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|September 4, 2002|
Tribute/ Girish Karnad
BV Karanth was a great personality who overcame his childhood traumas to become one of India's leading theatre directors.
We worked together; he produced and translated my plays.
In a sense, one might say he was the man responsible for South Indian drama getting an all-India audience because he was the first person to translate a Kannada play, Suno Janmejay, written by poet Dyarangacharya, into Hindi. He later translated my Tughlaq.
He was a theatre director and a competent actor as well, but not a great actor. His greatness was in overcoming his childhood traumas and tortures.
He came from a poor Brahmin family and at the age of 10, his father sent him to a rich landlord's home to give tuition to the landlord's children. There, after four or five months, Karanth started stealing money so that he could buy notebooks in which he hoped to write novels.
One day, the landlord's family discovered its money missing. They searched him and caught him. He admitted to stealing the money to buy notebooks. They discovered two-dozen notebooks on his person. When his father came to take him home, he beat him all the way from the landlord's house to the bus stop, on the bus, and all the way home, saying he was a thief who had been stealing money instead of helping his starving family.
After running away from home, Karanth managed to get a job with a Karnataka touring company named after its founder, Gubbi Veeranna. It was Veeranna and another theatre personality, G V Iyer, who jointly took Karanth under their wing and funded him through university.
Ultimately, Gubbi Veeranna and G V Iyer funded his BA and MA at the Benares Hindu University [at Varanasi]. It was at Varanasi that Karanth perfected his Hindi, later becoming the best translator from Kannada into Hindi.
I first met Karanth back in 1965, soon after returning from Oxford and shortly after writing my award-winning play Tughlaq. Karanth had already translated Suno Janmejay. Now he got Tughlaq, talked to me, and translated that. Our friendship grew, and in 1970 we both decided to resign from our jobs and meet up in Bangalore to do what we could.
By then, we had become friends and went on to produce a series of award-winning films from Karnataka, including Vanmsha Vrasha and Chomana Dudi. Years later, Karanth would succeed me as director of the National School of Drama, where he was responsible for reviving the tradition of singing and dancing in Indian theatre.
Until then, because of the influence of [George Bernard] Shaw in the 1950s and 1960s, educated theatre had become drawing room plays in which social problems were discussed. That was considered modern, while having dance and music was considered crude and not consonant with modernity.
At this time, Karanth and I used to argue that something had to be done to break this nonsense and go back to our roots. Then I wrote a play called Hayavadana, which uses a story from Betal Pachisi [a famous set of stories, also known as Vikram aur Vetal] and uses the folk form. Karanth produced this in Karnataka and it exploded. It turned the whole theatre world around because here was a play written and produced with great sophistication and yet using music and dance and all the relevance of folk theatre.
Karanth's lapse into alcoholism and imprisonment on a charge of attempted murder [he was later absolved of all charges] is a matter of record. [Karnad was one of the persons who stood by and helped Karanth during his difficult days]. The government of Karnataka was loyal to one of its most famous sons and gave him a job that enabled him to bring up the Ranagana repertory theatre in Mysore.
He became a teetotaller more than a decade ago, but was subsequently stricken by prostate cancer from which he died last weekend.
Girish Karnad, director of the Nehru Centre, London, spoke to Shyam Bhatia.
Also read: End of an Era: Tribute to B V Karanth
Design: Uday Kuckian
|Pay homage to Shri B V Karanth|
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