Puneeth Rajkumar
Puneeth Rajkumar

A big star with a big heart: Samyukta, Rishi, Chetan and Raghavendra on Puneeth

Speaking to TNM, actors Samyukta, Rishi, Chetan and director RJ Mayura Raghavendra say that Puneeth Rajkumar's loss has left them devastated.

Sandalwood Powerstar Puneeth Rajkumar, who breathed his last on October 29, Friday, left millions of his fans heartbroken and the Kannada film industry, devastated. Appu, as he was fondly called, wasn’t just a powerhouse performer who hailed from an illustrious family, he was also a cordial, down-to-earth colleague to film folks and a supremely supportive mentor to upcoming artistes and newbies.

As someone who invested in fresh scripts, the Rajakumaara actor was admired for how zealously he promoted upcoming artistes.  Actress Samyukta Hornad, who worked on One Cut Two Cut, which is being produced under PRK Productions (run by Puneeth and his wife Ashwini), says, “He’d come on set and watch the shoot. We had a private screening recently where I met him. I’ve known him for years, not just because of my family, but we’ve interacted a lot and also run marathons together. He was not a big star because of his work alone, but also because of how big-hearted he was. He’d walk up to you and say ‘hello’ even though he was the biggest star. He was so enthusiastic about doing another film with my friend Amoghavarsha and would excitedly show me videos of it. His loss is so much more heart-breaking because he was such a great man.” 

Appu’s cinematic journey began when he was just an infant with films Premadha Kanike and Aarathi and he later went on to win the National Award for best child artiste for his portrayal of Raamu in Bettada Hoovu. After making his debut as leading man in Appu in 2002, he delivered more hits like Ninnindale, Milana, Anjani Putra, Doddamane Huduga and more, with his last film in theatres being Yuvarathnaa. Puneeth wasn’t just a supportive producer, he was also a friend and guide to many artistes.

Actor Chetan Kumar, who considers Puneeth akin his older brother, says, “He was such a kind-hearted, humble person. I remember when we first met, he had to go for a dance performance and had to leave his phone with someone. He looked all around, looked at me and gave me the phone even though I was a newcomer. The fact that he trusted me made me trust him more. He also came to my wedding and spoke there. He had value for art and Kannada and wanted to help the industry grow. He also did a lot of social work and went on to give Rs 50 lakh to the government during the COVID-19 pandemic. He’d never take money for singing in films and he’d ask the money to be donated to an NGO. When I went to the hospital today to see him, I saw that people had come to take his eyes, which he donated. He never had any air of superiority despite his lineage. He’d do family-oriented films more than massy ones —  he was never about self-glorification, but about making wholesome cinema.”

As residents of Sadashivnagar, the duo would go to the same gym too. Chetan also has a special connection with Appu as he too performed as Bhakta Prahlada (which Puneeth played) when he was a kid growing up in the US when he didn’t even know who Appu was. “I liked him for what he stood for. He was one of the very few good friends I had in the industry,” he grieves.

KavaludaariMayabazar and Law and are some of Puneeth’s productions.  Actor Rishi, who played the protagonist in Kavaludaari, had just left the late actor’s home after getting a final glimpse of him, when he spoke to us. “He spotted me at Kanteerava Stadium and having seen the trailer of my first film, he spoke to me about it and spent time with me. And soon, I was starring in his first production! I fondly remember that he was a big foodie and his set always had great food. He ticked off all the boxes of being an ideal man. Considerate, respectful and always treating others as equal, his demise feels like losing a family member for so many of us.”

Upcoming filmmaker and RJ Mayura Raghavendra remembers the Power Star launching the title song of his debut directorial Kannad Gothilla. “The first time I met him was almost 10 years ago for an interview, where I chatted with him about his singing. He sang five songs for me. We knew that Appu sir loved gifts, so I took one along with me and he absolutely loved it,” he reminisces.

Puneeth’s upcoming films are James, which he had shot for and Dvitva, his project with Pawan Kumar, which was supposed to go on floors soon. With the actor’s demise, KFI lost a dear family member, a friend in need and a kind mentor, who will be sorely missed. 

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