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`Young playwrights are my rivals'

ARKA MUKHOPADHYAY

Girish Karnad, a man of many personas, admits that he is at core a playwright; and an actor only for the money


I just love myths and I know them. I grew up in them, and now I keep forgetting, but I knew my Mahabharata, Ramayana backwards Girish Karnad



THE TRUE SELF Girish Karnad: `I couldn't have written all the plays I did if I didn't make money elsewhere' Photo: Murali Kumar K.

Actor, director, poet, administrator, and most importantly, playwright — he's been all that and more. At the recent launch of his collected plays Girish Karnad spoke about being Girish Karnad, about myth in his writings, and about wanting to compete with the younger generation of playwrights.

You wear several personas: Girish Karnad the actor, the director, the screenplay writer and finally the playwright. Which of these Karnads do you identify the most with?

No, I'm only a playwright. I'm basically a playwright. I'm an actor only to make money. Film direction also - ok, one does that for fun. Scriptwriting also, because if you wrote for someone like Shyam Benegal, you know, that's fun. You know, to work with someone, but really, my interest really was in writing.

But I couldn't have written all the plays I did if I didn't make money elsewhere. It made it possible.

Right. The next question, especially in the context of today, when the collected plays of Girish Karnad are being published, may be a little prickly. Tennessee Williams once said a play in a book is only a shadow of a play, and that too not a very clear shadow of it. In the light of that remark, how do you view the agony and ecstasy of being a playwright?

Well, plays are ultimately what comes alive on stage. There is a tradition of publishing plays, which I did, but this tradition comes from the west. I mean for Yakshagana or Kathakali we don't have playwrights. And if you look upon it as a performing art, you know, theatre, then Sanskrit plays were written from the third century B.C. to the 8th century A.D. I think they were written because they were in Sanskrit, and the actors didn't know Sanskrit. They were essentially Shudras and not Brahmins, so probably they had to learn their lines and couldn't improvise, and therefore the plays were written down.

Otherwise, from eighth century till 19th century there were no playwrights. In mediaeval times you get epics, you get bhajans, you get stories but you never get plays. The whole notion of plays is a foreign one.

From 1961, which is when Yayati was written, till today, it has been a long journey. How do you look back upon it?

I don't at all. God, that's the worst you can do to yourself. You have to get on, move forward, or retire- that's it. When you retire, then you look backwards, but I hope I haven't.

In fact, it was irritating to have to correct the proofs of the collected plays, because to have to read the proof of a play written a long time ago, you know, gets to you. You'd rather move on.

The pervasive usage of myth as a metaphor in your initial works, was that a very conscious decision?

No, you see the point is I've grown up in myth. I've seen Yakshagana, I've grown up in a village where there was no electricity till the age of 14. So myth, to me, was a part of life. I just love myths and I know them. I grew up in them, and now I keep forgetting, but I knew my Mahabharata, Ramayana backwards.

Writing now, in 2005, do you think you've got the right medium to speak to today's audience?

I don't know. I don't judge whether it's the right medium. If I could do films better I probably would have done it. I can only write plays.

Do you think the theatre that we're now doing, Indian English theatre, especially, is too faddy, or are you on the whole happy with the direction we're taking?

I don't care, it's for them, for each one to decide it. I'm not going to generalise. I'm only interested in my work. So I won't generalise with what others are doing.

Perhaps they are incubating. I go and watch all the plays and I consider every young playwright my rival. I mean, I have to be better than them.

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