Remembering Girish Karnad: five of his finest

Revolutionary filmmaker, writer and actor Girish Karnad, who passed away on Monday morning, was much-loved for his film and television roles that earned him several generations of fans over a career spanning six decades.

From being a figurehead of parallel cinema to dabbling in commercial blockbusters, his body of work in south Indian and Bollywood cinema leaves behind a glittering legacy, but what do audiences remember him best for?

Here are some of his finest works:

Samskara (Kannada, 1970)

Karnad made his acting and screenwriting debut with Samskara, based on a book by legendary Kannada writer U.R. Ananthamurthy. The film won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film. The film’s strong anti-caste message was in line with views espoused by Karnad throughout his literary and film career. The landmark film was part of a new wave of progressive movies breaking new ground in the early 70s.

Vamsha Vriksha (Kannada, 1972)

Karnad made his directorial debut with the Kannada feature film Vamsha Vriksha, co-directed by B.V. Karanth. The film, an adaptation of a book by writer S.L. Bhyrappa, marked the acting debut of Kannada star Vishnu Vardhan. The critical acclaim for the film brought with it the National Award for Best Director for Karnad and Karanth.

Nishant (Hindi, 1975)

Shyam Benegal’s critically acclaimed Nishant was Karnad’s early fray into Hindi cinema. The film features an ensemble cast of heavyweights such as Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi and Amrish Puri. Karnad essayed the role of a school master whose wife was coveted by the brother of a power local Zamindar. Nishant won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi in 1977. The film received a Palm d’Or nomination as well.

Malgudi Days (Hindi, 1987)

A role that endeared him to TV viewers glued to Doordarshan in the 80s, Karnad’s portrayal of W.T. Srinivasan, Swami’s father in the adaptation of R.K. Narayan’s legendary book was charismatic, subtle and remembered even now with much nostalgia. The show, that can be streamed on OTT platforms today, has introduced a new generation of fans to the actor’s inimitable screen presence.

Karnad’s stint in television also extended to being the host of science magazine show Turning Point on DD, an ingenious experiment to establish scientific knowledge among young minds.

Kadhalan (Tamil, 1994)

Though Karnad boasts a Kollywood filmography in which he’s acted both with Rajinikanth (Naan Adimai Illai, 1986) and Kamal Haasan (Hey Ram), he is best known to Tamil cinema fans for his role in director Shankar’s Kadhalan. Karnad starred as the Governor of TN, whose daughter Nagma falls for college student Prabhu Deva. The film was a huge blockbuster, following which the actor acted in other Tamil successes like Ratchagan and Minsara Kanavu.

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