As a playwright, Girish Karnad chose to write in Kannada. But the wide reach, appeal and popularity of his works went well beyond his language of choice. This was evident at the memorial meeting for the late thespian held at Matunga’s Mysore Association Hall. The programme was organised by Keraleeya Kendra Sanghatana Mumbai and had in attendance speakers — mostly theatre personalities — from a range of languages. There was theatre director and cinematographer Pushan Kripalani alongside Marathi theatre veterans Sushama Deshpande and Jabbar Patel, and Mumbai-based English playwright Ramu Ramanathan. There was also Karnad’s nephew, ex-banker Pramod Karnad.
At the memorial, each one of the speakers chose to highlight Karnad’s works and their relevance today. The first to take the stage, Ramanathan read out a piece he had penned, narrating an imagined dream sequence where he is having a conversation with the late Karnad. The delightful exchange, complete with repartees a la Karnad, highlighted how the writer-director used his art as a means of dissenting against establishment. The imagined exchange also pointed out, albeit not in as many words, how the Kannada playwright employed mythology, which holds a wide appeal for masses, to highlight issues.
The other speakers recounted their personal experiences through interactions with Karnad over the years and their impressions of the man. Pramod, for instance, remembered his uncle as a humble man who would drive around his hometown Dharwad on a scooter. “He was an acclaimed man, a Jnanpith Award winner, but he held no ego,” Pramod said.
Kripalani remembered Karnad’s biting wit from their interactions when he sought the playwright’s permission to adapt Hayavadana in English – not once but thrice over a period of a decade. “I told him that I wanted to do away with the last 20 pages of the play. He told me that the play was older than I, will probably live longer than him or me. But if that’s what I wanted to do then I should go right ahead,” Kripalani said.
Patel, who collaborated with Karnad in both stage and screen, remembered him as a writer who challenged the director in more than one ways. “There was a lyricism to his writings and needed mounting on a big scale. So it went beyond the analysis of the characters to its presentation.” Patel added that Karnad deeply valued the folk forms. “As the head of Sahitya Natak Akademi, he honoured the tamasha artiste Vithabai Narayangaonkar alongside several classical performers.”