It was the year 1954. H.L.N. Simha was directing “Bedara Kannappa”, the first film of Rajkumar at Golden Studio in Madras. A 19-year shop owner from Chikkaballapura with a Kodak Brownie camera went to the sets without any preparation and clicked four frames even before anyone could take objection. The pictures were published in the Kannada magazine, “Gokula”. Ever since, he has followed Rajkumar and has taken his pictures for five decades. He has a rare collection of over 6,000 negatives, depicting various facets of legendary actor.
The 75-year-old Bhavani Lakshminarayan of ‘Bhavani Studio', Chikkaballapura, is all set to celebrate the 83rd birthday of the late thespian. Karnataka Chalanachitra Academy has organised “Dr. Rajkumar-Chitra-Chittara” — a three-day exhibition of 100 pictures of Lakshminarayan will be inaugurated by Puneet Rajkumar today. Lakshminarayan, has not only taken pictures of Rajkumar, but also of several other cine and theatre personalities of Indian cinema including, N.T. Rama Rao, Akkineni Nageshwara Rao, Kantharao, Gummadi, Relangi, Jamuna, Sharada, S.P. Balasubrahamanyam, Shatrughna Sinha, Pradeep Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Vyjayanthimala Bali, Hemamalini, Aruna Irani, Reena Roy, former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalithaa and others. He has a collection of over 40,000 negatives and has preserved them with great difficulty. He is the first photographer who did a portrait of actors Jayanthi and Vishnuvardhan, way back in their initial years. There is an interesting story on what made Lakshminarayan take to the camera. In 1952, Lakshminarayan started a small shop. An incense stick company that was producing ‘Pratima Snow' offered a Kodak Brownie camera costing Rs.16.50 for selling 12 dozens of their product. Lakshminarayana sold 12 dozens and got the camera. With no formal training in photography, he used this camera to train himself and Nandi Hills was his training ground. He bought a better camera on gaining confidence and Lakshminarayan gradually started turning up at film shootings. Recalling his first assignment, Lakshminarayana says: “Nandi hills was a major attraction and film makers from Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Malayalam were frequenting the place because of its beautiful locales. B. Yoganand, a Tamil and Telugu film director was doing a film and B. Saroja Devi was in the lead role. I took her pictures and sent it to the magazine Janapragati, and I was in seventh heaven when it appeared on their cover page!” During those days, still photography had not developed and magazines would publish pictures taken by Lakshminarayan. He received appreciation both from artistes and magazine editors. Handing over the job of the studio to his brothers, Lakshminarayan started touring places including Madras, Bombay, Bangalore and Mysore and taking pictures. Regardless of remuneration, he continued with his mission. “I was sending pictures without anticipating money. Many artistes complemented my work and I developed a personal rapport with them,” he says with a smile. Lakshminaraya maintained close relation with N.T. Rama Rao until his death; during his second film he even did an interview with the actor. He had taken many pictures of Jayalalitha during her film years, and has preserved the letters of appreciation from her mother. When actor Jamuna got married, he arranged for her stay in Nandi and shot pictures of the couple.
Lakshminarayan has even taken photographs of literary stalwarts like Aa.Na.Kru, Ta. Ra. Su, Niranjana, Beechi and others. “I have lost quite a few because I have no adequate space to preserve them.” When “Mannina Maga” completed 100 days, Lakshminarayan wanted to organise a function in Chikkaballapura. Despite opposition from the industry, Rajkumar attended the function, Gubbi Veeranna and Jayamma were there as well. After the release of “Ranadheera Kanteerava”, Rajkumar and friends had run into financial crisis. They used to stage plays for their livelihood in Chikkaballapura. “Rajkumar, Narasimharaju, Balakrishna, G.V. Iyer, K.S. Ashwath, and Ramachandra Shastry used to visit our studio and stay here from morning till evening,” he remembers. “I always enjoyed taking mood pictures of Rajkumar. Even after Veerappan released Rajkumar I met him and he shared lot of things with me,” he remembers.
Rajkumar is his “god”, and the exhibition is a tribute to the actor and friend who showered affection on Lakshminarayan.
A three-day exhibition of Lakshminarayan's photographs of Rajkumar will be on at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath till April 24, between 10.30 a.m. and 7 p.m.