Revisit Actor Girish Karnad’s Popular Bollywood Avatars

The late Girish Karnad donned many hats. He was an acclaimed playwright, actor, filmmaker, screenwriter and activist among other things. Though he would mostly want to be remembered as a playwright first, it was his dignified and charming presence on screen that most of the Hindi cinema audience will remember him for.

While Girish Karnad made his debut as an actor in the Kannada film Samskara in 1970, it wasn’t until 1975 that Karnad made his appearance in Nishant, his first Hindi film. Nishant directed by Shyam Benegal, won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film and was also picked for the Cannes Film Festival in 1976. This began a long term collaboration between Benegal and Karnad. Besides acting in Benegal’s films, Karnad also co-wrote films like Bhumika and Kalyug with the filmmaker.

Girish Karnad and Mohan Agashe in Manthan.

In Nishant, Karnad played a helpless schoolmaster whose wife (Shabana Azmi) is abducted and raped by the zamindar’s family. In Benegal’s 1976 drama Manthan, Karnad played the role of Dr Rao, modelled on the real Verghese Kurien who is known as the Father of the White Revolution in India. What ever role he played, Girish Karnad brought a certain poise and gravitas to it.

After Shyam Benegal, it was Basu Chatterjee who cast Karnad in his film Swami (1977). Chatterjee later cast Karnad again in the complex drama Ratnadeep opposite Hema Malini. In the film, Karnad played the role of an impostor with equal charm and dignity.

As an actor, Karnad also had an interesting collaborative stint with filmmaker Nagesh Kukunoor. Karnad and Kukunoor worked in four films together, including Dor, 8 x 10 Tasveer and Aashayein. But their most acclaimed film is undoubtedly Iqbal. The 2005 film which also featured Shreyas Talpade, Shweta Prasad and Naseeruddin Shah in important roles, saw Karnad play the role of Guruji, who runs a cricket academy. While we first see Guruji as a saviour of sorts for having selected a deaf and mute Iqbal for his talent, he later turns the bad guy for throwing Iqbal out as he wants to save his own skin.

Salman Khan and Girish Karnad in Ek Tha Tiger.

But of course Karnad is now most known in popular mainstream Bollywood for his role as Dr Shenoy, the chief of RAW - the only guy that Salman Khan reports to in his franchise of Tiger films - Ek Tha Tiger and Tiger Zinda Hai. With Karnad’s passing away, the third Tiger instalment will need to look for a new Dr Shenoy.

No doubt, Karnad will be missed. Thank you for the movies, sir!

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