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August 2, 2000
Can ailing Dr Rajakumar take the jungle?
M D Riti in Bangalore
Its cold, it's raining intermittently and it's tough terrain in the jungles of Sathyamangalam, where police believe sandalwood smuggler Veerappan is hiding with his celebrity hostage, Dr Rajakumar. Can the Karnataka film icon, in his early seventies, survive the ordeal?
The question meets with a long silence from Dr Rajakumar's sons. They probably find it too painful to even think about it.
Until he reached his late sixties, Dr Rajakumar was in excellent shape. Hrithik Roshan may love taking his shirt off now, Dr Rajakumar was doing it two decades back.
Kamana Billu, in which he acted with Anant Nag and Sarita, particularly stands out in one's memory. The film had Dr Rajakumar displaying complex yoga postures for a good ten minutes all through the titles.
Dr Rajakumar always paid attention to his body. He never really jogged or worked out in a gym, as these were not fashionable pursuits in his youth. He was more into health care in the traditional Indian sense through yoga and a balanced diet.
His religious bent of mind helped. He never touched liquor or tobacco. He was mostly a vegetarian by choice.
Dr Rajakumar did try a walking regime, but given the unbelievable size of his fan following and the mass hysteria that the most brief glimpse of him set off, this proved to be quite difficult.
As all his personal physicians know how highly Dr Rajakumar values his privacy, none of them is willing to speak about his health. However, as most aspects of his private life have always been public property, one knows that his health is certainly no longer it once was.
In fact, his knee has been giving him trouble for some years now. "This is why he stopped acting in films for five years," says his youngest son Puneet Rajakumar. "But it is much better now, so he has started acting again in a small way."
But can he walk 25-20 kilometres a day, as Veerappan might like him to.
When Dr Rajakumar appeared on stage at a film star's benefit night several months ago, he looked very fragile. Although dressed in black trousers and a shiny shirt, one noticed the continuous presence of someone close behind him on the stage, usually his son Raghavendra. The energy and fire of the man who used to be able to sing and dance for a whole evening at benefit shows, seemed visibly depleted.
In his comeback film Shabdavedi too, the storyline called for a fair amount of dishum-dishum, but one noticed that Dr Rajakumar's movements were more stylised than real. Dummies or stand-ins were obviously used in long shots. The unit, which shot song and dance numbers or dramatic scenes in front of journalists, took care to keep the fight scenes strictly private.
His family hopes that Veerappan has the good sense and the charity to either keep Dr Rajakumar in one place, or have him carried around or transported by whatever means possible.
However, S Narayan, who directed Dr Rajakumar in Shabdavedi, says that he has seen the actor maintain a rigorous exercise schedule, even when they were out on location.
"He would get up as early as 4 am and do yoga for two hours," says Narayan. "Then, he would do danda (stick) exercises for a while. Even in the coldest of weather, he would only bathe in cold water and then do pooja. After this, he would eat his frugal breakfast and then take medication for his bad knee."
The director says Dr Rajakumar often regaled the unit with stories of his rural upbringing - the days when he would walk long distances every day.
His knee trouble has put an end to his ability to walk long stretches. "Anna's knee does still give him trouble," says Narayan. "His suffering was quite visible...but he would try his best to conceal it as he did not want us to postpone shooting. I doubt if he can walk more than two kilometres at a stretch."
Meanwhile, central jail orthopaedic surgeon Dr Seenappa, who remembers having observed Dr Rajakumar walk around at police officer Vijay Sasnur's daughter's wedding (Shabdavedi was based on Sasnur's novel of the same name) six months ago, opines that he seems to suffer from fairly bad osteoarthritis.
"It is difficult for anyone having this ailment to climb steps or walk more than a kilometre, or two at the most, in a day," says Seenappa.
What will, however, stand Dr Rajakumar in good stead, would be his spirituality and the mental strength he has developed through this.
Dr Rajakumar is quite a philosopher and a near-ascetic in his own right. He is a great devotee of Raghavendra, a faith he shares with Rajnikanth.
Now, both Rajnikanth and two other film star politicians - Ambareesh and Jayaprada - have offered to mediate with Veerappan.
Amongst the captured foursome, S A Govindaraj might find it easier to walk as he is the one who walks three quarters of an hour both in the morning and evening every day.
Residents of Sadashivanagar, the address Govindaraj shares with Dr Rajakumar, are quite used to seeing the dapper, balding son-in-law of Dr Rajakumar walking rapidly every morning often talking into his cell phone, his burly bodyguard a foot behind him.
Veerappan appears to be conscious of the health and medical requirements of his hostages. He allowed Dr Rajakumar to take along his medicines when he was kidnapped, and even assured the family that he had a doctor and a bed with him.
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