About the Series

The series is hosted by Arshia Sattar and Anmol Tikoo, with special guests such as Vivek Shanbhag, Shanta Gokhale, and Sunil Shanbag, who provide the context for Girish’s comments. Each episode also contains scenes from his plays read by members of Bangalore’s theatre community. The readings show us how closely his philosophical and political ideas were to what he wrote. They also provide an opportunity for audiences, particularly those who might not be already familiar with Girish’s works, to experience the power of his work.

The title for the series is taken from the song in Hayavadana (ಹಯವದನ), a song which has been musically recreated for us by Pallavi MD and Konarak Reddy. Apart from the fact that Neerina Mele Chitra remains one of Kannada’s most beloved ranga geethe, we found it to be particularly evocative as we remember a man who profoundly impacted India’s cultural arena in the last half of the 20th century. This podcast series, we hope, will bear witness to Girish Karnad, a man who gave us so much to remember, but also so much to take forward.

This podcast series was supported by a grant from the Nilekani Philanthropies.

Episodes

175. #GirishKarnad(1/9): The River Has No Fear of Memories | An Introduction

In this episode, we hear Girish talk about his writing and the ideas that formed and motivated him and also about life in films and in cultural institutions, topics he did not return to in later conversations.

176. #GirishKarnad(2/9): The River Has No Fear of Memories | Geographies of Kannada part I ft. Vivek Shanbhag

Vivek Shanbhag, our special guest for this episode prods Girish to talk about his challenges with writing contemporary plays. They also talk about his complex relationship with Kannada and finding the right language for what a writer wants to say.

177. #GirishKarnad(3/9): The River Has No Fear of Memories | Geographies of Kannada part II ft. Vivek Shanbhag

The conversation with Vivek Shanbhag continues, touching upon the literary groups and movements that animated Kannada literature in the 1950s and 1960s. Girish talks about some of the people and institutions that shaped him as a writer, the many Jnanpith awardees in Kannada, and who he considered to be his rivals. In this episode we hear Vivek talk about the importance of Girish’s work.

178. #GirishKarnad(4/9): The River Has No Fear of Memories | The Art and Craft of Playwriting Part I

Girish was a Kannada playwright, but his knowledge of theatre came from all over the world and from many languages. We explore his relationship with English and other languages and literatures. Girish talks about his plays that he believes do not work, what he learned from them, and how he responded to their failure.

179. #GirishKarnad(5/9): The River Has No Fear of Memories | The Art and Craft of Playwriting Part II

Girish talks more about his dramatic and literary influences which range from classical Sanskrit plays like Mricchakatika to such avant-garde practitioners as Jerzy Grotowski.

180. #GirishKarnad(6/9): The River Has No Fear of Memories | Making of Modern Indian Theatre ft. Shanta Gokhale and Sunil Shanbag Part I

What was Girish’s impact on the national theatre scene? Did his plays influence or inspire other playwrights and theatre makers? Part 1 of this 2-part episode features Shanta Gokhale and Sunil Shanbag remembering the exhilaration of watching Hayavadana for the first time. They talk more about Girish’s major collaborators and what that meant as a newly independent nation developed its own norms of cultural expression.

181. #GirishKarnad(7/9): The River Has No Fear of Memories | Making of Modern Indian Theatre ft. Shanta Gokhale and Sunil Shanbag Part II

What was Girish’s impact on the national theatre scene? Did his plays influence or inspire other playwrights and theatre makers? In Part 2 of this episode, Shanta Gokhale and Sunil Shanbag talk about how the 60s and 70s were such a critical moment for theatre in different parts of India. They talk about the unique sensibilities that Girish brought to the stage and how Girish set himself apart from his contemporaries such as Vijay Tendulkar.

182. #GirishKarnad(8/9): The River Has No Fear of Memories | Being an Existentialist

Does god exist? What is the source of morality? Girish’s plays often take on big moral and philosophical questions, questions that he asked himself about how to live in the world and how to be a good human being. Here Girish talks about what he learnt from the Mahabharata and explores what he took from European Existentialism.

183. #GirishKarnad(9/9): The River Has No Fear of Memories | Taking a Stand: How to Live in Troubled Times

In the 1990s, Girish’s work and his public persona took a distinctly political turn as he began to respond overtly to what was happening around him. Here, Girish talks about how he created strong women characters in his plays, how he saw Islam and Muslims as an integral part of our nation’s fabric, how he became a secular humanist.  He also talks for the first time about two short stories that he wrote in Kannada.

About Girish Karnad

As a playwright, film star and engaged public intellectual, Girish Karnad was one of the most visible and influential figures of our time. Karnad’s vibrant presence met with both critical and popular acclaim – he was the recipient of the Padma Bhushan and the Jnanpith awards as well as several National and State awards for his work in films and theatre.

After graduating from Karnataka University (Dharwad) in 1958, Girish Karnad studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford (1960–63). He returned to India and worked with the Oxford University Press in Chennai, a job he resigned from in 1970 to devote himself to writing full time. He was only 35 years old when he was appointed Director of the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune (1974–1975). In 1987-88, he was a Fulbright Scholar in Residence at the University of Chicago. This was followed by stints as the Chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi (1988–93) the Chairman of the Film and Television Institute (1999-2001) and the Director of the Nehru Centre, London (2000–2003).

Over four decades, Karnad wrote fifteen plays, including Tughlaq, Hayavadana, Tale Danda, The Dream of Tipu Sultan, Bikhre Bimb, Boiled Beans on Toast and Wedding Album.  His best known works use historical or mythological events and characters to throw light on contemporary issues. Although Karnad wrote all his plays (except Anju Mallige) in Kannada, he translated them into English himself. They were also translated into many Indian languages and were presented on stages across the country by such directors as Ebrahim Alkazi, Alyque Padamsee, Satyadev Dubey, Vijaya Mehta, Neelam Man Singh Chowdhry and Shankar Nag. Karnad also wrote critical essays in Kannada and a memoir which was translated into English as This Life at Play (2021).

Karnad was at the forefront of the parallel cinema movement in India and began his film career with the Kannada film Samskara, based on the novel of the same name by UR Ananthamurthy and directed by Pattabhi Rama Reddy. The film won the National Award for Best Feature in 1970. He went on to write and direct films himself in Kannada and Hindi, working with such distinguished collaborators as BV Karanth and Shyam Benegal. His appearances on television in The Discovery of India, Turning Point and the serial Malgudi Days did much to cement his national presence as did his work in such mainstream films as Iqbal, He Ram and Ek Tha Tiger.

The last two decades of Karnad’s life were marked by an increasing engagement in social and political issues. He used the recognition his celebrity status brought to speak out against discrimination and injustice and was a familiar figure at protest rallies and marches across the country.

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