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August 1, 2000
Rajakumar's ties with Madras go back a long way
M D Riti in Bangalore
"My dream would be to cast my father as Swami Vivekananda some day, and direct that film," says Shivaraj Kumar sorrowfully. Will Shivaraj ever see the day when he can fulfil his lifelong ambition of making his debut as a director in a film featuring his own father as a spiritual hero? An atmosphere of gloom and tension prevails in matinee idol Dr Rajakumar's family home in Sadashivanagar, a posh residential locality of Bangalore, as everyone waits tensely for news about the whereabouts of Veerappan (or Veerappa, as the Kannadigas refer to him) and his celebrity hostage.
"He is such a peaceable and noble soul, that I think even Veerappan will get converted by him into a good man," says police inspector turned actor B C Patil, who is currently working on two films, one intriguingly titled Lankesh, and the other produced by his own brother, titled Shaapa. Rajakumar's five children echo Patil's sentiments, as all of them have first-hand experience of the ascetic, near-saintliness of their septuagenarian father. Shaapa As the family waits and watches, reminiscences flow. Interestingly, the family reveals that the Padmabhushan awardee seldom sees his own films. This is especially true of his early days, when he was at the peak of his productivity and career, and was churning out film after film, in the 'sixties. Now, as television brings all his old films into his own drawing room, Rajakumar often enjoys watching films in the company of his numerous grandchildren. "Funnily enough, Appaji loves watching the movies of his own favourite stars like Mammooty, Amitabh Bachchan and Kamalahaasan," says Puneet.
"My father usually never carries any money at all, not even a rupee," says Raghavendra. Not surprising, then, that Veerappan took him in his old dhoti, shirt, slippers and glasses. "Don't worry, they will not hurt me, I have nothing on my person to offer them, except for my old clothes," Rajakumar apparently told Parvathamma before he was spirited away into the darkness by Veerappan and his men.
"It was my mother who brought luck to my father," says Puneet Rajakumar, the great legend's youngest son, a national award-winning child star himself, who is to be launched in films as a hero by his mother's home production company by the year end. "Until she married him, he was a very talented stage actor, but never tasted true success. It was after their marriage that my father got his first film offer from the AVM group of Tamil Nadu, to star in their Kannada film Kannappa." That film became a hit, and Parvathamma became Rajakumar's lucky star from then onwards. From then on, Parvathamma always accompanied Rajakumar to all his shoots, eventually began to manage his business affairs and now takes care of his production and distribution businesses.
Actually, Rajakumar has had many ties with Madras, the city in which his tense wife now awaits development, and where she lived for years at the height of Rajakumar's career. Although Rajakumar always acted only in Kannada films, all these films were made in the Tamil Nadu capital, as that is where film processing, editing and other functions were done. Shivaraj recalls now that the Rajakumar family bought its first house in Madras in 1962, and lived there for the next quarter century, right upto the 1980s.
As he began to get successful, Rajakumar did not neglect his extended family. His mother Lakshmamma, his sisters and their families all moved in with him in. "My father's younger sister Nagamma used to look after this large household of several members, all of whom were supported by Rajakumar's single income, as my mother used to travel around with my father," recalls Shivaraj. "By that time, my father's father Puttaswamiah, a great theatre actor himself, was long since dead. My father used to feel so sorry that his father never saw him in movies."
Even now, when Rajakumar was singing and recording songs for Bhakta Ambareesha, his film that is under production, he reminisced with tears in his eyes about having seen his dear father perform that role on stage, and wondered whether he would be able to match that performance on the screen.
Rajakumar's second daughter Poornima, the only one to have done a full length role in a film with her father (the murder mystery Premada Kanike in the mid-'seventies) used to travel around with her parents. "It was great fun going on location with them," she says now, struggling hard to remember the good times, on this day of deep tension. "The units used to pamper us so much, and the spots we visited were all so scenic." Now, Poornima is married to popular film star Ram Kumar.
Rajakumar's older three children have particularly warm memories of growing up in Madras. "I used to make sure that I always saw every Kamalahaasan film on the first day at the first show," laughs Shivaraj, who was studying acting at the same film academy in Madras that Rajnikant had passed out of earlier. It was less than 15 years ago that the family finally shifted base to Bangalore, as the Kannada film industry had become completely Karnataka-centric, and Shivaraj himself was poised to make his debut in Kannada cinema in his first film Anand.
Now, Rajakumar lives in his huge, secluded house in Sadashivanagar with Parvathamma, his second son Raghavendra, his wife and two sons Guru and Vinay, and Puneet with his newly wedded wife Ashwini, a software engineer by vocation. Shivaraj lives in a fabulous house just adjacent, sharing a common compound wall with his father. Shivaraj lives with his wife Geetha, daughter of ex-chief minister S Bangarappa, and their two daughters Nishkala and Nivedita.
Interestingly, although Rajakumar never showed great interest in seeing his own films when they were released, he gets tremendously excited by his sons' films, and often even ventures to the theatres, with security and protection, of course, on the very day of release. "We value his opinion greatly, of course," says Raghavendra. "When my father came home after seeing my second film Nanjundi Kalyana, he said nothing to me at first, but just went and washed his hands as it was dinner time. Then, he suddenly hugged me, and told me that that was a very good film. I was thrilled. And the film turned out to be a box office hit."
Rajakumar also used to practise Yoga and meditation religiously for years, which should certainly help him cope with the rigours of jungle living now. Meanwhile, Raghavendra reveals that Rajakumar himself has an unfulfilled ambition left in cinema. He would, at some point' like to act in a film based on the Ramayana. Meanwhile, his children fantasise about acting with him, all together, in a film. Will all their dreams ever come true?
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