When we were young, our house was a regular haunt for Ananthamurthy, Karnad, Keeram and others. I still remember when Hayavadana was getting ready to be staged; a huge elephant and masks were prepared in our house. Those were the days when my father P Lankesh, Karnad, Ananthamurthy, Tejaswi would all wait for each other’s next writings. Discussions, healthy criticism and sometimes envy, were common.
Gauri and I acted with Karnad in a play called Antigone; our role was only to come on stage crying and hug him. But I think we did a fabulous job, because Karnad’s eyes were supposedly gouged out and blood was streaming down his face, on seeing which we actually burst out crying! Appa and Karnad acted together in Samskara. Appa’s character had to be alive only in a few scenes and then he dies, and how to dispose of the body is the story.
Karnad, with his powerful voice and immense screen presence, was one of the few writers who could act. I had the opportunity to work with Karnad in my film Tananam Tananam. He approved the script and we finalized the payment. Gandhi Nagar being Gandhi Nagar, the payment was not made to him even one week before shooting. Karnad emailed me, saying if advance was not made, he would not act! I immediately had to convince my producer and request him to make the payment immediately.
Unlike present-day stars, Karnad was not fussy about the food he was given or where he was put up, he came on time and acted with great sincerity. Karnad was a violin teacher in the film and took time to rehearse with fellow actors Harish Raj and Sham to get it right, like a sincere student.
Later on, Gauri would tell me that Karnad was a supporter of the Forum for Communal Harmony. He and Gauri travelled together and were even jailed in Chikkamagaluru, fighting for Bababudan Giri, one of Gauri first causes.
When Gauri was murdered, Karnad’s health was already failing. He had to walk with a breathing device. Yet, he came on September 12 for Gauri’s samavesha to show his solidarity. On Gauri’s first death anniversary too, he said he would come but not speak. He came with a board hanging on his chest that said ‘Me Too Urban Naxal’ that spoke volumes and resonated across the country.
During the course of investigation, it was found that even Karnad was on the hit list. Yet, like Gauri, he refused security, and lived his life-fighting communalism and fascism, and stood for the minority and downtrodden till his last breath. Thank you, Karnad, for being with us and inspiring us. People like you are becoming an extinct species.
(Kavitha Lankesh is a film director, screenwriter and a lyricist known for her work in Kannada cinema)