Puneeth, who with his Midas touch turned everything into box-office gold in Kannada filmdom, was versatility personified.

Puneeth Rajkumar in a still from Kannadada KotyadhipathiPuneeth Rajkumar/Instagram
Flix Sandalwood Saturday, October 30, 2021 - 09:14

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. 
– John Donne

These immortal lines from 17th century Britain’s metaphysical poet John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 10 reverberate in the mind’s recess following the sudden demise of Sandalwood’s most beloved son – Puneeth Rajkumar.

The beloved Yuvarathnaa, the adored and admired Appu, slept the eternal sleep, at the still youthful age of 46, following a massive heart attack. A pall of gloom and desolation has descended on Karnataka and its capital city Bengaluru, and among his legion of friends, followers, family and admirers from the film fraternity the world over.

An affable ‘Power Star’, the screen moniker by which he was venerated by his innumerable fans, has been snatched away by death far too soon even as he was blossoming and coming into his own, having just floated his own film production house – PRK Productions

Puneeth, who with his Midas touch turned everything into box-office gold in Kannada filmdom, was versatility personified. He was a bankable star, a true blue, raging singer, accomplished TV presenter, a shrewd film and music producer, a complete family man and endearing fellow being for his loyal army of fan followers.

Indeed, like the title of the popular TV show he presented, he was Kannadada Kotyadhipathi in the hearts and bosoms of everyone he came across.

His death has not only left elder siblings Raghavendra Rajkumar, Shiva Rajkumar and the entire Rajkumar clan, including his wife Ashwini and kin, grieving, it has also pushed the film fraternity into heartbreak and mourning. Puneeth’s death has struck a cruel blow on the Rajkumar family yet again – just four years ago, they lost their matriarch and anchor, Parvathamma Rajkumar.

Born Lohith Rajkumar in March 1975 in then Madras, now Chennai, to Kannada cinema’s most illustrious icon Dr Rajkumar and wife Parvathamma, it was only to be expected that the family’s youngest scion too would one day follow in the footsteps of the idolised screen thespian and brothers in the family.  

Debuting as a mere six month infant in his dad’s 1976 thriller Premada Kanike and thereafter acting in Sanaadi Appanna as a one-year-old, cinema, as was to be,  became second nature to the star son who blazed a glorious trail on the Kannada cinema marquee; there was no looking back since. Success coveted him at every stage and filled the coffers of those who bet on him to deliver the goods.

Not just acting; like father like son, the young Puneeth, even as he cut his teeth to mould himself into an actor of repute and flair, caught the demanding and discerning eye of the audiences by bagging awards by the bushels for his performances in films such as Chalisuva Modagalu, for which he was bestowed the Karnataka State Film Award for Best Child Actor. The junior Rajkumar also sang songs, like his thespian father, the first being in BS Ranga’s 1982 film Bhagyavantha, where he rendered the popular hit ‘Baana Daariyalli Soorya’.

The versatile boy, who was his dear papa’s pet ‘Appu’ as he was fondly addressed at home, received his second Karnataka State Film Award as Best Child Actor for Eradu Nakshatragalu. He got his most coveted break as child actor in renowned Kannada director N Lakshminarayana’s 1985 film Bettada Hoovu, and went on to bag the prestigious National Award for Best Child Artist for his fetching portrayal as an innocent Ramu.

Puneeth’s last film as child artist was the 1989 film Parashuram, and he finally stepped into the big league, the exalted realm of leading men on whose shoulders lay the fortunes of a film, making his formal debut with Appu in 2002.

Playing the archetypal college lad gave him the screen image of a dashing, do-gooder romantic hero. With that spring in his steps and his equally fluent dancing skills, he floored his diehard fans and sent them into frenzy, ensuring that the film became a super-duper box-office hit. The rest, as they say, is history.

Abhi had Puneeth again playing the proverbial plucky college lad, and thereafter came Aakash, Ajay, Arasu, and Anna Bond. Milana fetched him the Karnataka State Best Actor Award. The impressive scroll of films that the young Power Star featured in saw its share of stupendous success as also a few blips. But that did not dent his immense popularity or stop the unstinted march of the state’s youth icon in his fruitful film career that became a full-fledged vocation.

Puneeth made his TV debut in 2012 as presenter of Kannadada Kotyadhipathi, the Kannada version of the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. He also gave the voice-over for Anup Bhandari’s Rajaratha.

In a nearly four decade career as actor and playback singer, the Power Star, both as a child artiste and leading man, has left behind a legacy of 40 films. He held his own in the most competitive movie marquee and carved a niche for himself with a creditable fan following. Acting, along with singing, came naturally to Puneeth and his body of work is a testimony to the fact that the Anjani Putra would easily get into the skin of the character he was portraying to deliver impeccable performances.

In fact, one expected his film Raajakumara by Santosh Ananddram to be a turning point in his career, one that would take him into a new trajectory of film scripts. But that was not to be. As the title song, beautifully rendered by Vijay Prakash and penned by the director, in the film goes, Bombe helutaite matte helutaite, Neene raajakumara.., Bombe helutaite matte helutaite, Neene raajakumara…. Aaraadhiso raarajhiso raajaratnanu Aadisiye nodu beelisiye nodu, Endu soladu sothu taleya baagadu! Truly, Puneeth epitomised these songs and lived a life less ordinary.

Survived by wife Ashwini Revanth and their two children, one prays that the Almighty gives them and the rest of the family the strength to bear the loss. Goodbye, Appu, from all of us. 

Viswanath S is a keen cinephile who loves writing on cinema.

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