B V Karanth: The man who lived Theatre and the true spirit of India

Karanth who is known as “Rangabhishma’  has left a formidable legacy bringing revolutionary changes not only to Kannada theatre but Indian theatre in general.

B V Karanth (19 September 1929 – 1 September 2002), the thespian theatre and film director, music composer, actor, writer, has been always regarded as a one-man institution in view of his great personality and immense contribution to the field of Indian theatre and music.

Karanth who is known as “Rangabhishma’  has left a formidable legacy bringing revolutionary changes not only to Kannada theatre but Indian theatre in general. The genius contribution to music is unique. He gave a magical touch to Indian music and created a new genre called “adaptive music” beyond the framework of classical music to which his plays stand as testimony.

Karanth directed over 100 plays and has left an indelible impression in the theatre field that has recognition across India and abroad. The majority of his contribution was in Kannada followed by Hindi. He has also directed plays in other Indian languages including Urdu, Punjabi, Gujarati, Sanskrit, Telugu, Malayalam as well as in English and also directed children’s plays.

He served as director of the Delhi National Drama School from 1977-81. Then came to Mysore and, in 1989, brought about a revolutionary change in the theatre scene of Karnataka with the establishment of a repertory under the auspices of the government. Mysore Rangana and Rangayana Director, Amanda Kariyappa has written to the government that Padma Shri BV should celebrate his birthday as “Indian Music Day”.

Hayavadana ( Horse face) by Girish Karnad, Evam Indrajit, Sankaranti, Oedipus, Jokumaraswamy, Panjarshale, Gokula Nirgamana, Sattavara Neralu are his Kannada productions. He served as an assistant director in Vamshavruksha, Tabbaliyu Ninade Magane while Chomanaduri which he directed bagged the National award. His caliber of producing innovative music is evident in films like Hamsageete, Chomandudi, Aadishankara, Phaniyamma. He was also bestowed with various awards including the Sangeet Nataka Academy Award, Padmashri, Kalidas Samman by the Madya Pradesh government and the Gubbi Veeranna Award instituted in the name of the legend.

Disciples of Karanths across India have been following the trend set by the musical giant who had produced unique music like Shrinivas Bhat who had assisted Karanth in almost all his works. Bhat himself is a leading music director in the state and considers that the contribution of BV Karant to the field of theatre music was unique.

He not only set songs to tunes but also speech and expressions. He ensured that anyone could sing. If you listen to his songs, they don’t sound like songs. But they have all the ingredients of music”.

He had an experimental mindset. He believed that society was the real school for theatre. He argued that those who want to work in theatre should first have varied and rich experiences in life. They should see and observe society at close quarters. He sent all the young people who came to learn theatre on fieldwork.

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May 2024


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