Puneet Rajkumar is very happy to be his father's son, nevertheless he says in very clear terms that he wants to have an identity of his own

Success sits slightly on his sturdy shoulders. It was a mixed year for him. “Raaj” did not live up to the hoopla while “Raam”, released at the fag end is raking it in. Rajkumar would have been proud of his youngest son's success. 2010 promises to be an interesting year for him. There's the classy “Prithvi” in which he plays a tough cop and “Jackie” directed by Soori with whom he's been wanting to work with since he watched “Duniya”.

The interview:

The year 2009 ended on a bittersweet note for you. “Raam” received a rousing opening but you also heard about Vishnuvardhan's demise.

Definitely. I normally don't get over excited but the first three days after the release I was very happy. For the first time, a distributor called to tell me that he was making money after a long time. He was very happy because he had recovered all the losses he underwent during the year.

I was on vacation and when I heard about Vishnu Sir I was shocked. I got to know him well during the Amrita Mahotsava. I have met him plenty of times at social gatherings.I haven't spent quality time with him but remember the little time I have spent with him. I also felt guilty that I could not go there to pay my last respects.

There has always been talk about differences between your father and Vishnu. Did you sense such undercurrents at home?

Never at my place. These things never entered our minds because we were never treated like celebrity kids. It was more between the fan clubs but I must admit we did wonder whether there could be a tiff. He was very friendly whenever we met at family functions. I don't think there was anything personal Dad definitely did not make us feel there was any animosity between them.

Are there such undercurrents between you and your contemporaries?

I don't think so. I'll be wrong if I said we are all great friends, but I do applaud when they succeed. That's important for our industry to thrive. There will be arguments which are healthy.

Can two big stars be good friends?

I know Darshan for a very long time and we get along well. You can't call us the best of friends because we are busy and do not have the time to hang around with each other.

When Kamal was honoured for completing 50 years in the industry, I realised you have been around for 30 years.

(laughs)You are right. I have very few memories of my career as a child artiste. I never took any of this seriously till I met Master Manjunath. He was like a true professional even at that age. I hated giving interviews. I hated it when I was asked to sing “Kanadhanthe Mayavadheno” onstage. I wanted to be left alone. I got a National award for “Bettada Hoovu” but didn't realise the significance. I started taking it seriously only after I decided it would be my career. I'm embarrassed when someone praises my earlier performances.

I'm sure you'd still prefer to be called “annavra maga”, though you have have emerged from his shadow.

I'm thrilled and honoured when I'm referred to as his son. I recall that my dad was very proud of his father Puttaswamiah who was a stage artiste. I'm proud of being the son of someone who's loved by millions. I'm careful not to choose roles similar to the ones he played because they had a lot of drama in them. His power over the audiences was remarkable. I've never tried to imitate him not only because it's not easy, but I have always wanted to have a distinct identity of my own.

It's easier becoming a star than maintaining that position. What are the pressures you feel?

You are right. As I watch the success of “Raam” I feel anxious about my next film “Prithvi”, which is an absolute contrast. It's easy to say that we have to take success and failure in our stride, but it's very difficult to digest the latter. I'm more thrilled for my producer and the distributors. The audience can make everyone happy. I aim at films which are loved by the common man. My brother Raghavendra is my moral strength and we suggest changes only in the discussion stage and not after shooting starts.

Will the new rules of shrinking budgets and actor's salaries help?

All that will not help. What we need is discipline which is what our father instilled in us. When it comes to money, producers should sign a star they can afford. If everyone involved does his job correctly and on time there will be no problem. Creativity cannot be controlled by fixed budgets.

You are the highest paid star today in Kannada. What stops you from doing more films?

I cannot do two films simultaneously because I get confused. Personally speaking, I'm not that good an actor. I'm very scared about what I do. I always thank the associate directors who help me. I work hard because I want to safeguard my producer's money.