Jnanpith winner, multi-lingual actor Girish Karnad dead

Bengaluru, June 10: Girish Karnad, a Jnanpith winner, multi-lingual scholar, master playwright, screenwriter, actor, director and a colossus in India's cultural landscape, passed away at his residence here on Monday, an official said. He was 81.

"Karnad died at his home at around 8.30 a.m. due to age-related symptoms," an official in the Karnataka Chief Minister's office told IANS.

The veteran artist is survived by his son Raghu, a writer and a journalist.

According to a family source, Karnad succumbed to multi-organ failure at his residence on Lavelle Road in the city's upscale locality near the famous Cubbon Park.

The state government declared a day's holiday on Monday as a mark of respect to Karnad and a three-day mourning will be observed across the state till June 12.

"The scheduled state cabinet expansion on Wednesday has also been postponed to a later date," said the official.

"Karnad will be cremated with state honours in the city as per Hindu rites," the official added.

President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, former Prime Minister and Janata Dal-Secular supremo H.D. Deve Gowda and Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers D.V. Sadananda Gowda have mourned Karnad's death and offered their condolences to his family members and relatives.

"Girish Karnad will be remembered for his versatile acting across all mediums. He also spoke passionately on causes dear to him. His works will continue being popular in the years to come. Saddened by his demise. May his soul rest in peace," tweeted Modi.

In addition to the Jnanpith Award in 1988, he was also honoured with the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan, apart from four National Film Awards and a Sahitya Akademi honour.

He was a reputed scholar who raised his voice on socio-political issues.

In a career spanning six decades, Karnad acted in Kannada, Hindi and Marathi films, which were both mainstream and parallel cinema. He also featured in television serials, including the famous "Malgudi Days", based on the works of renowned Indian English author, R.K. Narayan.

He also bagged four Filmfare awards, including three for best director of "Vamsha Vriksha" in 1972, "Kaadu" in 1974 and "Ondanondu Kaladalli" in 1978 and one for best screenplay for "Gadhuli" in 1980 along with another noted Kannada film director B.V. Karanth.

Karnad, who straddled the worlds of theatre and cinema in various languages, was born on May 19, 1938 in Matheran. He graduated from the Karnataka University, and was a Rhodes Scholar in the University of Oxford, where he studied philosophy, politics and economics.

He was celebrated internationally for his plays such as the first acclaimed "Yayati" in 1961 while he was at Oxford in Britain, historical "Tughlaq" (1964) and "Agni Mattu Male" and three seminal works "Hayavadana" (1971), "Nagamandala" (1988) and "Taledanda" (1990).

"These works link folklore, mythology, and history while tackling the contemporary crisis of the modern man," a Kannada literary critic said.

Karnad used creativity in merging folk and historic references to modernism, capturing changes in India's cultural, social and economic changes since independence in 1947.

His plays were translated into English and various Indian languages.

"Samskara", based on a novel by famous Kannada writer U.R. Ananthamurthy, won the first President's Golden Lotus Award for Kannada cinema in 1970. He wrote its screenplay and played the lead role in it.

For television audiences, Karnad may be best remembered as Swami's father in the much-loved "Malgudi Days" or as the presenter of Doordarshan's science show "Turning Point", while for Hindi movie audiences, his roles in "Manthan", "Nishant", "Pukar", "Iqbal", "Dor" and "Ek Tha Tiger" left an impact.

Karnad also directed films and wrote scripts for dialogues in Kannada and Hindi films and plays.

He was the seventh recipient of the Jnanpith in Karnataka and 34th across the country for rich contribution to Indian literature.

Karnad also served as director of the state-run Film and Television Institute of India (1974-1975) at Pune and was Chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi and National Academy of the Performing Arts (1988-93).

The multi-faceted author and playwright hosted a weekly science programme on state-run Doordarshan titled "Turning Point".

Featuring Indian scientist Yash Pal, the award-winning show explained complex, modern scientific discoveries in simple language.

Even as Karnad aged, he participated in panel discussions and literature festivals to discuss his work.

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