Remembering Puneeth Rajkumar: A man who loved life
In a career spanning two decades as a hero, the actor, fondly called as Appu and Powerstar, acted in several blockbusters and had one of the largest fanbases in the Kannada film industry
Each time I called Puneeth for an interview, our conversation would never end without one question from me: How do you manage to look so young? It’s a quality he took great pride in, believing that as long as he looked young, he could continue playing the hero. The late actor, a father of two grown-up daughters, would laugh each time—that trademark chuckle that betrayed his genial personality—and say that it’s all about keeping fit and exercising. Puneeth was a man who inspired those around him to keep fit and healthy. He could often be spotted cycling with his friends. His exercise videos have been an inspiration for many youngsters; they adored him, and he adored them back calling them, ‘Ahimanigale Devru’ (fans are gods). There were very many who loved him for the hero he was; if only they knew the person behind the actor. My job as a journalist allowed me to get a few more peeks into the personality behind this actor, and I’m grateful for that.
The actor enjoyed travelling. He would dedicate a couple of months every year for his sojourns and would come back with dozens and dozens of photographs. Indeed, he dearly loved the cameras, both being in front of and behind them. He was a man who was good at his work, yes, but who knew how to live too. As I have discovered, he would never answer calls on Sundays, because “it’s a day for home and family and children”. His good life allowed him the luxury of collecting cars too, another of his many passions. Perhaps it’s his passion for life that rubbed off on the younger ones of his family—his nephews, Vinay Rajkumar, Yuva Rajkumar, Dheeren Ramkumar, Dhanyakumar…—who all hold him in great esteem.
Sure, he had the good fortune of being born to the great Dr Rajkumar. As the famous song goes, ‘Bombe helutaithe, mathe helutaithe, neene Rajkumaraa…’ (The doll says, the doll says again, you are prince!). The film fraternity and fans often saw Puneeth’s father in him. In an age of star kids who have attained fame and fortune, Puneeth was not one to underplay the privilege he was born into. He never had qualms admitting the greatness of his father or declaring that he was not worthy of the comparison. “I would be lying if I said I am like my father,” he said. And yet, though he could have easily survived on the merits of his identity, this was an actor who trained himself to be a dancer because he enjoyed it.
He had so many more years left. He had so many more dreams. One of them was to feature in a film alongside Shivanna and Raghavendra, a film he hoped to direct. There was another dream too for this baby-faced man. So long as he looked young, he knew he could be a hero. But he had another plan up his sleeve, were life to rob him of his youthful looks. “I can then stop being a hero and become an actor!” he said. It’s the dreams that time doesn’t let you achieve that cause the greatest pain, and Puneeth, who has left us all so young, had so many dreams unrealised, so much laughter not expressed.