Girish Karnad dies. As a Bollywood actor.

`Tiger Zinda Hai actor Girish Karnad dies at 81 in Bengaluru’ 

That was the headline on the India Today website. Myopia at its worst. A refusal to understand that there is a world beyond Hindi cinema and Salman Khan. Unless someone was trying a terribly insensitive pun on `Zinda’ and `dies’ on a Monday morning. Luckily, the website realised it exposed its `India ends before the Peninsula’ mindset and changed the headline. 

NDTV’s Hindi website was no better though you could argue its target audience was distinctly Hindi. It said `Bollywood ke mashhoor actor Girish Karnad ka nidhan’ (Bollywood’s famous actor Girish Karnad passes away). The headline was an insult to Karnad’s exemplary body of work in Kannada language and its literature and theatre and once again proved that unless you had a Bollywood connection, your demise was not worth reporting.

You would have thought the so-called national media’s way of looking at the land beyond Nagpur would have changed after its much-flaunted election reportage in south India. More specifically going breathless over the Congress chief’s foray into Wayanad. 

Tangentially, I am glad Gandhi did not contest from Kozhikode because Malayalees would have been horrified to heard `Kojikod’ all through the election season.

I recall when actor Raghuvaran passed away in 2008, the person handling the ticker on the TV channel where I worked, was not willing to flash the news. 

“Who knows Raghuvaran?” he asked.

“A significant lot of your viewers do,” I pointed out. The south brings the biggest chunk of viewership for any English news channel despite which there is such ignorance and arrogance on display. I spent the next few minutes explaining Raghuvaran’s body of work. 

“No one here will know. Can I say he was the Amrish Puri of the south?”

Such gems leave you speechless. Even Mogambo wouldn’t have been “khush huwa”.

The story was to repeat itself when doyen of Carnatic music Dr M Balamuralikrishna passed away in 2016. “Our viewers don’t know him,” is a standard template line dished out to dismiss a lifetime of work. 

Girish Karnad in `Malgudi Days’

In Jnanpith awardee Girish Karnad’s case, the absolutely adorable `Swami and Friends’ episodes from `Malgudi Days’ where he played the title character’s father would have been a good popular reference. Or if Hindi cinema indeed had to be the qualifier, maybe `Manthan’, the Shyam Benegal film on the milk cooperative movement, in which the actor played a character inspired by Dr Verghese Kurien, would have worked better. But then it would need a bigger manthan in north India media for that to happen.

P.S. I just noticed that `Tiger Zinda Hai’ is one of the top ten trends on Twitter now. 

I strongly recommend this documentary on Girish Karnad for people to know his body of work better.

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