decided not to follow any religious ceremonies or accept state honours during cremation.
Karnataka ministers D K Shivakumar, R V Deshpande, several personalities from theatre and film, including B Jayashree and Suresh Heblikar paid their last respects.
The family had requested his fans and dignitaries who wanted to pay their last respects to directly come to crematorium as they wanted cremation to be a private affair.
Declaring a holiday on Monday as a mark of respect to Karnad, the Chief Minister’s office in a statement also announced a three-day state mourning.
The CMO had announced that Karnad will receive state honours, which is in line with respect given to other Jnanpith awardees in the past. However, state honours were not given, respecting the wishes of Karnad and his family. “I had a meeting with family members – Karnad’s son, daughter and friends. They have declined it as per the wish of their father, and thanked the government,” Shivakumar said.
President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the demise of Karnad, saying he will be remembered for his work for years to come. Kovind said with Karnad’s demise, India’s cultural world has become poorer. Modi said Karnad will be remembered for his versatile acting across all mediums. “He also spoke passionately on causes dear to him. His works will continue being popular in the years to come. Saddened by his demise,” he posted on Twitter.
Condoling the death of Karnad, Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy said, “We have lost a cultural ambassador.”
Karnad was born in Maharashtra in 1938 as third child to Dr Raghunath Karnad and Krishnabai. His mother was a young widow before marrying Raghunath Karnad.
The family later shifted to Sirsi and Dharwad in Karnataka where he spent his formative years and the family’s inclination to dramatic arts laid the foundation for his future in the literary world.
Known to be a part of the ‘Navya’ literary movement, which was influenced by the renaissance in Western literature, Karnad wrote ‘Nagamandala’, ‘Hayavadana’, ‘Tughlaq’ and ‘Yayati’ among others.
His noted work in the field of films include ‘Samskara’, based on a novel by U R Ananthamurthy and ‘Vamsha Vriksha’, based on a Kannada novel by S L Bhyrappa. Karnad also acted in several Kannada and Hindi commercial movies, most recent being 2017’s ‘Tiger Zinda Hai’.
He had played the role in Malgudi Days as Swami’s father, and in Indradhanush as Appu’s father. He also hosted popular science show ‘Turning Point’ on Doordarshan.
Fearless in his political assertions and uncompromising in his beliefs, Karnad often courted controversies. Karnad was among 600 theatre personalities, who had signed a letter ahead of the Lok Sabha polls asking people to ‘vote BJP and its allies’ out of power, arguing that the idea of India and its Constitution were under threat.
He had criticised Nobel laureate V S Naipaul for his controversial views on Muslims in India, saying the writer had no idea of the community’s contribution to the country’s history.
In the light of a controversy over Karnataka government’s decision to celebrate Tipu Jayanti, Karnad had said the 18th century Mysore ruler would have enjoyed the same status as of Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji, if he was a Hindu and not a Muslim.
Karnad was also in the hit list of a right-wing gang, which had allegedly killed noted journalist Gauri Lankesh, according to the Special Investigation Team (SIT), which probed the killing that triggered national outrage.