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Veteran actor-playwright Girish Karnad passes away

The actor had been battling illness for some time.

As the literature world mourned the demise of veteran playwright and actor, some of his old friends and colleagues from Maharashtra revealed little known aspects of his life, saying he never boasted about his intellect despite his towering stature. Ashok Kulkarni, Karnad’s Pune-based friend since their college days, said though the actor was well read and was known for his love for books, his colleagues “never felt that pressure”.

“We used to discuss cinema, theatre and other forms of literature but I don’t remember any time when Karnad tried to dominate the conversation with his intellect,” he told.

Karnad’s command over several languages and his deep understanding of the literary and creative worlds made him the first non-civil servant director of Pune’s prestigious Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). He was also the only director of FTII who went on to serve as its chairman, an official from the government-run institute said.

He was FTII’s director from January 1, 1974 to December 31, 1975 and later served as its chairman from February 1999 to October 2001, the official said.

Karnad was also the youngest director of FTII when he took charge of the post at the age of 35 years and, incidentally, some his students were older than him, he said. “He introduced an ‘Integrated Course’ in the institute’s syllabus that required students of one specialisation course to learn about other specialisations as well. It is still in the syllabus in the form of a ‘Common Course’,” FTII Director Bhupendra Kainthola said.

Noted translator Uma Virupaksh Kulkarni recalled how her meetings with Karnad used to be “warm and pleasant”. She translated four of Karnad’s dramas as well as his autobiography into Marathi, titled ‘Khelata Khelata Ayushya’. “He used to understand Marathi as his early education was in that language and never lost the grip.

He was the only Kannada author who could understand Marathi, and he used to put me at ease during our discussions,” she said.

“His drama ‘Nagamandala’ was one of the first plays that I translated into Marathi and it gave me confidence. I was already translating other forms of literature and never tried my hands at drama, but, with Karnad’s support, I was able to do so,” she said.

Kulkarni said she still has Karnad’s letter addressed to her when she was translating “Nagamandala”. “He would initiate the conversation and always remained accessible and open to new ideas, as I was not merely translating but bringing the concepts and ideas into another language,” she said.

Karnad himself translated noted Marathi playwright P L Deshpande’s drama “Tuja Aahe Tujapashi”, and attempted it on stage in Kannada, she added.

Karnad, 81, died on Monday in Bengaluru after a prolonged illness. A multifaceted personality, he acted in several plays and movies that received critical acclamation. His plays, written in Kannada, have been translated in English and several Indian languages. 

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