Puneeth Rajkumar: The last Kannada icon? | Deccan Herald

Clipped from: https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/puneeth-rajkumar-the-last-kannada-icon-1052926.htmlChandan Gowda The ISEC Professor looks for new ways of looking @Chandan_Gowda73Chandan Gowda The ISEC Professor looks for new ways of looking @Chandan_Gowda73

Puneeth Rajkumar was a superstar. Little could anyone tell, however, that he had also emerged as the biggest living icon of Kannada society. The shock and grief felt across Karnataka at the news of his tragic death brought home the truth.

Illustrating the unique ways in which the public self and the private self stay inseparable in India, the loving regard for Puneeth rested on a sense for both his on-screen and off-screen persona.

His film characters invariably youthful, Puneet’s earnestness towards the dance and fight sequences was impossible to miss. While his fit body, hair style and clothes bespoke a middle-class respectability, his winsome smile and righteous anger left no one in doubt that his heart stood for the people below. Being a dutiful son, brother, friend and lover, being respectful towards the elderly, being comfortable with religion without being orthodox, taking pride in Kannada identity, unaccepting of social elitism and snobbery are among the core virtues radiating across the film characters played by Puneeth over the last two decades.

He was a hero who held his individual passions in deference to the community. With the virtues he held, he could be trusted to not betray the community in a modern world that threatened its survival and ensure its continued existence. His characters moved through modern landscapes, affirming with confidence the virtues that mattered to the Kannada community. They touched on the large themes of honesty, courage, fidelity and social duty, to name a few, at a time when this is fast becoming unfashionable in the film industry. Puneeth’s films could therefore earn him a massive following across the cities, towns and villages of the state even when every film he did in his adult life was set in contemporary urban settings.

Also read: Puneeth Rajkumar to get Karnataka Ratna award posthumously

Puneeth’s death instantly summoned memories of the several film roles he had done as a child, many of them alongside his father and legendary Kannada film icon Rajkumar. The film images and voice of the child actor recalled the older phase of cinema communion with Puneeth, making the loss of his life feel deeper.

It must be noted that Puneeth inherited the aura that his father had acquired around himself over his lifetime. Indeed, in so many films, the characters played by Puneeth step out of the narrative to announce the actor’s relationship with Rajkumar, blurring the lines between the film and reality momentarily and allowing a glimpse of the thick relationship he enjoys with the Kannada community through his father, whose films had contributed heavily to the modern Kannada sensorium through their images, songs and dialogues. To recall a poignant instance: when someone asks Puneeth’s character if he was a doctor, he replies smilingly, “No. But people used to call my father a ‘Doctor’. Who knows, in the future, they might call me ‘Doctor’ too.”

Apart from a couple of films with graphic violence, Puneeth’s films were seen as wholesome: the entire family, as the common remark goes, could watch them together. Testifying to the somewhat loosened up social orthodoxy inside and outside the Kannada film industry, his characters ate meat freely and, on a rare occasion, even smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol. And at times – in Milana, for example — the community presence in his films could be thin in the tradition of films made in the wake of Yash Chopra’s Chandni and Lamhe, where the focus is almost wholly on the romance of the couple, with everything else muted.

Puneeth’s anchoring in Kannadada Kotyadipathi, the smash-hit TV game show modeled on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, and his presence at various public occasions revealed him as affable, good-spirited and down-to-earth, not unlike the characters he portrayed in his films. In Dr Rajkumar: The Person behind the Personality (Parvathamma Publications, 2012), a charming coffee-table book that he co-wrote, Puneeth credits his father for instilling these qualities in him early on in his childhood.

Puneeth Rajkumar was in the prime of life. He was expected to foster a tradition of small budget, high-quality Kannada films through his production house. With millions of others, I can only say: “He ought to have been with us today.”

Watch latest videos by DH here:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s