Storyteller With A Cause – Girish Karnad

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Bidding adieu to a storyteller with a cause – Girish Karnad
Mr. Girish Raghunath Karnad, one of the most silent yet powerful film and theatre personalities of our times left the mortal realms of earth today morning. He might not be a star at box office, but he represented the era when thinking actors league was brought to light through some very creative and meaningful cinema. He did not feature in record breaking number of movies or blockbusters of current statures, primary reason being he was donning multiple hats all the time. While his capability as an actor is well acknowledged, he also emerged as a very impactful storyteller through his art of combining underlined message with an alluring storyline and simultaneously writing award winning books too.
Remembering one such unusual work of his is 1992 multiple awards winning film Cheluvi, starring Sonali Kulkarni. On the face of it, it was a simple love story between a village girl and the village headman’s son. However, when looked further, it’s a beautiful film with a very strong message on environmental conservation. As the story goes, Cheluvi, played by Sonali Kulkarni, is a simple village girl born to poor parents, who possesses magical powers of turning herself into a tree which bears mystical fragrant flowers. Every night, she would turn herself into the tree secretly and her confidante sister would pick up the flowers that blossomed and then Cheluvi would be back to her normal self. The whole village would cherish the sweet smell of the special flowers which would be with none other than Cheluvi. During a chance meeting with the village headman’s son, Kumar, Cheluvi accidently drops a few flowers and Kumar instantly falls in love with them and Cheluvi too. He insists on getting married to Cheluvi and they become life partners. Upon pestering, Cheluvi shares her magical secret with her husband and one night when Cheluvi turns herself into the tree, a few mischievous kids around the area start playing on its branches, breaking the tender tree for life. Now Cheluvi is a half broken wooden shell who must bear the brunt of others’ greed.
Mr. Karnad wanted to show the people the harmful effects of deforestation but also knew that people would not like to see a factful documentary. Instead if the message his had to be communicated strongly, it had to have a human connect. A story which would be make audiences empathise with the character. He used the metaphor of calling the environment The Mother Nature and bring the womanhood in it alive. Mr. Karnad, the genius playwriter that he was, drew some beautiful parallels between womanhood and environment. A woman is the personification of beauty, bountiful youth and nurturing qualities and so is a tree, adorning the beautiful flowers attracting the whole world with her mystical beauty and fruit bearing capabilities. The inferences used worked for the director’s ambition of getting his message across audiences. The film won the National Award in the category of Best Film on Environment Conservation.
It takes a genius mind with an extremely sensitive human being to put together such a subject in an emotionally powerful story and a make commercial cinema out of it. The movie was made in Kannada and dubbed in Hindi. It did not have a theatrical release but was showcased in all the leading festivals in India and abroad. With him passing away, cinema and literature world will feel the void forever.
Wherever you are sir, may your soul rest in peace and responsibly creative!


  1. Bhau

    June 10, 2019 at 6:04 pm


  2. Vineesh Vedsen

    June 10, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    Wow Kalpana, you are a genius. Very well written. Did you write this today.Great work. Congratulations to our peerless Deepa too ……

    • Kalpana

      June 10, 2019 at 8:57 pm

      Yes Vineesh bhai. The moment I heard of his demise, remembered the movie and thought will pay my tribute through this lesser known gem of his work.

  3. Valmik Raval

    June 10, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    Nice eulogy of a great theatre and film personality.

  4. Ashok Patil

    June 10, 2019 at 8:23 pm

    Excellent and though mostly you have stressed upon the goodness of movie Cheluvi, we all know Mr. Karnad carried multifaceted qualities in the world of literature, entertainment, theatre and social services. We respect him and while reading your article, I sensed you did it in very devoted manner. Thanks Kalpana.

  5. Monica Kar

    June 11, 2019 at 5:42 am

    Wow! I deeply respect this artist. And now I know a little more about his sensitive work, thanks to you, Kalpana! Many many thanks!

  6. Dharmakirthi

    June 11, 2019 at 6:09 am

    This is an incredible tribute to the multi talented genius , Girish Karnas. I would love to see this movie. I hope it is available on YT.

    Kudos to you, Kalpana for the tribute and especially for highlighting the movie, Cheluvi.

  7. Jamuna Iyer

    June 12, 2019 at 2:45 pm

    Very well written with nice expression. Girish Karna was my all time favorite. Being residing in Bangalore, I wanted to watch him in his plays here, but unfortunately it couldn’t happen. We have lost a genius actor, writer and a nice person as well. It’s a great loss indeed. May his soul rest in peace.

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