The first major playwright to write in Kannada was T. P. Kailasam. The locales of his plays are the middle-class homes of cities in Karnataka. He also used Kannada mixed with English words in his plays. Thus, he was the first writer to make creative use of the kind of Kannada language spoken by members of the educated middle class. Tollugatti, another play, brings out the contrast between the two sons of a government employee. One is bent upon an English education and climbing socially. The other, indifferent to academic learning, is attached to other members of the family. When a fire breaks out in the house, the English-educated son is interested only in saving himself, whereas the not-so-educated son saves all the others without bothering about his own safety.
The play is a simplistic one. Kailasam, like his contemporaries, was respond¬ing to the loss of roots caused by Westernization. Writers like Kota Shivarama Karanth and Adiga wrote about the same theme with greater insight. Kailasam's Bahiskara represents the inhumanity of a middle-class Brahmin family. Rariganna, a government employee and a Brahmin by birth, is banished from his caste for not marrying off his daughter before she attained puberty. Ultimately, his daughter is left with no option but suicide. Even though the play is melodramatic, it focused attention on the inhumanity of some of the practices of Hindu religious organizations.
Shriranga (1904-84) has written more than 45 full-length plays. Most of his plays are marked by hasty or indifferent writing. He refused to revise them. Therefore, out of his vast body of writing, only 4 or 5 plays can be considered significant. Till 1960, he wrote with reformistic zeal. His Harijanvara (1934) can be considered a representative play of this period. It is about the conflict between upper-caste Hindus and untouchables. Ultimately, the humanity of an upper-caste widow gains victory over rigid caste rules. His Sandhyakala (1939) and Sokachakra (1957) are also about the importance of reformation. But Kelu Janamejaya (1960) shows a remarkable change in his method of writing. It combines techniques from absurd and realistic drama. Everyone in the play seems to be reaching out for something in darkness. The play is considered a pow¬erful dramatization of the helplessness of people before their rulers. A Hindi translation of this play was staged in New Delhi in 1963 by the National School of Drama. This began a new era in Indian theatre. Till then, it was believed that one had to look toward the West for modern plays. It was the first time that theatre personalities became aware of an Indian play with modern technique and theme. This opened new doors in writing and staging of plays in India. Shiranga was actively involved in developing theatre activities in Karnataka. He has also written novels. His other publications include a Kannada translation of Bharata's Natyashastra.
K. V. Subbanna is another important theatre personality. He was influenced by Lohia's ideas about cultural decentralization and started a theatre movement in Heggodu, a small village with a population of around 500, in the late 1960s. Now he runs a theatre centre training around 20 students every year and a repertory. It tours Karnataka every year with three plays, which include classics from a European language and Sanskrit. As a result, theatre activities have de¬veloped even in small towns and villages in Karnataka.
Girish Raghunath Karnad, a major playwright of the Navya movement, uses historical and mythological stories for plots. In his first play, Yayati (1961), he uses the story of the Mahabharata to dramatize the conflict between old and younger genera¬tions. Tughlaq (1964), a historical play, mirrors Indian society of the Nehru era. His Taledanda (1990), based on the life of Basava, an eleventh-century Virashaivite saint-poet, also dramatizes the conflict between castes. His Hayavadana (1971) and Nagamandala (1989) use the techniques of folk theatre. Another important playwright who uses the techniques of folk theatre is Chandrashekhara Kambara. However, his plays lack the remarkable insight into mind and society that mark Girish Karnad's plays.
Thus discussed above are the playwrights and the works associated with the Navya theatre in Kannada literature.
(Last Updated on : 15-03-2013)