Tamil Nadu

Journalist, theatre personality Gnani dead

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In a career spanning four decades, he directed several plays and nearly 40 documentary films

Journalist, theatre personality and literary critic Gnani (born V. Sankaran) died here in the early hours of Monday following a cardiac arrest. He was 64. He is survived by wife Padmavathi and son, Manush Nandan, a cinematographer.

Gnani had been suffering from a kidney ailment and undergoing dialysis.

A native of Chenglapattu, Gnani had begun his career at Indian Express in the mid-1970s. Veteran Tamil playwright Indira Parthasarathy recalls that he had met Gnani for the first time in 1976 when the latter was a cub reporter and had come to interview him (Prof. Parthasarathy). “I could feel even then that that he was a bright guy. My assessment of him continues even now. He was an amazing, fearless and versatile personality,” the playwright points out, adding that he dedicated to Gnani’s memory the lifetime achievement award that he received on the second day of The Hindu Lit for Life.

Gnani was trained by S. Ramanujam, G. Sankara Pillai and Badal Sircar, all doyens of Indian theatre. Originally a member of “Koothu-P-Pattarai,” a theatre group, he went on to set up in 1978 ‘Pareeksha,’ whose maiden play was Porvai Porthiya Udalgal of Prof. Parthasarathy.

“The play’s central character was a woman, ‘Vasanthi,’ and Gnani could not find a suitable person. But he had the ingenuity to use the voice of a woman (Gnani’s stepsister) instead. The impact was great, though there was no woman physically on the stage to represent ‘Vasanthi’,” says the playwright, adding that he had come to Chennai from New Delhi, where he was living then, to see the play.

When the influence of cinema and television was growing in the early 1990s, ‘Pareeksha’ had staged a play every week along with others in Chennai.

Equal space

In his 40-year-long career, Gnani had directed plays based on the works of several prominent writers, including Harold Pinter, Bertolt Brecht, J.B. Priestley, Vijay Tendulkar, Ashokamitran, Sundara Ramaswami and Jeyanthan. Gnani had produced around 40 documentary films and half-a-dozen tele films. Among them was Ayya, which was based on Dravidian movement’s prominent figure, E.V. Ramasamy.

Actor Balasingham, who began his career with ‘Pareeksha,’ said Gnani, as the theatre group’s leader, gave equal space to everyone and he was very friendly to all. “As the director, he never indulged in show off,” says the actor.

In his career as journalist, Gnani set up a Tamil periodical, Dheem Tharikada. He was also in charge of editorial production of the Sunday magazine section of Murasoli in late 1980s and Junior Post in the early 1990s.

His columns, O Pakkangal in popular Tamil journals became a big hit and sometimes, his views triggered controversies.

T. N. Gopalan, veteran journalist, and a colleague at the Express, says “I have always envied his uncompromising personality. His determination to fight back and stand for values that he cherished has a legacy for coming generations of journalists.”

Minister Ma Foi K. Pandiarajan, veteran CPI leader R. Nallakannu and Bharatiya Janata Party state president Tamilisai Soundarajan visited the house of Gnani at K. K. Nagar and expressed their condolences to the journalist’s family.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 3:57:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/journalist-theatre-personality-gnani-dead/article22445302.ece

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