Prakash Raj on how Girish Karnad encouraged dissent: His works, written in the 60s, are still alive and relevant

Subha J Rao

Jun 12, 2019 15:31:53 IST

When Girish Karnad passed away, among the more poignant tributes came in from fellow stage and film actor Prakash Raj. They shared a long friendship, much before the world saw Prakash play the lead in the film adaptation of Karnad’s play Nagamandala.

Prakash posted a photo on the day he passed away, including a snapshot of Karnad’s gift to him, a letter full of hope and admiration. “I can’t believe you are doing to be fifty; well, it’s not a big deal to reach fifty. Anyone with a good health will reach it. But, you have filled your fifty years with a lot of talent and success. As your friends, we are proud to have seen you grow….”

He refers to Prakash as a friend, even though Prakash was born four years after Karnad wrote his first play in 1961.

Over the past few years, they bonded over their ideology too, especially after their friend Gauri Lankesh was gunned down.

Prakash Raj on how Girish Karnad encouraged dissent: His works, written in the 60s, are still alive and relevant

Girish Karnad and Prakash Raj.

“My relationship with Karnad goes back a long way. What do I talk about this man?” says Prakash, on the phone from Bangalore. “I have been awe-struck watching Tughlaq, I loved Yayati. Later, when we were all with Lankesh and met occasionally, it was a joy to see this group of talented people criticise one another. It was healthy to see people take it in the right spirit. This is how we grew up. When I happened to do Karnad’s Hayavadana, Surendra was directing it, and we tried a different format of fusing Yakshagana’s elements, understanding how it worked. In the stage version of Nagamandala, B Suresh and I played one of the puppets – the dog and snake. We had our own entry, music… When I became part of the film version, Karnad and I never really discussed the transition from stage to screen, because others had already worked on it,” he says.

In Nagamandala, Prakash used his eyes to great effect, allow them to seethe with pride as the toxic male wrestler, and turn soft and reptilian when he plays the snake king who takes a human form. That play saw Karnad tackle many issues, even while he rooted it amid a region’s belief system. The play batted for the ignored wife, and took her side. Which is why Prakash says Karnad is very important to the fine arts. “He brought in his own perception into all he did. There was a new freshness he lent theatre. His works written in the 60s are still alive and relevant.”

Despite all he’d achieved, quietly, much before social media was even a twinkle in someone’s eye, Karnad encouraged discussion and dissent.

“He had that ability to let you be. Once when I met him in Dharwad, I had made my name in theatre and films. We were conversing about cinema and theatre, and I was simultaneously looking up to him and standing as his equal. That generation, he, Lankesh, Tejaswi, all of them let the younger generation evolve, indulged them, allowed them to question, fight with them, criticise them… that was a different journey.”

How would Prakash describe the colossus that Karnad was, especially for Kannada literature and theatre? “I’d call him a river. I salute him for being that. Sometimes, a river does not let you touch it, it maintains its own path, and moves on. But, it touches your life, and you cannot deny the river its due. Karnad is that river.”

Prakash recalls how, even some days ago, he was discussing Hayavadana with an architect friend. “When people such as Karnad depart the world, you must thank them for living a life that empowered, inspired and even instigated at times. They have left you with moments you cherish; they leave you a different person.”

The actor has plans to stage a recent soliloquy that Karnad wrote, as a tribute to him. “Prakash Belawadi and I discussed it at length some time ago. I could not do it then, but I want to showcase that as a tribute to what Karnad was. It’s a beautiful one-man show, and the last song of a genius.”

Updated Date: Jun 12, 2019 15:33:17 IST