Girish Karnad

  • Actor, Director, Screenplay

May 19, 1938  in Matheran, Maharashtra, India

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Girish Raghunath Karnad is an Indian actor, film director, writer, playwright, and a Rhodes Scholar, with prominent work in South Indian and Hindi cinema. He is the recipient of the 1998 Jnanpith Award, the highest literary honor conferred in India, and was also bestowed with Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan by the Government of India, along with a few Filmfare Awards.

Early life
Girish Karnad was born in Matheran, Maharashtra in a Saraswat Brahmin Konkani family to Rao Saheb Dr Karnad and Krishna Bai Mankeekara. While in Sirsi, Karnataka, Girish was exposed to the traveling theater group, Natak Mandalis. He was 14 years old when his family moved to Dharwad in Karnataka, where he grew up with his two sisters and niece. In 1958, he graduated with a degree in Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Statistics from Karnatak Arts College, Dharwad (Karnataka University). After graduation, he went to England to study at Magdalen in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar (1960–63), earning his Master of Arts degree in philosophy, political science and economics. He was elected President of the Oxford Union in 1963.

Personal life
After his return from England, he worked in Madras for Oxford University Press, when he met Saraswathi Ganapathy at a party. They fell for each other and decided to marry but the marriage was formalized only when Girish was 42 years old, and they have two children - Shalmali Radha and Raghu Amay.

Theater Career
Girish worked with the Oxford University Press, Chennai, for seven years (1963–70), which he resigned from to take up writing full-time. He was part of the local amateur theater group, The Madras Players. He served as director of the Nehru Centre and as Minister of Culture, in the Indian High Commission, London (2000–2003). He also served as director of the Film and Television Institute of India (1974–1975) and chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the National Academy of the Performing Arts (1988–93).

Girish Karnad has gained popularity as a playwright with his plays written in Kannada, and translated into English and some other Indian languages. His debut play Yayati became a huge success and was immediately translated and staged in several other Indian languages. His next was Tughlaq (1964), which was staged by the National School of Drama Repertory and by the National School of Drama for the Festival of India in 1982 in London. This followed by Hayavadana and Agni Mattu Male. Naga-Mandala won him the Karnataka Sahitya Academy Award for the Most Creative Work of 1989.

Movie career
Girish’s acting and screenwriting debut was with the 1970 Kannada movie Samskara, based on a novel by U.R. Ananthamurthy, under the direction of Pattabhirama Reddy. This film won the first President's Golden Lotus Award for Kannada cinema. After this, he appeared in his second Kannada movie Vamsha Vriksha in 1971, followed by his Hindi debut, Jadu ka Shankh in 1974. In the next year, he was seen in Nishant, a movie that focuses on the power of the rural elite and sexual exploitation of women, alongside an ensemble cast including Amrish Puri, Shabana Azmi, Anant Nag, Sadhu Meher, Smita Patil and Naseeruddin Shah. He was then seen in movies like Manthan, Swami, Jeevan Mukt, Sampark, and Ratnadeep.

Girish had many movies lined up in 1980s including Beqasoor, Aasha, Man Pasand and Apne Paraye. In Man Pasand, he played the role of a musicologist co-starring Dev Anand, Tina Munim, Mehmood, and Simple Kapadia. The actor then worked in the Marathi movie Umbartha in 1982 as the lawyer husband of the lead protagonist played by Smita Patil. This followed by Aparoopa and Teri Kasam in the same year. For Teri Kasam, he was nominated for the Filmfare Best Supporting Actor Award (1982). His next was the Telugu- Kannada film Ananda Bhairavi, and Jagdish Sidana’s Ek Baar Chale Aao with Deepti Naval and Farooq Shaikh in the lead.

In the next three years, he appeared in various movies like Tarang, Divorce, Nee Thanda Kanike, Zamana, Meri Jung and Neela Kurinji Poothappol. In 1986, he portrayed the role of Rajashekar, Rajnikanth’s father-in-law in Naan Adimai Illai. Few other movies that gave him prominence were Sutradhar, Akarshan, Mil Gayee Manzil Mujhe, AK-47, and Gunaa. In the Tamil blockbuster hit Kadhalan, he played a pivotal role of Kakarla Sathyanarayana Moorthy, Governor of Tamil Nadu.

Nagesh Kukunoor’s Iqbal was Girish’s next venture, in which he played the role of an influential former Indian captain. This followed by another Nagesh Kukunoor’s direction Dor, in which he was seen as Randhir Singh, an orthodox father-in-law of one of the protagonists played by Ayesha Takia. Critics applauded this film to be good cinema along with award-worthy performances by the lead cast, including Ayesha Takia, Gul Panag and Shreyas Talpade. Girish once again collaborated with Nagesh Kukunoor for Aashayein starring John Abraham and Sonal Sehgal in the lead. The actor essayed the role of Parthasarthi – a fun-loving uncle to everyone with stubborn principles. Subsequent to this was a significant role of a Hindu doctor Sanjay in 2009 film Life Goes On set in modern London.

After acting in the Telugu film Komaram Puli, Tamil movie Narthagi, and Kannada movie Kempe Gowda, Girish was seen in the popular action thriller Ek Tha Tiger directed by Kabir Khan. The film that stars Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif in the lead has Girish (Shenoy) essay the role of Tiger’s (Salman) boss. Ek Tha Tiger garnered mixed reviews and was one of the highest-grossing Bollywood films of all time. His other releases in 2012 were Mugamoodi as the lead’s grandfather, and Yaare Koogadali as a doctor. He then appeared in a supporting role in Guru Deshpande’s Kannada action film Rudra Tandava in 2015, a remake of the Tamil film Pandiya Naadu. He then featured in another action-thriller film Rana Vikrama as K.V. Anand Rao – Home Minister of Karnataka state, with the movie turning out to be a huge success.

In 2016, he was seen in the science fiction thriller 24 based on the concept of time-travel with Suriya, Samantha Ruth Prabhu, and Nithya Menen in the lead. His Bollywood release in the year was Shivaay featuring Ajay Devgn, Sayyeshaa Saigal, and Erika Kaar in the lead. His 2017 project includes the action film Tiger Zinda Hai directed by Ali Abbas Zafar, starring Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif.

As a director
Along with a successful acting career, Girish Karnad has done some noteworthy work as a director too. Kannada language Vamsha Vriksha in 1971 marked his debut as a director and won the National Film Awards for Best Direction (1972). His next was the 1973 Kannada film Kaadu, which won him the Filmfare Award for Best Director – Kannada (1974), and Karnataka State Film Award for Second Best Film (1973-74). Subsequently, he co-directed the Kannada film Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane (1977) with B. V. Karanth, with the Hindi version titled Godhuli. His next directorial venture Ondanondu Kaladalli won him the Filmfare Award for Best Director – Kannada. This followed by the multi-starrer Hindi drama Utsav, and drama film Cheluvi. Kanooru Heggadithi in 1999 won him the Karnataka State Film Award for Second Best Film (1999-00).

Television career
Girish has acted in the Doordarshan television series Malgudi Day, which was based on the works of R.K. Narayan. He played the protagonist’s father in the series. He has also acted in an Indian children’s television series Indradhanush aired on DD National channel.

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