Girish Karnad (1938-2019)

‘A totally modern man’: playwright Satish Alekar remembers Girish Karnad

With Shabana Azmi in Swami.

With Shabana Azmi in Swami.  

‘With his passing, we have lost the last of the four giants who created modern Indian theatre as we know it’

I was in Glasgow shooting for a Hindi film called ’83. And during the shoot I had imagined how Girish shot his scenes with Salman Khan in Ek Tha Tiger. On the flight home I heard the news.

With his passing, we have lost the last of the four giants who shaped Indian theatre in the 60s and created modern Indian theatre as we know it.

I knew Girish from the 70s when he was heading FTII in Pune. I was rehearsing my play Mahanirvan at the time, and he would come and watch. His house became a sort of cultural adda for us. His mother would serve us wonderful vegetarian meals with sweet curd.

Girish’s work did not influence me directly, but his articulation and world view helped shape our thoughts. He introduced us to Tarkovsky; other greats. He would organise screenings at FTTI. His attitude was totally modern. We learnt to subvert our own thoughts and direct them in new ways.

Later, as chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, he sent me to Connecticut to attend a playwright workshop conducted by Lloyd Richards and observe how to groom young playwrights. It was a rich experience. I used to consider Girish my headmaster!

Girish’s plays reinvented myths and gave them contemporary relevance. But he went further to subvert them and re-appropriate them with a new sense of aesthetics. Girish interpreted history with a strong belief in modern Indian democracy. He was not afraid to criticise any ideology he opposed. Each of the big four were giants not afraid to express what they believed in, who steadfastly guarded their freedom of expression and reminded others that this freedom is what democracy is about. He was the undisputed culture leader of our times.

(As told to Vaishna Roy)

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 9:09:15 AM |

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