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Quintessence of energy

After a hiatus, playwright Girish Karnad returns to the screen in Girish Acharya's "Brides Wanted." He tells RANA SIDDIQUI that working in the film has stimulated him to write a contemporary play.

— Pic. by S. Arneja

HE IS touching 68 but except that little flab around his jaw that you notice only on close scrutiny, he gives competition to young men in their thirties; not only because his facial contours are devoid of those age lines but also thanks to his ever active eyes, his brisk walk, a physique that he hones by walking ``15 miles every day'' and of course his boisterous laughter that attracts the attention of many nearby.

Meet Girish Karnad, who receives regular compliments on his energetic demeanour. And often for his flawless work. With a triumphant smile, he points out at K. Ganesh sitting in New Delhi, ``Look, I told you not to make me a grandfather, a father's role is okay... ,'' his animated laughter supplemented with a wink infects many.

Girish is referring to his role in producer K. Ganesh's Indian English film "Brides Wanted," ready to hit the silver screen soon. This grandfather's wife is played by Waheeda Rehman — the reason that attracted him more to do the role.

``Oh, I was in love with her in my college days,'' Girish cannot hide his coy smile. After "Hey Ram," which he did ``only because of Kamal Haasan'' there was a hiatus of a few years. Now comes "Brides Wanted". ``I was in London for the past three years, away from films but decided to do this one because the subject is very close to my home than life outside, and is made by a young director (Girish Acharya) and I appreciate that they know their minds very well, they are very talented, energetic and focussed. And of course because Waheedaji is playing my spouse.''

Girish plays grandfather to an NRI Anuj Sawhney, who comes back to India to get married to an Indian girl in a traditional way. As he goes bride hunting, he faces situations and candidates not quite traditionally Indian. With the change of time, definitions of Indianness have changed. He faces a dilemma that he shares with his grandfather, who is quite composed, worldly wise and not given to triviality unlike his wife.

For the actor it was not difficult to get into the character. A break from acting did not cause much of concern because he ``completely surrendered to the director. I did not interfere telling (him) what would have been better for my part. And it was very easy to surrender to this director who knew what he wanted,'' says the veteran playwright.

The man who made his mark in films like "Manthan," "Godhuli" and "Ratandeep," and won the Best Actor Award for his performance in "Swami" startles you by revealing, ``I never wanted to be an actor.''

It was purely for economic reasons that he plunged into acting for theatre was not financially viable. ``I belonged to a low-middle class family of Maharashtra and for me earning money could be either by going abroad or joining films because film stars were the only people who had jobs otherwise the whole of India was going through a job crunch.''

He decided to do his graduation in Maths and Statistics. ``Going abroad those days was a big draw because the only people you would meet abroad were carpenters, painters or university students,'' he says. Girish received the Rhodes scholarship and was a manager in Oxford University Press for seven years.

``I had made enough money, so I started doing what I wanted — writing plays.'' After "Yayati" in 1961, it was "Tughlaq" in 1964 that made him a household name. ``Yes, but it did not bring money,'' quips the actor. But his countless other plays, staged repeatedly and translated into various languages, won him critical applause. It also fetched him prestigious positions as Director of FTII and the jury in Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) from which he quit.

Mention MIFF and creases line Girish's forehead. ``MIFF was very successful and one of the best festivals in the world as this was the only fest in which the audience abroad would get to watch sensible Indian films. But a film called `Final Solution' selected by every jury member was finally chopped off. I was told that it was for `security reasons' for it was violently anti-Modi. I was amazed at this stupidity. What is the impression that we carry at the international fest? That we don't have freedom of expression? And that Censors control us? I never wanted to be part of such a puppet jury, so I quit.'' The anger still shows.

What makes him revert to his original, chirpy mood? The very mention of his plays. Even if he is not at his coolest, he takes criticism with great dignity; smilingly he answers each query. People accuse him of escaping into the past when it comes to writing plays. He bases them on history and mythology and exploits them to the extent of smashing. ``You tell me if it does not have a contemporary value, then why do people throng to theatres to see my plays? Why are they so popular? In fact I feel sad that not many people take recourse to history, mythology and literature and produce plays. But it does not mean that young playwrights are bad. They are doing what they think is best and commercially viable. Theatre has many rivals now. I was lucky that way. In my days we did not have 100 television channels or other sources of entertainment as today. I used to produce five-six plays a year and they all would attract a great number of audience. Today theatre is very active in the West.'' But still Girish never stages his plays abroad. ``I never felt the need,'' he defends.

Now working in "Brides Wanted" has energised him to write his "long overdue" play based on a wedding in a middle class family. ``The idea has been stored in my mind for the past 30 years. It is about suppressed envies among the family members during the course of marriage. I was witness to such a home truth during my sister's marriage,'' says Girish.

And this time, no one will accuse him of escaping into the past. ``This is a contemporary play,'' he declares with a triumphant grin.

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