Girish Karnad, actor & controversial activist, dead

As much as Karnad is mourned by the film and theatre world today, he is remembered for awkward statements on Rabindranath Tagore and VS Naipaul

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Karnad

New Delhi: Indian film and theatre veteran Girish Karnad died on Monday at 81 years of age. The actor had been ill for a while. Karnad was last seen by Hindi film viewers in Salman Khan’s film Ek Tha Tiger and its sequel Tiger Zinda Hai.

Karnad was born on 19 May 1938 in Matheran, Maharashtra. He was also known in contemporary India as a writer, actor, film director and playwright.

The Indian performing arts industry is mourning the death of Karnad, who had several works in Hindi, Kannada and English languages to his credit, both on camera and on stage.

Eminent directors including Ibrahim Alkazi, Prasanna, Arvind Gaud, and BV Karant had directed plays and films featuring Karnad.

Born in a Konkani-speaking family, Karnad graduated from Karnataka University in Dharwar in 1958. After this, he went to England as a Rhodes Scholar, where he received a master’s degree in philosophy, political science and economics from Lincoln and Magdalen College of Oxford. He had also been a visiting professor at Fulbright College, University of Chicago.

Karnad ‘in politics’

Karnad occupied the space of political news when he began campaigning for Bangalore (now Bengaluru). He had famously said that the right wing did not have the intellectual calibre of the left.

Comparing Congress and BJP-led governments, Karnad had said in 2018, “When we spoke about politics we used to speak of Lanchavatara (corruption’s dance) and now we are talking about Lynch-avatara (dance of lynchings).” He had said this while participating in a memorial session to mark the first anniversary of the death of Gauri Lankesh.

In response to his utterances at the function, an FIR was lodged against Karnad. The right-wing identified the veteran actor as an ‘urban Naxal’ following the event. NP Amruthesh, a member of the Hindu Vidhidnya Parishat, had complained in the FIR that Karnad had Maoist links.

But disturbing the right wing was not the only aspect of Karnad’s activism. Even liberals questioned him when he blasted VS Naipaul for the latter’s “antipathy towards Indian Muslims” at the Tata Literary Festival in 2012.

Subsequently, he called Rabindranath Tagore a second-rate playwright and said that Gurudev’s plays were “unbearable”.