‘A legendary actor and playwright, Girish Karnad shaped Indian theatre since 1960s’


Much of Karnad’s work is based on folk tales, which are real and relatable, but has a deep meaning,” Shetty said. “He often corrected me on that personal pronoun, saying, quoting Roland Barthes, that the play was no longer his, it was now mine. He added that what struck him immediately was how simple and down to earth Karnad was. Here I was, starting out on my own theatre journey, sitting and sipping tea with one of my greatest influences in theatre,” Menon said. He offered to show me around Ranga Shankara premises. Advertising

It was in 1999 that city-based theatre director Mohit Takalkar made his debut with Yayati. “Another of my favourite is The Fire and The Rain. 0
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The founder member of the Theatre Academy of Pune, Alekar said he knew Karnad personally since 1970s, when the latter was heading the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune. We took an auto, and then walked a bit in the mild showers of Bengaluru winter evening. Vasudev Menon of The Drama Queens of Pune recalls growing up under the shadow of Karnad’s influence. Shy and affable, Karnad spoke about theatre in India and his plays. In 2013, Takalkar’s group Aasakta Kalamanch staged an adaptation of one of Karnad’s final works, Benda Kaalu on Toast (Boiled Beans on Toast) in Marathi, titled Uney Purey Shahar Ek. Unforgettable! I took home several lessons from that evening,” Menon said. The Edinburgh Fringe office needed a written consent from the playwright and I was, incidentally, travelling to Bengaluru at the time. Calling him a “creator of powerful stories”, Alekar recounted the plays written by Karnad — Yayati (1961), which is a retelling of a tale from the Mahabharata; the critically-acclaimed Tughlaq (1964), as an allegory on an eccentric king to comment on the Nehruvian era; and Hayavadana (1971). He was not afraid to criticise any ideology that he opposed. “My theatre group in Edinburgh was starting out on our first production and we had decided to enact Bali – The Sacrifice by Karnad. “He was the last of four giants, after Vijay Tendulkar, Badal Sircar and Mohan Rakesh, who shaped Indian theatre since the 1960s,” Alekar said. As we sat down, he made me a cup of tea. I took the courage of gatecrashing into Karnad’s house and held my breath as he opened the doors,” Menon said. “The legend was completely devoid of any airs of fame. He and Arundhati Nag were just starting out on a venture that would eventually become Ranga Shankara, and his excitement was uncontainable. “Karnad reinvented myths and interpreted history with his strong belief in democracy of modern India. The story of a city and its multitudes was also a part of the Bharat Rang Mahotsav, an international theatre festival organised by the National School of Drama in Delhi in 2014. Chetan Shetty, who is a part of The Storytellers, a Pune group that narrates stories live to audiences, says Karnad’s Nagamandala, about a cobra who falls in love with a woman, and Hayavadana are integral parts of his repertoire. He was a great interpreter of the writings of other young writers.”
Remembering the legendary playwright as “an excellent cultural administrator”, Alekar said: “He was heading Sangeet Natak Akademi, Delhi, for five years where he introduced a health insurance scheme for ailing artistes.”
The works of Karnad inspired many theatre groups and artistes in Pune over the years.