Girish Karnad in Manthan. | YouTube
Girish Karnad in Manthan (1976). | YouTube
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New Delhi: India lost one of its finest cultural beacons Monday — veteran playwright, director and actor Girish Karnad.

Considered a distinguished playwright, Karnad’s plays always mirrored society and he critiqued it using mythology and fiction. For example, his play Yayati (1961) mocked the ironies of life by using characters from the epic Mahabharata, and his extremely popular Tuglaq (1964) was a commentary and parody of the Nehruvian era.

Karnad was widely recognised as a promising playwright by the time he turned 25. His shift to films happened in the ’70s when he debuted with Samskara, which won the first President’s Golden Lotus Award for Kannada cinema. He subsequently directed several films and also kept acting in many Hindi parallel films.

ThePrint takes a look at some of the most renowned films of Karnad — both as a director and actor.

Vamsha Vriksha

Directed by Karnad along with B.V. Karanth, the film looked at society and human relationships through issues such as discrimination against widows, bigamy, intellectualism and more. Karnad and Karanth won the Best Director National Award for the film.


The National Award-winning film talked about the all-pervasive caste system and subtly critiqued its deadly consequences. Karnad played one of the protagonists in the movie — a staunch Brahmin who believed in living life according to the tenets of Brahmanism until his beliefs were challenged. The film was critically acclaimed, but was banned in Chennai for a while as the authorities thought it would spark communal tensions because of its strong caste narrative.


Directed by Shyam Benegal, Nishant is perhaps Karnad’s most famous parallel cinema film. Karnad played the role of a schoolmaster in a village plagued by the zamindari system. His world is turned upside down when his wife is sexually assaulted by the leaders of the village, and he has nowhere to go to seek help. This film, too, won a National Award, and was screened at many international film festivals, including the Cannes films festival, where it won the Palme d’Or.


The film is inspired by the White Revolution, which was started by Verghese Kurien. It talked about rural politics, agricultural distress, caste, and more through the story of a young veterinary surgeon, played by Karnad, and his team, who come to help increase dairy production in a village. The film bagged two National Awards and was India’s official entry to the 1976 Academy Awards.


Karnad was a favourite of director Nagesh Kukunoor, who he worked with in many films. Iqbal was one film where Karnad’s performance as an actor stood out. He played the role of a strict, former cricketer, who ran a cricket academy. The film won a National Award too.

Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane

Directed by Karnad and Karanth, the movie that released in 1977 starred Naseeruddin Shah and Lakshmi Krishnamurthy. Based on the Kannada novel of the same name by S.L. Bhyrappa, the film explored alienation and jingoism in India through the story of an American woman, who married an Indian and then settled in the country.

Also read: Writer, actor, playwright Girish Karnad dies at 81 in Bengaluru


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