November 16, 2000


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Waiting for Rajakumar

M D Riti in Bangalore

"Thaatha! Thaatha!" chorused Rajakumar's 10 grandchildren, jumping up and down excitedly at Jakkur airport in Bangalore.

"I can't see!" wailed four-year-old Dhanyashree. Her father, film star Ramkumar, husband of Rajakumar's second daughter Poornima, promptly hoisted her up on his muscular, brown-velvet-clad shoulder.

"Me too!" yelled Nivedita, child star and younger daughter of superstar Shivaraj Kumar, eldest son of Rajakumar. But her father had already run towards the landing chopper to receive his parents. A family friend then lifted up the plump Nivedita and ran towards the landing site.

A clean-shaven but frail and tanned Rajakumar, clad in his trademark white panche (dhoti) and shirt, emerged from the helicopter and waved to the large crowd of fans rushing pell-mell at him. Behind him emerged a tired-looking Parvathamma, his wife.

The couple's youngest son Puneet jumped nimbly out of the helicopter and rushed to the large gathering of his family, consisting of some 50 adults and children, waiting several hundred yards away. He ran straight to his wife Ashwini, dressed in a blue chiffon saree, hugged her tight, and said: "We're finally back together!"

As a huge surge of frenzied fans surrounded the helicopter, jumping over each other to catch a glimpse of their idol, Rajakumar and his wife were garlanded with huge red rose leis, again a trademark for them. They were swept along through the cheering crowd into waiting government cars, through narrow pathways cleared for them by struggling policemen.

As the cars began to move slowly, Nivedita burst out wailing. "I never even caught a glimpse of Thaatha after waiting to see him all these months," she sobbed, as her mother Geetha, daughter of former Karnataka chief minister S Bangarappa, comforted her.

Rajakumar's family had indicated to on Wednesday night that the Kannada film icon and some members of his family would fly down by chopper from M M Hills near Mysore some time on Thursday morning. It was only not known for sure which airstrip he would land on: the regular huge airport near the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited complex or the small one at the Jakkur Flying Club. The helicopter to bring Rajakumar back had been despatched by the state government.

At 1000 IST on Thursday, it was finally known that the group would arrive at Jakkur. Immediately, the media descended on the small airstrip, on the outskirts of the city. "This is the only festival we are celebrating in the last three months," said film star Jaggesh, dressed in tight black jeans, rust shirt and fawn boots, walking onto the tarmac with us. "We have been so miserable since he left," added Jayanthi, a former heroine of Rajakumar and now a prominent member of the Film Chamber of Commerce.

"I hope our boys don't come and stage any tamasha here," said S R Govindu, president of the All-Karnataka Rajakumar Fans' Association, clad in his usual white trousers and shirt. Until 1130, they were the only film industry people around.

At 1130, the other stars began to trickle in. First came V Ravichandran, megastar of Tamil origin, whose father N Veeraswamy was once Rajakumar's chief producer. "I am so grateful that 'Annavru' is coming back home safely," he said, crinkling his lined eyes against the sun, his burgeoning paunch looking even more obvious in the glare.

The thin, bearded Upendra walked behind him rapidly, able to make a rare public appearance without being mobbed because there were hardly any hoi polloi around. The assembled crowd of about 300 comprised largely journalists and media crews, including some foreign television crews.

"How could I not come to receive Anna?" said Upendra, as popular film-maker 'Rockline' Venkatesh nodded in agreement. Film star-turned-Congress MP Ambarish was still conspicuous by his absence.

As the assembled stars grouped together for a photograph, at exactly 1140 IST, five minutes before the scheduled arrival time of the helicopter, a large group -- Rajakumar's family -- walked on to the airfield. Leading them were the actor's two star sons Shivaraj and Raghavendra, both looking all spruced up, like their usual star selves. Raghavendra had cut off his long mane, grown over 109 days, into a shorter-than-usual crew cut and was clean-shaven. He wore navy blue trousers and a short-sleeved gray shirt, and was all smiles, a total change from his glum face these last three months.

His brother Shivaraj, in contrast, now sported long hair, but had obviously taken the time off to have his mane wahed and blow-dried into a fashionably untidy mop. He too was clean-shaven, looking slim and fit in black jeans and a gray T-shirt.

Lakshmi and Poornima, the two daughters of Rajakumar, were part of the large group, both sporting the typical outsized maroon kumkum bindis on their foreheads favoured by their mother. Lakshmi's husband, S A Govindaraj, who was released by Veerappan a fortnight or so ago, was with them. Raghavendra's wife Mangala carried a big plate with an aarathi in it, as well as some betel leaves and arecanuts. "We are the aarathi party," she smiled.

Shivaraj's wife Geetha, dressed in a black silk saree, waved at her brother, the long-haired Madhu Chandra Bangarappa, head of his own music-recording house Akash Audio, as he walked in. Producer C V L Shastry, non-executive president of the fans' association, followed, dressed in a grey safari suit, walking hurriedly lest he miss the arrival.

The star's family gathered together on the left of the tarmac, while the media and other well-wishers were on the right. "My brother and I came back late last night," confided Shivaraj. "Appu [Rajakumar's youngest son Puneet] and Amma are coming back with him by helicopter."

As always, Shivu, as Shivaraj is known, was all over the airstrip, his arms around the shoulders of various friends from the film industry like Upendra and Rockline. Raaghu, also typically, chatted with his family, smiling at the children and waving to friends. Police Commissioner T Madiyal could be seen instructing his men. Director General of Police C Dinakar was, however, absent.

"We have hardly been able to sleep since we got the news, just after midnight on Tuesday," said Dimpy Revanna, engineering student and younger sister of Appu's wife Ashwini, while her parents, all dressed up for the occasion, nodded happily. "The whole extended family is here."

"Here Ashwini, you come in front," said Geetha, pulling her newly married sister-in-law forward. "It's your husband who is coming in the helicopter, no?"

More family friends and employees of the Rajakumar family came over, bearing huge rose garlands. They quickly pulled one garland to bits, and gave handfuls of rose petals to family members including the children, so that they could strew them in Rajakumar's path as soon as he alighted. "Yuck, it tastes awful," grimaced Nivedita, chewing one petal.

By noon, everyone was feeling hot and impatient. A glider passing overhead attracted everyone's attention. "There he comes!" yelled the lanky, pretty Nishkala Shivaraj, pointing at a helicopter passing overhead. But the chopper moved on, and her family teased her for being too impatient.

But it turned out that Nishkala was actually right. Minutes later, news arrived that the helicopter bearing Rajakumar had actually landed at the main HAL airport at the other end of the city. Waiting there to receive them, at a venue probably determined by him, was Chief Minister S M Krishna.

Shivaraj, known for his quick temper, snatched up his mobile phone. "Yen ri (what is this?), how can you go there when everyone is waiting here?" he said. "Please bring him here." As his children watched with drooping eyes, saying to each other, "There is no way we can go to that place immediately," Shivu said, "Don't worry, he is coming here now."

Five minutes later, hundreds of young, male fans ran on to the airstrip. The police swung into action, and tried to contain them on the same side of the tarmac as the journalists and others. There looked to be less than 75 policemen around, hardly enough to contain the swelling crowd, which must have burst through the open hedges bordering the airfield.

At exactly 12.20, two helicopters appeared on the horizon. "Bangarada manushya Rajakumarige jay (victory to the golden man Rajakumar)," a fan raised a cheer. As the first helicopter descended, several white government cars began pulling up alongside the airstrip. The assembled fans rushed madly towards the helicopter and surrounded it quickly.

You could barely see over their heads as a second helicopter alighted behind. On board the two choppers were Rajakumar and his wife, Chief Minister Krishna and Home Minister Mallikarjun Kharge, and Puneet Rajakumar. Krishna and Kharge had accompanied Rajakumar from the HAL airport.

Photographers, including's K M Veeresh, tried to push through the surging crowds and reach the helicopter, but became targets of the batons of policemen trying in vain to control the crowd. Many in the crowd were injured in the mayhem. "We did not expect so many people to turn up, and we did not have enough men to control them," said a breathless senior police officer apologetically. "Many of our men had been deployed at the other airport as well, you see."

"Please steer him towards us for at least a few minutes," his daughter cried out, her voice lost in the pandemonium. Rajakumar was swept along through the crowd and into a waiting car, which moved off slowly towards its next destination, a government reception for the actor at the Vidhana Soudha, the state assembly building.

The family piled into three other waiting vehicles of its own and followed the cavalcade. "Can't he come home first?" piped up a little grandchild, and was quickly shushed by the adults. "Be grateful that he's finally back," said his mother. "Our private time with him can come later."

The Rajakumar Abduction: complete coverage
The saga of Veerappan

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