Thursday, April 13, 2006

The day I saw Rajkumar

Growing up in Bangalore (especially during the early and mid eighties) meant that there were a few things one took for granted. Great weather even in summer, very long lunch breaks when all stores would be closed, peaceful avenues to walk in, high pollen levels and mild asthma, pleasant conversation starting with “coffee (kapi)/oota aitha”, and the omniscient presence of Rajkumar.

Rajkumar was truly more than a mortal. He was Karnataka’s greatest pride. Kannada cinema was doing quite well at box offices then, and compared well with cinema from neighboring Andhra or Tamil Nadu. But both those other regions had “two” superstars each, one a popular crowd pleaser, the other an actor in search of perfection. The Telugu masses flocked to N. T. Rama Rao’s movies, worshipping him as Rama or Krishna (depending on his last screen role), while reserving their admiration for Akkineni Nageshwar Rao’s acting skills. Tamil masses adored their savior, M. G. Ramachandran, while being mesmerized by Shivaji Ganesan’s histrionics. But only Kannada cinema had Rajkumar, the complete package, and crowd puller cum actor. When he was on screen, mothers and grandmothers would cry when he did, and men would wish they were as brave, honorable and valiant as he was on screen.

It was hard to resist this heady mix.

Especially when television was still at its infancy in India. Cable TV was a distant dream. Heck, even a second channel on Doordarshan didn’t exist. Entertainment was the Kannada movie on Saturday evenings, cartoons on Sunday morning, and the Hindi movie on Sunday evening. Which meant that one third of my early television entertainment was Kannada cinema (not really, since I watched way more Tamil and English movies on video, but I’ll stick to that claim here), and one third of all Kannada movies shown had Rajkumar as hero. Practically a sixth of all my early television entertainment was dominated by the man himself, and I would wait with baited breath for his confrontation scenes with Vajramuni, villain par excellence. Other actors in Kannada cinema (Vishnuvardhan, Anant Nag, Ambareesh) weren’t close to the throne. They weren’t even in sighting distance of the throne. That belonged to only one person. Rajkumar.

The man was also gifted with a reasonably good voice (no, it wasn’t spectacular), so Kannada record companies turned around their sagging fortunes by churning out devotional songs sung by Dr. R. That meant that every bus in the state, as well as an assortment of households, temples, meeting halls and any thing else played his songs every morning (and often during afternoons and evenings also). With such power, it was hardly a surprise that Rajkumar was omniscient. He wasn’t a person, he was a complete economy. There was little wonder then that I was seduced by his power. No one else in the state could hold a matchstick to Rajkumar.

And to top it all, he didn’t contest elections or try to influence them. He didn’t make demands or statements on TV or newspapers. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, leading a peaceful, normal life as best he could. In fact, it was almost unanimously agreed that his only real sin was to allow his sons to become actors. Shivarajkumar an actor?……maaaaaaybe. But those other two creatures?

And so life went on, and I continued to consume masala dosas, bise belle and khara bath, and grow in to my teens. An entire lifetime had passed, but I had still never actually seen the man. How could he possibly be everywhere, and yet I had never seen him? There had to be something wrong.

And then, one day, my quest came to an end. I was making my way back home from Malleshwaram. As the auto neared Natraj theater, suddenly traffic came to a standstill (ok, you laugh now, but it was a rarity in the early-mid nineties). The auto driver got all excited, and showed little interest in proceeding forward, as apparently did any one else. The crowd appeared restive, and a little too boisterous for my liking. It was the 100th day celebration of “Akasmika” (which means “by chance”). The hoardings and cutouts around the cinema appeared larger today, and were decorated with garlands. Loud-speakers blared hit songs from the movie. A few thousand people clogged the streets. There was a small pedestal visible at the entrance to the theater. On it were a couple of people. Then a third got on to it, a lean, balding gentleman who appeared to be in his sixties, but looked quite fit for that, appeared vaguely familiar to me.

And then my auto driver yelled “Annavaru bandru”, and got out of the auto, leaving me behind.

It was the man himself, standing on a pedestal, waving gently at the crowd.

I saw Rajkumar.


Anonymous said...

U know my friend - Rajkumar was responsible for inventing Veerapan as a conduit for hiding his ill gotten wealth.

Lets talk about that

Anonymous said...

Check this blog:
Discussion on Dr.Raj

When I read the above blog on times of India, I was angry that the writer shed Dr.Raj in such a bad light, claiming that he was a so-so actor.

In creativity and talent, Dr.Raj was second to none.

Sunil said...

anonymous........i hope you're just speaking in jest. If not, i'd like to know where you get the stuff you're smoking. It must be good.

Anil.......I think people are entiled to their opinions. As long as conversation doesen't drop down to abuse, it's alright.

Anonymous said...

coming from one of the states blessed with two superstars (MGR and sivaji G), I - blasphemy warning - had never heard of rajkumar (oh, only in a verrrry distant sort of way) till the day he got kidnapped and bangalore went berserk.

and then a kind friend forwarded me his 'tick tock - if you come today' song and I was hooked. MGR has never done anything remotely like that (he did wear pink pants in one movie, but what the heck) -

my husband who is from the other twin-superstar state gave up his loyalties too to the NTRs and ANRs of the world... annavaru amar rahe...

Sunil said...

Hey.....MGR did lots of fun stuff...:-)

It's all good stuff though.........and i miss his movies (actually.....all their movies.....MGR also. At least though, i've got a few old vcd's of some shivaji movies...Thiruvilayadal and suchlike).

Anonymous said...

In the 70s Kannada was almost becoming extinct. Kannadigas preferred to talk in all other languages except Kannada ( some do that today also, but its not so bad ). In that context, Annavaru was one of the pillars that held Kannada high. Anna avara atmakke shanti sigali.

Anonymous said...

I guess sunil is not a kannadiga. From his article he is more of a tamilian.

I really dont understand what he wants to highlight about kannadigas in this article, is it about the kannada film fans or Dr.Raj?

Kannada fans do not build temples and worship fans. Coming to Dr. Raj he was one the person to keep kannada high.

Anonymous said...

Yes anonymous.. you are right! He seems to be more of a Tamilian. Despite being in Karnataka, he doesn't seem to have any respect for Kannadigas. HE even talks about Rajkumar's voice and acting.. He was waaaaay better than MGR, Sivaji Ganesan... Atleast he could find Tamil video casettes in Bangalore.. whether a Kannadiga could find a kannada casette in TN? No way!!!! Jay Karnataka maate.. and hats off to Kannadigas!!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Rajkumar was popular because kannada movies were no good compared to other south Indian movies. Raj kumar has no heroic look and fierce like sivaji and cannot fight like MGR and cannot do like NTR also. Even now kannada fimdom is very low than all south indian Rajkumar was big that point of time.Mindset for oldtime kept him great.


Anonymous said...

i agree to joe

In malayalam we had nazir and sathyan very good than the big nose Rajkumar. I agree Tamil and second Telugu where the actual filmdom world and malyalam has natural movie. Kannada film field was a big zero that time and even now. But development like IT and other area Bangalore is Great. Kannada language is very sweet and place is cold i agree but acting dont compare with Sivaji/sathyan or NTR. It irks because as Joe said Mindset from childhood u have to see a single star like kerala did with Nazeer. I pity u.

Bharath Muthur said...

first see some rajkumar movies nd then rephrase ur comment gentlemen
first learn to accept an actor and his acting talent rather than worshipping a heros mass image
only rajkumar , shivaji ganeshan ,anr could be considered as true actors with real talent
mgr ntr rajinikanth all these are only heros with mass image who cashed thier mass image and won their fans with their unique style and gimmicks not with their class

great actors anr nd shivaji ganeshan have themselves accepted that they could not perform to the level that rajkumar did in movie bhakta kumbara which was remade in telgu nd tamil which stared anr nd shivaji ganeshan resectively
so keep reagionalism aside and learn to accept and respect an actor first nd rather than mass image nd crowd pullers

Anonymous said...

mgr or ntr or sivaji cant be compared to rajkumar. he is the best

chetan said...

mgr or ntr or sivaji cant be compared to rajkumar. he is the best

example : same script , same situational song compare Sivaji with Dr Raj ...Shiva not at all near to Dr Raj

Anonymous said...

Do I even know that Kannada movies topped the list in 60s, 70s and early 80s and that's why we always called it the golden era of Kannada cinema? Which was why the great Kamal hassan says it all the time that K Balachander, Kamal and a lot of others from Tamil industry used to come in a bus to mejastic and watch 3-4 Kannada films from morning till night and then leave Bengaluru. Rajkumar was popular for quite a few things. He was the only mega super star of the industry who could sing so wonderfully without a music training and win national awards for his singing too. He could door any kinda role. His films have been remade so many times by thr other i dustrues including tamil and hindi. Amitabh alone remade almost 10 of his movies.Your comment looks a absolutely silly.

Unknown said...

One mgr = Two Ntr one mgr = three shivaji one mgr = four rajkumar that is the mathematical calculation.

chetan said...

NTR is no where near RAJ . Best example was Bhakth Kumbara" remake
"Chkradhri" rejected the challenging role ... And it was played by Akini .But his acting also was not up to the mark

To compare see same song : Nanu ninu netntraya (Kannada song :

And Telgu version song filmed after 1 year after Kannada song filmed :

Akini failed to give better facial expression.. Think if this Lead role is played by NTR....IT is not easy to do such role ...Fear factor is main reason he rejected the lead role ... He is comfortable playing Krisna ..because of N number of rehearsal done for that ..

chetan said...

1 RAJ = (MGR + NTR + Shivaji)divided by Zero
i.e mathematical calculation.

Unknown said...

I agree with you.. But don't put Shankarnag,Anantanag & Vushnuvardhan down... These three heros also lot of fans... Off course Annavru is in the first place...