Girish Karnad was undoubtedly one in every of trendy India’s best cultural figures. His memoir, titled This Life at Play, is all set to launch on 19 Could this yr, commemorating his 83rd delivery anniversary. It gives a glimpse into the lifetime of Karnad as an achieved actor, a path-breaking director, an revolutionary administrator, an erudite thinker, and of course, one of the terribly gifted playwrights of contemporary India.
This Life at Play has been translated from Kannada partly by Girish Karnad himself and partly by award-winning translator Srinath Perur. The memoir covers the primary half of Karnad’s exceptional life – from his childhood in Sirsi and his early engagement with native theatre, his training in Dharwad, Bombay and Oxford, to his profession in publishing, his successes and travails within the movie trade, and his private life.
Transferring and humorous, insightful and candid, the memoir not solely throws mild on the life-shaping experiences of a towering genius, but additionally opens a singular window into the India through which he lived and labored.
Following is an excerpt from This Life at Play which has been reproduced right here on Firstpost with due permission of the publishers HarperCollins India.
The primary main determination I took after turning into the director of Movie and Tv Institute of India (FTII) was to scrap the display check which each and every applicant to the acting course was anticipated to take. This was a radical determination for the institution, because it hit at the very basis of the philosophy that guided instructing at the institute – that its essential goal was to cater to the wants of the Hindi industrial movie trade. The display check was meant to assist the selectors select these candidates who had a ‘cinematic look’. And provided that, some expertise for acting and the power to bop. The search was for the handsome and probably glamorous, for first-class star materials. Bombay, the house of Hindi cinema, and different centres of language movies, like Madras and Calcutta, have been already overflowing with younger expertise with ‘chocolatey’ appears to be like. The institute was to make its personal selection, prepare it, form it and current it on a platter to the movie moguls, with no obligation on their half in the direction of the institute. I assumed the entire thought farcical.
The change naturally upset Prof Roshan Taneja, the professor of acting. However even I had not anticipated that this determination of mine would yield such speedy outcomes. Among the many aspirants for the acting course that yr was a pupil with strikingly completely different appears to be like who had already skilled at NSD in New Delhi. He was tall, scrawny and bore the marks of his malnourished childhood on his pockmarked face. Had the display check nonetheless been in place, he would have been rejected within the very first spherical. However the improvisation he offered at the interview confirmed him to be an exceptionally gifted actor.
The jury I had invited for the choice rejected him outright. Their opinion was that he was undoubtedly an excellent actor, however his appears to be like disqualified him from working within the movie trade. I disagreed. “His appears to be like are his downside,” I argued. “Our job is to coach him if he has any expertise.” Just one different member of the jury, the actor Jairaj, supported my argument. The remaining have been agency of their opinion that as a substitute of letting him face inevitable humiliation within the trade, we must always gently information him to just accept theatre as his métier. For the one time in my skilled profession, I overruled the jury and admitted the younger man to the acting course.
Om Puri went on to justify my religion in his skill by blossoming into one of many main actors of his technology, constructing an worldwide repute with movies like Gandhi and East is East. I used to be very touched when, twenty years later, he acquired the Filmfare Award for lifetime achievement with the phrases, ‘I’d not be standing right here at present if Girish had not put aside precedent and admitted me to the institute.’
An unintended consequence of Om Puri’s admission to FTII was a uncommon go to by one of many titans of Indian cinema.
Among the many candidates to the acting course that yr was a younger man named Dilip Dhawan. An (inevitably) handsome younger man with bluish eyes and boyish options, his software was supported by letters of advice from a dozen film moguls of Bombay. He was not notably gifted, and positively didn’t stand out amidst that yr’s batch of candidates. However Taneja, the professor of acting, was keen that we must always take due cognizance of the eager and unanimous curiosity the moguls had taken within the boy’s profession, and admit him. I refused. There have been twenty sanctioned seats within the course – ten for males and ten for girls – they usually had all been stuffed, the final one by the unlikely Om Puri. However Taneja continued to be unusually persistent. “Allow us to place Dilip within the eleventh place,” he instructed. “Let’s not say now we have completely rejected him. Simply let him be the primary on the ready record. That may point out that now we have given due consideration to their curiosity within the institute.” CV Gopal, the deputy director, warned me: “Allow us to both admit the boy or reject him. This ready record enterprise will open a Pandora’s field.” Somewhat than annoy a senior member of the employees in my very first yr, I agreed to the compromise instructed by Taneja and fell right into a entice.
We introduced a ready record through which Dilip’s title was at the highest. The record had been on our discover board for less than a few days when my weekly assembly with the instructing employees was interrupted by a frantic Dabak, my door attendant. “Mr Raj Kapoor is right here,” he panted. “He’s ready exterior.”
Raj Kapoor owned a farm in Loni, a bit of exterior Poona, however in 13 years of the institute’s existence, he had by no means as soon as bothered to step into its campus. Members of the employees, startled by this sudden go to, assumed the assembly can be immediately terminated with the intention to welcome Raj Kapoor, and began gathering their papers. However Raj Kapoor had not bothered to take an appointment, and I noticed no cause to interrupt my scheduled programme. I requested Dabak to offer Raj Kapoor a chair within the administrative officer’s room – since we didn’t have a correct ready room for guests – and proceeded with the assembly. When it ended and the lecturers began dispersing, Satish Bahadur whispered to me: “I hope you realise none of your predecessors would have made Raj Kapoor wait like this.”
Raj Kapoor had barely lowered his hulking self into the chair I had provided when he started to pour out his woes: “What have you ever completed, Girish-ji? I returned house from Dubai yesterday toh maatam chal raha tha, maatam. There was mourning going on there, wailing and breast-beating.”
Because it was clear why he had come, I went to the nub of the matter: “The acting course has solely ten seats, and Dilip wasn’t among the many ten finest candidates. To pick him, I’d have needed to sacrifice a greater candidate.”
Raj Kapoor nodded gravely, indicating that he fully understood my argument. He mentioned, “If Dilip has no expertise at all, then reject him. I gained’t say a phrase. But when he is first on the ready record, certainly you might lengthen your consideration a bit, if solely out of respect to the producers who’ve supported his software? When now we have staked our total lives, our fortunes, on the movie trade, shouldn’t the institute present some consideration for what now we have contributed?” His voice quivered with the ache of humiliation.
I felt like a idiot to have disregarded CV Gopal’s warning that had come from a few years of expertise with the video games performed at the institute. On the identical time, it was unusual to sit down there and have an actor of Raj Kapoor’s stature spin out his consummate artistry for my sole consumption. After a respectful however agency tug-of-war of this nature, I acknowledged what I knew was the perennial grievance of the institute: “You producers assist the functions of candidates to our institute, and it upsets you once we ignore these suggestions. That’s completely comprehensible. However could I level out that within the final 13 years of the institute’s existence, not a type of producers has employed a single graduate of the institute in any capability of their movies? You advocate however don’t make use of.”
“Girish-ji, what an unpredictable tangled internet of an trade we work in,” the nice filmmaker moaned. “There are such a lot of gifted people I want to give an opportunity to, however my arms are tied by the heartless pressures of the trade.”
Lastly, I mentioned, “Let simply one in every of these producers promise me that he will give Dilip a big position in his subsequent manufacturing – not an vital position, however a job that may register – and I’ll admit him to the course.”
Raj Kapoor seemed at me for a second, unfold out his arms in a gesture that every one at as soon as communicated that he understood my argument, that that is how the world was, that we have been each caught in a a lot bigger community of obligations, and that every one mentioned and completed he knew I used to be the boss right here and he would bear no grudge. He beamed affectionately: “I’ve completed what I had come to do. Now it’s as much as you to determine what’s acceptable.” He received as much as go away.
As I accompanied him to his automobile, I mentioned, “It’s no small matter to have Raj Kapoor go to the institute. We do want your goodwill, your steerage. We’re delighted to have you ever come right here. I shall not – I can’t – say no to you. Please inform Dilip that he has been admitted to the institute.”
Raj Kapoor thanked me and left. Dilip later instructed me that Raj Kapoor despatched for him instantly after this assembly and instructed him, “I’ve received you admitted to the institute. Now don’t come to me asking for work.” When Dilip completed his course and joined the trade in Bombay, not one of many producers who had so generously equipped him with suggestions provided him a job. It was his classmate Saeed Mirza’s TV serial Nukkad that introduced him nationwide consideration.
Additionally learn on Firstpost: Remembering Girish Karnad: Amongst India’s literary greats, his versatility made him distinctive
— All images used within the piece above are courtesy of HarperCollins India
This Life at Play by Girish Karnad is slated to publish on 19 Could by Fourth Property, an imprint of HarperCollins India.