B. V. Karanth

For other uses, see Karanth (disambiguation).
B. V. Karanth
Born Babukodi Venkataramana Karanth
(1929-09-19)19 September 1929
Babukodi, Manchi, Kingdom of Mysore, British India
Died 1 September 2002(2002-09-01) (aged 72)
Bangalore, Karnataka, India
Nationality Indian
Occupation Composer, film director, screenwriter, actor
Spouse(s) Prema Karanth (1958−2002; her demise)

Babukodi Venkataramana Karanth (Kannada: ಬಾಬುಕೋಡಿ ವೆಂಕಟರಮಣ ಕಾರಂತ್; 19 September 1929 – 1 September 2002) was a noted film and theatre personality from India. Throughout his life he was director, actor and musician of modern Indian theatre both in Kannada as well as Hindi,[1] and one of the pioneers of Kannada and Hindi new wave cinema.

He was an alumnus of the National School of Drama (1962) and later, its director. He has directed many successful plays and has directed award winning works in Kannada cinema. The Government of India honoured him with the Padma Shri.


Born in Manchi, a village near Babukodi in Bantwal taluk of Dakshina Kannada district in 1929, Karanth's passion for theatre started at an early age. His first tryst with theatre was when he was in standard III – he acted in Nanna Gopala, a play directed by P.K. Narayana.

He then ran away from home and joined the legendary Gubbi Veeranna drama company where he worked alongside Rajkumar[2] who also was starting out then as a novice.

Gubbi Veeranna sent Karanth to Banaras to do his Masters in Arts where he also underwent training in Hindustani music under Guru Omkarnath Thakur.

Thereafter, along with his wife, Prema Karanth, Karanth set up "Benaka", one of Bangalore's oldest theatre groups. It is an acronym for Bengalooru Nagara Kalavidaru. Then, Prema took up a teaching job in Delhi and supported Karanth through the National School of Drama. He was to return the compliment after he graduated from the NSD, and eventually became its director.

He later graduated from the National School of Drama (NSD), New Delhi, in 1962, then headed by Ebrahim Alkazi. Between 1969 and 1972, he worked as a drama instructor at the Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, New Delhi after which the couple returned to Bangalore. Here Karanth dabbled in some cinema as well as music and was involved with the likes of Girish Karnad and U.R. Ananthamurthy in these ventures.

He then returned to the NSD, this time as its Director in 1977. As the director of NSD, Karanth took theatre to far-flung corners of India. He conducted several workshops in places far away as Madurai in Tamil Nadu. After his stint as the director of NSD, the Madhya Pradesh government invited him to head the Rangamandal repertory under the aegis of the Bharat Bhavan. After rendering yeoman service to the theatre scene in Madhya Pradesh between 1981 and '86, Karanth returned to Karnataka. It was alleged by the MP Police that he was having an affair with one actress-Vibha Mishra, where in a drunk state, he poured Kerosene over her, and burnt her. However, Vibha, after recovering from her injuries, gave a statement that proved Karanth's innocence and freed him from the charges of an attempt to murder. He was criticised bitterly by Women activists and was forced to move out of Bhopal.

In 1989, the Karnataka government invited him to set up a repertory in Mysore, which he named Rangayana and headed until 1995.[3]


Karanth entered the Kannada theatre scene in the late 1960s and early '70s. His entry brought about a sea change in Kannada theatre which then was steeped in the old, formal proscenium style. His plays like Jokumara Swamy, Sankranti, Huchu Kudure and Oedipus to name a few, which were directed in the early 1970s, were hailed as trendsetters. These plays touched upon all aspects of theatre like language, music, song, stylisation[4]

The innovative use of music was one Karanth's biggest contributions to theatre.[5] One of Karanth's strengths was his ability to draw on classical, traditional and folk forms and fuse them in his compositions. His plays were less famous for design as for their musical content, which became part of the prose of theatre."

In 2010, at the 12th Bharat Rang Mahotsav, the annual theatre festival of National School of Drama, Delhi, a tribute exhibition dedicated to life, works and theatre of B.V. Karanth and Habib Tanvir was displayed.[6]

Plays of B. V. Karanth

Karanth directed over a hundred plays, more than half of which were in Kannada with Hindi close behind. He also directed plays in English, Telugu, Malayalam, Tamil, Punjabi, Urdu, Sanskrit and Gujarati. Hayavadana (by Girish Karnad), Kattale Belaku, Huchu Kudure, Evam Indrajit, Oedipus, Sankranti, Jokumara Swami, Sattavara Neralu, Huttava Badidare and Gokula Nirgamana are some of his most popular plays in Kannada. Of the forty or so plays he directed in Hindi, Macbeth (using the traditional Yakshagana dance drama form), King Lear, Chandrahasa, Hayavadana, Ghasiram Kotwal, Mrichha Katika, Mudra Rakshasa, and Malavikagni Mitra are some of the more popular ones. Karanth also revelled in directing children and directed several children plays like Panjara Shale, Neeli Kudure, Heddayana, Alilu Ramayana and The Grateful Man.


In 1974, Karanth started BeNaKa a repertory in Bangalore. Benaka was an acronym for Bengalooru Nagara Kalavidaru. Benaka stages several hugely popular plays like Hayavadana all across Karnataka and even overseas. At Benaka, Karanth also took a special interest in children's theatre and directed several plays with children. This group has been taken care of by Prema Karanth, Karanth's late wife and a noted theatre personality in her own right. She died on 29-10-07.

Contribution to Madhya Pradesh theatre

Karanth was largely responsible for starting the new theatre movement in Madhya Pradesh. As director of the NSD, at the invitation of the Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal, he organised a training-cum-production camp in 1973. In the 1980s, he returned to set up the Rangmandal repertory in Bharat Bhavan. This was to be the first-ever repertory in the state and he became the main creative spirit behind the now-legendary Bharat Bhavan.

Rangmandal, for the first time, folk professionals were used for training contemporary actors, and the repertory also included folk performers among its members. Apart from Hindi, plays were also produced in dialects such as Bundelkhandi, Malavi and Chhattisgarhi which created huge ticket-buying audiences for the Rangmandira.

Contribution to Andhra Pradesh theatre

With the integration of Alarippu and National school of Drama-New Delhi, Karanth had contributed three great plays in Telugu. Collaborated with Surabhi theatre of Andhra Pradesh, Karanth conducted three workshops respectively 'Bhishma' in 1996, 'Chandipriya' in 1997 and 'Basthidevatha yadamma'. It is his dedication that Karanth spent his time during the workshops in corner villages of Andhra Pradesh to broughtup the dramas.


Karanth also forayed into the world of cinema. He directed four feature films and four documentaries, apart from scoring the music for 26 films. He co-directed films like Vamsha Vriksha and Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane with Girish Karnad.

Awards and honors

Civilian honors
National Honors
National Film Awards
Karnataka State Film Awards


Prema plans to devote time to Babukodi Pratishtana, the trust set up by Karanth a year ago. Karanth's large library and extraordinary collection of musical instruments will form part of a small museum. "We plan to organise theatre festivals, establish awards in his name, and publish his autobiography," she told Frontline.

Documentary film on B. V. Karanth

In 2012, Films Division produced a 93-minute film on BV Karanth called BV Karanth:Baba. The film bases itself on BV Karanth's autobiography in Kannada called Illiralaare, Allige Hogalaare (I can't stay here, I won't go there) complied by well known Kannada writer Vaidehi.



  1. "Tracing genesis of indian theatre and its mentors". The Asian Age. 24 September 2010.
  2. "B V Karanth redefined Indian theater". Archived from the original on 13 July 2007. Retrieved 6 June 2007. He ran away from home when he was a young boy and joined the famous Gubbi professional theatre company, where he was a contemporary of superstar Dr Rajakumar.
  3. A genius of theatre The Hindu, 11 October 2002.
  4. ""A genius"". Retrieved 6 February 2007. Recalling the sense of excitement and exhilaration she and a group of young friends felt when they first saw Jokkumbara Swamy, Sankranti, Huchu Kudurai and Oedipus, a set of plays he directed in the early 1970s, she said: "To Karanth theatre was celebration, infused with joie de vivre. You will never find a dull, prosaic Karanth play. His was the closest you could come to `total' theatre, where language, music, song, stylization, often through folk forms, were all present."
  5. "I would say this is an essential component of the Karanth legacy," said Lakshmi Chandrashekhar, leading stage artist and theatre critic.
  6. "Saluting stalwarts". The Hindu. 21 January 2010. Retrieved 2 April 2010.


External links

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