'Kaanadanthe Maayavadanu' (vanished from sight). The lyrics of the famous song sung by Puneeth Rajkumar in the 1982 film Chalisuva Modagalu seemed appropriate for the occasion. A group of Puneeth's ardent fans sang the song with as much gusto as they could muster when they waited in line for their chance to pay tributes to their hero one last time in Bengaluru. They admitted that the song did not feel the same as it did before his death.
The fans had travelled from all over Bengaluru to the Kanteerava Stadium at the heart of the city after hearing the news of Puneeth's death on Friday evening. Thousands of others from all over the state would join them over the next few hours, bringing with them an overwhelming sense of sadness and grief. The large crowds outside the stadium were expected, as the death of Appu, who touched countless hearts with his brilliant performances and down-to-earth mannerisms, sent shockwaves across Karnataka.
Puneeth's appeal as a lead actor can be credited to the fact that for the people of Karnataka, he has been a public figure for more than 40 years â ever since he appeared as a child actor in the 1970s and 80s. This is when he starred in films like Chalisuva Modagalu, aged 7, and Bettada Hoovu, aged 10, for which he won the National Award for best child artist. Credited as Master Lohith in these films, he also sang some of the earnest songs that people remember from this period.
"The first thing I remember when I think of Puneeth now are his roles as a child actor, where he barely had any teeth but he was still smiling wide and lighting up films with his innocence," says Jyothi P, a 27-year-old Puneeth fan from Bengaluru who was waiting outside Kanteerava Stadium. "When I heard about his death, at first I refused to believe it. But then when all the news channels started saying the same, I came here to see him one last time," she says.
Basavaraj Bommai pays respects to Puneeth Rajkumar at Kanteerava Stadium
Years later, Puneeth returned to the public eye as a grown-up actor with Appu (2002). He went on to have a stirring two-decade run, churning out hits in Kannada cinema. Fans recalled films like Appu, Arasu, Milana, Jackie, Prithvi and Paramaathma, all of which were family entertainers.
Puneethâs statewide appeal brought fans from across Karnataka, who travelled to Bengaluru by Friday evening to see the beloved actor one last time. Mukkanna, 27, an ardent Puneeth fan from Raichur said that he left for Bengaluru as soon as he heard about the news. Clutching a copy of the evening newspaper Ee Sanje, which had published the news of Puneeth's death, Mukkanna stood in line for one chance to see Puneeth again. "I had come to Bengaluru during the release of Natasaarvabhowma but I did not get the chance to see Puneeth then. That is why I am here (in Bengaluru) today," he says.
Fans also appreciated the fact that Puneeth followed in his father's footsteps by donating his eyes. "He was the closest one to his father in this sense. His style was similar and his roles in films also were like Dr Rajkumar's and now he has donated his eyes just like his father,â Danny, a dance artist based in Bengaluru, shared.
The actorâs brothers Shivarajkumar and Raghavendra Rajkumar, film personalities such as Yash and politicians, including Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, were also present when Puneeth's remains were brought to the Kanteerava Stadium. "We were given to understand by the family that the body will be here (Kanteerava Stadium) on Saturday for fans to pay respects...More than 6000 police officers are deployed here and all jurisdictional police officers have received orders to remain vigilant. We have also deployed the Rapid Action Force," Bengaluru Police Commissioner Kamal Pant told reporters at the Kanteerava Stadium. The police are now discussing with the family about preponing the last rites to Saturday evening.
Many of the city's central areas wore a desolate look, with shops closed and traffic limited. But there was no law and order situation reported in Bengaluru. The sale of alcohol has been restricted in Bengaluru till Sunday night as a precaution, Kamal Pant said. The heartfelt appeal by Raghavendra Rajkumar asking Puneeth's fans to send him away graciously was met with appreciation and the fans, who turned up in large numbers, duly obliged for the most part.
The throng of fans that had gathered outside the stadium began to sing their favourite songs featuring Puneeth. There was, however, a sense of melancholy about them. Many of Puneeth's hit numbers were remembered, but the most popular one was by far âRaajakumaraâ from the 2017 film Raajakumara. Shouts of the song filled the air outside the Kanteerava Stadium till late at night.
Fans felt there was more to come from Puneeth Rajkumar and that he was planning to do more experimental films. He had teamed up with indie filmmaker Pawan Kumar of Lucia fame for his next film Dvitva, before his life was cut short.