Early life and education
Girish Karnad was born in Matheran, Maharashtra, into a Konkani-speaking Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmin family. His initial schooling was in Marathi. As a youngster, Karnad was an ardent admirer of Yakshagana and the theater in his village.
He earned his Bachelors of Arts degree from Karnataka College Dharwad, in 1958. Upon graduation Karnad went to England and studied at Lincoln and Magdalen colleges in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar(1960–63), earning his Master of Arts degree in philosophy, political science and economics.
After working with the Oxford University Press for seven years (1963–70), he resigned to freelance. He has served as Director of the Film and Television Institute of India (1974–1975) and Chairman of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the National Academy of the Performing Arts (1988–93). During 1987-88, he was at the University of Chicago as Visiting Professor and Fulbright Playwright-in-Residence. It was during his tenure at Chicago that NAGAMANDALA had its world premiere at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis based on an English translation of the Kannada original that Karnad himself did. Most recently, he served as Director of the Nehru Centre and as Minister of Culture, in the Indian High Commission, London (2000–03).
Karnad is most famous as a playwright. His plays, written in Kannada, have been widely translated into English and all major Indian languages. Karnad's plays are written neither in English, in which he dreamed of earning international literary fame, nor in his mother tongue Konkani. Instead they are composed in his adopted language Kannada. When Karnad started writing plays, Kannada literature was highly influenced by the renaissance in Western literature. Writers would choose a subject which looked entirely alien to manifestation of native soil.
In a situation like that Karnad found a new approach like drawing historical and mythological sources to tackle contemporary themes. His first play, "Yayati" (1961), ridicules the ironies of life through characters in Mahabharata and became an instant success, immediately translated and staged in several other Indian languages. "Tughlaq" (1964), his best loved play, established Karnad as one of the most promising playwrights in the country. Karnad himself has translated all his plays into English. A large number of his kannada plays have been translated by Dr. Bhargavi P Rao
His directorial debut came with the movie VamshaVruksh, based on a Kannada novel by S.L. Bhairappa. The movie won several national and international awards. Before this, Karnad acted in a movie called Samskara, based on a novel by U.R. Ananthamurthy and directed by Pattabhirama Reddy. That movie won the first President's Golden Lotus Award for Kannada cinema. Later, Karnad directed several movies in Kannada and Hindi. Some of his famous Kannada movies include Tabbaliyu neenade magane, Ondanondu Kaladalli, Cheluvi and Kadu.
His Hindi movies include Utsav, Godhuliand the recent Pukar. A recently acclaimed movie by Karnad is Kanooru Heggaditi, based on a novel by Kannada writer Kuvempu. His role of the ruthless cricket coach too got him critical acclaim in Iqbal (film) written brilliantly by Vipul K Rawal He has been criticised by the eminent Kannada novelist S.L. Bhairappa for being untrue to history in order to curry favor with the establishment. He recently acted in the movie called 8*10 tasveer, with lead actor Akshay kumar.He also acted in critically acclaimed Kannada gangster movie Aa Dinagalu
Other notable works
He has played the role of Karadi, the sootradhar (narrator), for several stories in the popular audiobook series for kids, Karadi Tales. He has also been the voice of APJ Abdul Kalam, President of India, in the audiobook of Kalam's autobiography by Charkha Audiobooks Wings of Fire.