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August 10, 2000
Rajakumar's fans reach out to him by e-mail
M D Riti in Bangalore
"None of us can sleep at night anyway," says a haggard, unshaven Raghavendra Rajakumar. "Concern for my father's well-being keeps us awake. So I read the e-mail that his admirers sent. It makes us realise we are not alone in our fear."
The messages, which Dr Rajakumar used to enjoy reading and answering, are now a source of comfort and solace to his beleaguered family.
Web designer Prakruthi Banwasi, who created and maintains Dr Rajakumar's official web site www.raj-kumar.com, says that as against the average of 10 e-mail messages that the star used to get, he now gets about 200 messages a day.
Banwasi downloads the mail and then shoots off copies to Dr Rajakumar's three sons. "After this crisis is over, the family will make sure that every single person who reached out to us in these troubled times gets a personal reply," promises Raghavendra.
Puneet, Dr Rajakumar's cyber-savvy youngest son, took the initiative to put the cine idol on the web. He was once a national award-winning child film star. Puneet and Banwasi got to know each other at the fashionable Figurine Fitness gymnasium and aerobics centre, which the two frequent.
The impetus was Dr Rajakumar's comeback film Shabdavedi, which was being shot in the last quarter of 1999. "I wanted people from all over the world to have a glimpse of my father's comeback film," Puneet had told me, in the office of Vajreshwari Combines, his family's production house.
Banwasi and Puneet worked on designing the site from September to March 3, when they formally launched it. Puneet's wife, Ashwini, whom he married in December lent a helping hand.
A sari retailer had taken up their first and most obvious choice of domain name, www.rajakumar.com. They settled for www.raj-kumar.com.
A day after the site was formally launched, Dr Rajakumar sat with Puneet and Banwasi for over two hours to understand its working, read every single e-mail he received and replied. According to Banwasi, the site got 1500 hits on the first day.
Dr Rajakumar apparently developed a liking for the Internet. "He never viewed the site as an intrusion," says Banwasi. "He thinks of it as a way of reaching out to his fans, as he is otherwise intensely private."
However, Dr Rajakumar was not comfortable handling the mouse. So, the trio would read out printouts of his mail, write down his responses and reply. Most of the messages in Kannada were written in Roman script.
The messages would delight Dr Rajakumar, who would often pick out a particular phrase or sentence that caught his eye, read it over twice or thrice and chuckle.
About 60 per cent messages were from the United States. "A man from Bangalore wrote: 'I wish you would grace my home just once'," says Banwasi. "He was so delighted that he said he would try to fit a visit to that man's family before the year was out."
He was very thrilled with the idea of the Internet as a means of reaching out to people all over the world. 'If only we had had this facility when I was younger', he would always say. "I used to make so many friends during my travels abroad to film festivals or film conferences. We could never stay in touch because overseas calls were expensive and connections faulty in those days," Dr Rajakumar used to say.
Puneet and Banwasi had lined up other plans for Dr Rajakumar's fans, including online conversations with the matinee idol. Before they got off the ground, Dr Rajakumar got busy with work on his new film Bhakta Ambareesha.
And then, Veerappan entered their lives.
Moreover, Banwasi was away from Bangalore for the whole week following the abduction, as he set about to set a travel record of riding his motorcycle from Bangalore to Bombay.
By the time he returned, five days had passed. Puneet and he sat together and tried to decide how the site should handle the abduction, but realised that Puneet and the family were far too busy trying to get the legend released to occupy themselves with keeping his fans updated through the site. Besides, news portals like rediff.com were doing that, they concluded.
Dr Rajakumar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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