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Girish Raghunath Karnad (born 19 May 1938) is an Indian actor, film director, Kannada writer,[1] playwright and a Rhodes Scholar, who predominantly works in South Indian cinema and Bollywood. His rise as a playwright in the 1960s, marked the coming of age of modern Indian playwriting in Kannada, just as Badal Sarkar did in Bengali, Vijay Tendulkar in Marathi, and Mohan Rakesh in Hindi.[2] He is a recipient of the 1998 Jnanpith Award, the highest literary honour conferred in India.[3]

Girish Karnad
Girish Karnad at Cornell University, 2009
Girish Karnad at Cornell University, 2009
BornGirish Raghunath Karnad
(1938-05-19) 19 May 1938 (age 81)
Matheran, Bombay Presidency, British India
(now in Maharashtra, India)
OccupationPlaywright, film director, film actor
Alma materKarnatak University, University of Oxford
Literary movementNavya
Notable worksTughalak 1964
ChildrenRaghu Karnad

For four decades Karnad has composed plays, often using history and mythology to tackle contemporary issues. He has translated his plays into English and has received acclaim.[4] His plays have been translated into some Indian languages and directed by directors like Ebrahim Alkazi, B. V. Karanth, Alyque Padamsee, Prasanna, Arvind Gaur, Satyadev Dubey, Vijaya Mehta, Shyamanand Jalan, Amal Allana and Zafer Mohiuddin.[4] He is active in the world of Indian cinema working as an actor, director and screenwriter, in Hindi and Kannada cinema, and has earned awards. He was conferred Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan by the Government of India and won four Filmfare Awards, of which three are Filmfare Award for Best Director – Kannada and the fourth a Filmfare Best Screenplay Award.


Early life and educationEdit

Girish Raghunath Karnad was born in Matheran, in present-day Maharashtra, in 1938. His mother Krishnabai née Mankikar was a young widow with a son, and while training to be a nurse, met Dr. Raghunath Karnad who was a doctor in the Bombay Medical Service. For five years they could not get married because of the prevailing prejudice against widow remarriage. Finally their marriage was sanctified under the dispensation of the Arya Samaj. Girish was the third of the four children born thereafter.[5]

Girish Karnad's initial schooling was in Marathi. In Sirsi, Karnataka, he was exposed to travelling theatre groups, Natak Mandalis, as his parents were deeply interested in their plays.[6] As a youngster, Karnad was an ardent admirer of Yakshagana and the theater in his village.[7] His family moved to Dharwad in Karnataka when he was 14 years old, where he grew up with his two sisters and niece.[8]

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and statistics from Karnatak Arts College, Dharwad (Karnataka University), in 1958. Upon graduation Karnad went to England and studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Magdalen in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar (1960–63), earning his Master of Arts degree in philosophy, political science and economics.[4] Karnad was elected President of the Oxford Union in 1963.


After working with the Oxford University Press, Chennai for seven years (1963–70), he resigned to take to writing full-time.[4] While in Madras (now known as Chennai) he got involved with local amateur theatre group, The Madras Players.[9]

During 1987–88, he was at the University of Chicago as visiting professor and Fulbright playwright-in-residence.[4] During his tenure at Chicago Nagamandala had its world premiere at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis based on Karnad's English translation of the Kannada original.[10] Most recently, he served as director of the Nehru Centre and as Minister of Culture, in the Indian High Commission, London (2000–2003).

He served as director of the Film and Television Institute of India (1974–1975) and chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the National Academy of the Performing Arts (1988–93).


Girish Karnad in 2010

Karnad is known as a playwright. His plays, written in Kannada, have been translated into English and some Indian languages. Kannada is his language of choice.

When Karnad started writing plays, Kannada literature was highly influenced by the renaissance in Western literature. Writers would choose a subject that looked entirely alien to manifestation of native soil. C. Rajagopalachari's version of the Mahabharata published in 1951, left a deep impact on him[11] and soon, sometime in the mid-1950s, one day he experienced a rush of dialogues by characters from the Mahabharata in Kannada. "I could actually hear the dialogues being spoken into my ears ... I was just the scribe," said Karnad in a later interview. Yayati was published in 1961, when he was 23 years old. It is based on the story of King Yayati, one of the ancestors of the Pandavas, who was cursed into premature old age by his preceptor, Shukracharya, who was incensed at Yayati's infidelity. Yayati in turn asks his sons to sacrifice their youth for him, and one of them agrees. It ridicules the ironies of life through characters in Mahabharata. It became an instant success, immediately translated and staged in several other Indian languages.[10]

Karnad found a new approach of drawing historical and mythological sources to tackle contemporary themes and existentialist crisis of modern man through characters locked in psychological and philosophical conflicts. His next was Tughlaq (1964), about a rashly idealist 14th-century Sultan of Delhi, Muhammad bin Tughluq, and allegory on the Nehruvian era which started with ambitious idealism and ended up in disillusionment.[11] This established Karnad, now 26 years old, as a promising playwright in the country. It was staged by the National School of Drama Repertory under the direction of Ebrahim Alkazi, with the actor Manohar Singh, playing the visionary king who later becomes disillusioned and turns bitter, amidst the historic Purana Qila in Delhi. It was staged in London by the National School of Drama for the Festival of India in 1982.[4][10]

Hayavadana (1971) was based on a theme drawn from The Transposed Heads, a 1940 novella by Thomas Mann, which is originally found in the 11th-century Sanskrit text Kathasaritsagara. Herein he employed the folk theatre form of Yakshagana. A German version of the play was directed by Vijaya Mehta as part of the repertoire of the Deutsches National Theatre, Weimar.

Naga-Mandala (Play with Cobra, 1988) was based on a folk tale related to him by A. K. Ramanujam, brought him the Karnataka Sahitya Academy Award for the Most Creative Work of 1989. It was directed by J. Garland Wright, as part of the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis. The theatre subsequently commissioned him to write the play, Agni Mattu Male (The Fire and the Rain). Though before it came Taledanda (Death by Beheading, 1990) which used the backdrop, the rise of Veerashaivism, a radical protest and reform movement in 12th century Karnataka to bring out current issues.[4][12]


Karnad made his acting as well as screenwriting debut in a Kannada movie, Samskara (1970), based on a novel by U.R. Ananthamurthy and directed by Pattabhirama Reddy. That movie won the first President's Golden Lotus Award for Kannada cinema.

In television, he played the role of Swami's father in the TV series Malgudi Days (1986–1987), based on R. K. Narayan's books. He also hosted the science magazine Turning Point on Doordarshan, in the early 1990s.

He made his directorial debut with Vamsha Vriksha (1971), based on a Kannada novel by S. L. Bhyrappa. It won him National Film Award for Best Direction along with B. V. Karanth, who co-directed the film. Later, Karnad directed several movies in Kannada and Hindi, including Godhuli (1977) and Utsav (1984). Karnad has made number of documentaries, like one on the Kannada poet D. R. Bendre (1972), Kanaka-Purandara (English, 1988) on two medieval Bhakti poets of Karnataka, Kanaka Dasa and Purandara Dasa, and The Lamp in the Niche (English, 1989) on Sufism and the Bhakti movement. Many of his films and documentaries have won several national and international awards.

Some of his famous Kannada movies include Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane, Ondanondu Kaladalli, Cheluvi and Kaadu and most recent film Kanooru Heggaditi (1999), based on a novel by Kannada writer Kuvempu.

His Hindi movies include Nishaant (1975), Manthan (1976), Swami (1977) and Pukar (2000). He has acted in a number of Nagesh Kukunoor films, starting with Iqbal (2005), where Karnad's role of the ruthless cricket coach got him critical acclaim. This was followed by Dor (2006), 8 x 10 Tasveer (2009) and Aashayein (2010). He played a key role in movies "Ek Tha Tiger"(2012) and its sequel "Tiger Zinda Hai"(2017) produced by Yash Raj Films.

Karnad has acted in the Kannada gangster movie Aa Dinagalu.

Other notable worksEdit

He provided the voice of A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, former President of India, in the audiobook of Kalam's autobiography by Charkha Audiobooks Wings of Fire.

Awards and honoursEdit

For literatureEdit

University of Southern California, Los Angeles – 2011[14]

For CinemaEdit

National Film Awards

Filmfare Awards South

Filmfare Awards Hindi

Karnataka State Film Awards


  • Gubbi Veeranna Award for his services to theatre (as a playwright)
  • Karnad served as the director of the Film and Television Institute of India from 1974–1975, the Indian co-chairman for the Joint Media Committee of the Indo-US Sub-Commission on Education and Culture from 1984–1993, chairman of the Sangeet Natak Academy from 1988–1993, and president of Karnataka Nataka Academy from 1976–1978.
  • Honorary Doctorate from University of Southern California, Los Angeles – 2011[18]


At the Tata Literary Festival held in Mumbai in 2012, Karnad was invited to speak about "his life in theater" in an hour-long session. Instead of talking about the subject, he took the opportunity to lash out at V. S. Naipaul for his "antipathy towards Indian Muslims". V. S. Naipaul had earlier been conferred the Lifetime achievement award by the festival's organisers. Karnad also criticized the organizers for having honored Naipaul.

The audience, which had gathered to hear Karnad speak, had mixed reactions to the speech. Some, like organizer Anil Dharker, tried ineffectually to steer the speech toward less controversial waters. Others were amused by the episode, and some commented on the research and logic that had gone into the speech (unfortunately overshadowed by its 'scandalous' nature).[19]

Just a few weeks after this, Karnad again created controversy by claiming that Rabindranath Tagore was a second-rate playwright and that his plays were "unbearable".[20][21]

In November 2015, during celebrations marking the anniversary of 18th-century Muslim ruler Tipu Sultan's birth, Karnad stated that Bangalore International Airport should have been named after Tipu Sultan instead of Kempe Gowda. This created a furore among right-wing groups. Karnad apologised the following day.[22][23]

Personal lifeEdit

Karnad is married to Dr. Saraswathy Ganapathy and they have two children. He lives in Bangalore.[4] Girish Karnad, while working in Madras for Oxford University Press on his return from England, met his future wife Saraswathi Ganapathy at a party. They decided to marry but the marriage was only formalised ten years later, when Karnad was 42 years old. Saraswathi was born to a Parsi mother, Nargis Mugaseth, and a Kodava father, Kodandera Ganapathy.[24]


He is a proponent of multi-culturalism and freedom of expression, Girish Karnad has been a critic of religious fundamentalism and Hindutva in India. He publicly condemned the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 and later spoke against the attempts to create controversy about the Idgah Maidan in Hubli.[4] He is a proponent of secularism and has opposed RSS, BJP and other Hindu organizations on several occasions. He opposed Narendra Modi for the Prime Minister's post in the 2014 parliament elections.


Plays in KannadaEdit

  • "Maa Nishaadha" (One Act Play)
  • "Yayati" (1961)[25]
  • "Tughlaq" (1964) (translated in Hindustani by B. V. Karanth. Major Indian directors who have staged it: Ebrahim Alkazi, Prasanna, Arvind Gaur, Dinesh Thakur & Shyamanand Jalan (in Bengali).
  • "Hayavadana" (1972)
  • "Anjumallige" (1977) (translated in Bengali name "JAMINI", by Dr. Biswa Roy, Director Film and T.V media. Published by Papyrus, in the year January 2007. )
  • "Hittina Hunja" aka "Bali" (The Sacrifice) (1980)
  • "Nagamandala" (1988) (Play with Cobra)
  • "Taledanda" (1990) (Death by Beheading), in Hindi it is known as Rakt-Kalyan translated by Ram Gopal Bajaj, first directed by Ebrahim Alkazi for NSD rep., then by Arvind Gaur (1995–2008, still running) for Asmita Theater Group, New Delhi.[26]
  • "Agni mattu Male" (1995) (Agni Aur Varsha, The Fire and the Rain), first directed by Prasanna for NSD Rep.
  • "Tipu Sultan Kanda Kanasu" (The Dreams of Tipu Sultan)
  • "Odakalu Bimba" (2006) (Hindi, Bikre Bimb; English, A heap of Broken Images)
  • "Maduve Album" (2006)
  • "Flowers" (2012)
  • "Benda Kaalu on Toast" (2012)

Plays in EnglishEdit

  • Collected Plays, Vol.1, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005 (Tughlaq, Hayavadana, Bali: The Sacrifice, and Naga Mandala)
  • Collected Plays, Vol.2, Oxford University Press, 2005 (Tale-Danda, The Fire and the Rain, The Dreams of Tippu Sultan, Two Monologues: Flowers and Broken Images)
  • Yayati, Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Wedding Album, Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Boiled Beans on Toast, Oxford University Press, 2014.



Year Title Role Language Notes
2019 Apna Desh kannada Release on - 26 August 2019
2019 Shabdamani kannada Release on - December 2019
2019 Vidura kannada Release on - December 2019
2019 Sketch For Love Telugu Release on - 9 December 2019
2019 Pora kannada Release on - 28 December 2019
2018 Neenillada Male kannada
2017 Tiger Zinda Hai Dr. Shenoy (RAWBold text Chief) Hindi
2016 Chalk n Duster Manohar Sawant Hindi
2016 Shivaay Anushka's father Hindi
2016 24 Sathya's grandfather Tamil
2015 Chandrika Kannada
2015 Dheera Rana Vikrama K. V. Anand Rao (Home Minister Of Karnataka)
2015 Rudra Tandava Chiranjeevi Sarja's Father
2014 Savari 2 Vishwanath
2014 Samrat & Co.
2013 Sweety Nanna Jodi
2012 Yaare Koogadali
2012 Mugamoodi Tamil
2012 Ek Tha Tiger Dr. Shenoy (RAW Chief)
2011 Kempe Gowda Mahadev Gowda (Kavya's Father)
2011 Narthagi Tamil
2010 Komaram Puli Narasimha Rao (Prime minister) Telugu
2009 Life Goes On Sanjay
2009 Aashayein Parthasarthi
2009 8 x 10 Tasveer Anil Sharma
2008 Sangaathi Kannada
2008 Chilipili Hakkigalu School Master Kannada
2007 Lava Kusha Protagonists' father Kannada
2007 Aa Dinagalu Girish Nayak Kannada Screenplay Writer also
2006 Tananam Tananam Shastry Kannada
2006 Dor Randhir Singh
2005 Iqbal Guruji
2004 Shankar Dada MBBS Satya Prasad Telugu
2004 Chellamae Rajasekhar Tamil
2001 Vande Matharam Vijayashanti's Father Kannada
2000 Hey Ram Uppilli Iyengar Tamil
2000 Pukar Mr. Rajvansh
1999 Prathyartha Sheshanag Dixit (Home Minister of India)
1999 Janumadatha Dr. Akbar Ali Kannada
1999 AK-47 Jagannath Rao (Shiva Rajkumar's Father)
1999 Kanooru Heggadithi Kannada Director also
1998 Aakrosh: Cyclone of Anger Rajwansh Shashtri
1998 April Fool Kannada
1998 China Gate Forest Officer Sunder Rajan
1997 Minsaara Kanavu Amal Raj Tamil
1997 Ratchagan Sriram Tamil
1996 The Prince Vishwanath Malayalam
1996 Aatank Inspector Khan
1996 Dharma Chakram Telugu
1995 Sangeetha Sagara Ganayogi Panchakshara Gavai Hanagal Kumaraswamiji
1994 Aagatha Psychiatrist Kannada
1994 Kadhalan Kakarla Satyanarayana Murti Tamil
1994 Poorna Sathya Kannada
1993 Praana Daata
1992 Cheluvi Village Headman
1991 Gunaa
1991 Antarnaad
1991 Brahma
1991 Chaitanya
1991 Mysore Mallige Sudharani's Father Kannada
1990 Nehru: The Jewel of India
1990 Santha Shishunala Sharifa Govindabhatta Kannada
1989 Mil Gayee Manzil Mujhe
1989 Prathama Ushakirana Doctor Kannada
1988 Akarshan
1988 Kaadina Benki Kannada
1987 Sutradhar Zamindar
1986 Naan Adimai Illai Rajasekhar Tamil
1986 Neela Kurinji Poothappol Appu Menon Malayalam
1985 Sur Sangam Pandit Shivshankar Shastri
1985 Meri Jung Deepak Verma
1985 Zamana Satish Kumar
1986 Nenapina Doni Kannada
1985 Nee Thanda Kanike Dr. Vishnuvardhan's Father
1984 Divorce
1984 Tarang Dinesh
1983 Anveshane Rotti
1983 Ek Baar Chale Aao Din Dayal
1983 Ananda Bhairavi Narayana Sarma Bilingual Film
1982 Teri Kasam Rakesh
1982 Aparoopa
1982 Umbartha Advocate Subhash Mahajan Marathi
1981 Shama Nawab Yusuf Khan
1980 Apne Paraye Harish Hindi
1980 Man Pasand Kashinath
1980 Aasha Deepak
1980 Beqasoor Dr. Anand Bhatnagar
1979 Ratnadeep Hindi
1979 Sampark Heera Hindi
1978 Sandharbha Psychiatrist Kannada Special Appearance in climax
1977 Jeevan Mukt Amarjeet Hindi
1977 Swami Ghanshyam Hindi
1976 Manthan Dr.Rao Hindi
1975 Nishaant Schoolmaster Hindi
1974 Jadu Ka Shankh Hindi
1971 Vamsha Vriksha Raju (lecturer)
1970 Samskara Praneshacharya

TV seriesEdit

1. Malgudi Days (1987) as Swami's Father

2. Indradhanush (1989) as Appu and Bala's Father

Movies directedEdit

Other worksEdit

  • Evam Indrajit (English) by Badal Sircar. Tr. by Girish Karnad. 1974.

Works in translationEdit

  • Yayati. Oxford University Press.
  • Yayati (Hindi). Tr. by B. R. Narayan. Rajkamal Prakashan Pvt Ltd, 2008. ISBN 81-7119-627-6.
  • Tughlaq: A play in 13 scenes, Oxford Univ. Press, 1972
  • Hayavadana, Oxford University Press, 1975.
  • Tughlaq (Marathi), Tras. Vijay Tendulkar. Popular Prakashan Pvt. Ltd. ISBN 81-7185-370-6.
  • Three Plays: Naga-Mandala; Hayavadana; Tughlaq. Oxford University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-19-563765-8.
  • Tughlaq (Hindi). Tr. by B. V. Karanth. Rajkamal Prakashan Pvt Ltd, 2005. ISBN 81-7119-790-6.
  • Collected plays Vol 1: Tuglaq, Hayavadana, Bali: The Sacrifice, Naga-Mandala. Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 0-19-567310-7.
  • Collected Plays: Taledanda, the Fire and the Rain, the Dreams of Tipu Sultan, Flowers and Images: Two Dramatic Monologues: Flowers : Broken Images, Vol. 2. Oxford University Press, USA. 2005. ISBN 0-19-567311-5.
  • Three plays by Girish Karnad. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-563765-8.


  • Aadaadtha Aayushya. Manohara Grantha Mala, 2011


  1. ^ "Sahitya Akademi : Who's Who of Indian Writers". Sahitya Akademi. Sahitya Akademi. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
  2. ^ "Drama between the lines". Financial Express. 28 January 2007.
  3. ^ "Jnanpith for Dr Girish Karnad". 21 January 1999. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i AWARDS: The multi-faceted playwright Frontline, Vol. 16, No. 3, 30 Jan.–12 Feb 1999.
  5. ^ "How a Brahmin woman broke into the twentieth century".
  6. ^ Kumar, p.115
  7. ^ "Conversation with Girish Karnad". Bhargavi Rao on Muse India. Muse India. Archived from the original on 16 March 2007. Retrieved 11 July 2007.
  8. ^ "Conversation: 'I wish I were a magician'". Livemint. 11 October 2013. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  9. ^ Sachindananda, p. 57
  10. ^ a b c "PROFILE: GIRISH KARNAD: Renaissance Man". India Today. 12 April 1999.
  11. ^ a b Sachindananda, p. 58
  12. ^ Don Rubin (1998). The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre: Asia. Taylor & Francis. p. 196. ISBN 978-0-415-05933-6.
  13. ^ a b "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 November 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  14. ^ "USC News". 14 April 2011. Archived from the original on 24 March 2012. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  15. ^ "25th National Film Awards". International Film Festival of India. Retrieved 4 October 2011.
  16. ^ "25th National Film Awards (PDF)" (PDF). Directorate of Film Festivals. Retrieved 4 October 2011.
  17. ^ Biography and plays of Girish Karnad
  18. ^ "Honorary Doctorate for Karnad".
  19. ^ Girish Karnad slams V S Naipaul for his anti-Islam views, questions his Mumbai fest award, Indian Express, 3 November 2012.
  20. ^ [1]Deccan Chronicle.
  21. ^ "Rabindranath Tagore a 'second-rate playwright', Girish Karnad says". The Times of India. Retrieved 9 November 2012.
  22. ^ "Karnataka Simmers Over Tipu Sultan Row, Girish Karnad Offers Apology". NDTV. 12 November 2015.
  23. ^ "Girish Karnad offers apology over remarks on Kempegowda". The Hindu. 12 November 2015.
  24. ^ "WebHost4Life | Web Hosting, Unix Hosting, E-Mail, Web Design".
  25. ^ Kumar, p. 114
  26. ^ Drama critics. "Girish Karnad's Rakt Kalyan (Tale-Danda)". Retrieved 25 December 2008.


Further readingEdit

  • Jaydipsinh Dodiya, ed.,The Plays of Girish Karnad: Critical Perspectives Prestige Books, New Delhi, 1999.
  • Pradeep Trikha, Multiple Celebrations, Celebrating Multiplicity in Girish Karnad – A Monograph
  • Chhote Lal Khatri, Girish Karnad: Naga-mandala : a critique. Prakash Book Depot, 2006. ISBN 81-7977-165-2.
  • Dr. Prafull D. Kulkarni, The Dramatic World of Girish Karnad. Creative Books Nanded, 2010. ISBN 978-81-906717-5-0.
  • P Dhanavel, The Indian Imagination of Girish Karnad, Prestige Books, New Delhi, 2000.
  • G Baskaran, ed., Girish Karnad and Mahesh Dattani: Methods and Motives, Yking Books, Jaipur, 2012.
  • Vanashree Tripathi, Three Plays of Girish Karnad: Hayavadana, Tale-Danda, The Fire and the Rain, Prestige Books, New Delhi, 2004.
  • Neeru Tandon (2006). "Myth and Folklore in Girish Karnad's Fire and the Rain". Perspectives and challenges in Indian-English drama. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. ISBN 978-81-269-0655-0.
  • Julia Leslie, "Nailed to the Past: Girish Karnad's Plays" Journal of South Asian Literature, 1999, 31–2 (for 1996–7), pp. 50–84. JSTOR
  • Julia Leslie, "Understanding Basava: History, Hagiography and a Modern Kannada Drama" Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 1998, 61, pp. 228–61. DOI
  • Zinia Mitra " A Tale of Subversion with a Conundrum of Mask: A Reading into Girish Karnard's Naga Mandala" in Indian Drama in English ed.K.Chakraborty, Delhi, PHI,2011,ISBN 978-81-203-4289-7, INR:295.00 395 pp.

External linksEdit