Girish Karnad (1938-2019)

Girish Karnad’s long connection to Malayalam

It has been over three decades since Utsav was released. But it remains one of the finest Hindi films of all time. The man who directed it, Girish Karnad, died at Bengaluru on Monday at the age of 81.

Director Jayaraj still remembers watching Utsav, a period film based on the 5th century BC Sanskrit play Mricchakatika, at a cinema in Chennai in late 1984. He did not imagine that he would get an opportunity to work with Karnad a couple of years later.

Neelakkurinji Poothappol, directed by Bharathan, was Karnad’s first Malayalam film. Jayaraj, who was the associate director, was given the job of teaching him the dialogues.

“I consider it an honour that I could work with him,” Jayaraj told The Hindu. “Even before getting bowled over by Utsav and the Kannada films he directed, he was familiar to me as a writer; I had read the translations of his Kannada plays.”

Right choice

He recalled that Karnad was suggested for the hero’s role — a middle-aged military officer who has an affair with a much younger woman — by John Paul, the film’s scriptwriter. “We all felt he was the right choice for the role,” said. “Bharathan had expressed doubts whether the theme of the film was a bit too progressive for the Malayali audience,” said Jayaraj. “In fact, many of us, including Karnad and Karthika, the heroine, had similar apprehensions. Our fear did not prove misplaced, the film was a disaster at the box office.”

Jayaraj said had the film been a success, Karnad could have done many more films in Malayalam. He did just one more, Prince, a Mohanlal-starrer, in 1996; it too was a failure.

But his films and plays in Kannada continued to attract admirers in Kerala. Among them was theatre activist and National-award winning director Suveeran. When actor Mukesh wanted him to do a play for his drama company Kalidasa Kalakendram, Suveeran chose Nagamandala, one of Karnad’s most popular plays.

“I thought it was the perfect play for me and my wife, Methil Devika, a classical dancer who was planning to make her acting debut,” Mukesh said. “I had watched another play of Karnad, Hayavadana, and had considered it for adapting it as well.”

Mukesh said he had sought the blessings of Karnad before going ahead with the production of Nagamandala (the Malayalam version was titled Naga). “I was surprised when I received a reply from him just a day after I wrote to him,” he said. “The play was a huge success, but we could stage it only five times. I am hoping to revive it soon; it would be a tribute to Karnad.”

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 6:19:17 AM |

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