N. MANU CHAKRAVARTHY
Kannada matinee idol, Rajkumar, was clearly a victim of the spirit of his times
A megastar is clearly a product of the times and in him are situated the dreams, desires, aspirations and even the will of the people. In a sense, the great hero symbolises the varied expectations of the people forcing him to play different roles both as an actor and a human being. The double bind is set forever. Different groups of people look up to the star for fulfilment of their own emotional needs, thereby making it obligatory for the hero to portray all kind of roles — ranging from a lover boy, a saint, a king, a noble politician to an effective secret service agent. The hero is the universal paradigm capable of being everything. This is an attempt to historicize the gradual emergence of Rajkumar in the context of Kannada films and Karnataka's cultural life.
A crucial qualification needs to be made while dealing with the star phenomenon. As far as the superstars of the Tamil, Telugu and Kannada films are concerned, all the superstars, with the lone exception of MGR, be it Sivaji Ganesan, N.T. Rama Rao, Nageshwara Rao or Rajkumar have exhibited pronounced histrionic talents capturing the imagination of their respective communities. . Rajkumar represents the consolidation of various cultural and political upheavals in the erstwhile Mysore State and the present day Karnataka. Rajkumar who begins his film career without a strong ideological consciousness gets drawn into crucial political and cultural debates because of historical exigencies and cannot escape becoming an icon. Because of these compulsions, the path of the actor branches out in several directions compelling him to play roles not quite matching his basic temperament. It also explains the loss of direction and the disappearance of an organic perspective as far as the Kannada Film Industry is concerned, which, trying to capitalise on the superstar's public image, gives up fundamental political and cultural questions. Interestingly enough, the story of Muthuraj becoming Dr. Rajkumar is also, in a broad sense, the history of mainstream Kannada films. The fading away of Udayakumar and Kalyan Kumar, the unleashing of a Kannada consciousness and the absence of a megastar to match the towering presence of MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, NTR and Nageshwara Rao and the pleasing image of Rajkumar produced the ideal situation for the emergence of the film star as an icon. It will have to be conceded that the need for an icon was a great cultural necessity.
Man of the moment
Rajkumar emerged as a product of the times, symbolising the aspirations of the people. The ethos of all that was captured in Rajkumar's 100th film Bhagyada Bagilu where the superstar declared his omnipresence with the song Naane Rajakumara... Kannada Thaayiya Premada Kuvara" (I am Rajkumar, the lovable son of mother Kannada), which continues to announce his intentions of wiping injustice away and establishing truth and justice in the land. Another historical event that boosted Rajkumar's image as a cultural icon was the Gokak movement. Rajkumar was at the head of the movement, the actual culmination of his position as a superstar and a cultural icon. The spirit of the times was at work yet again in the life of the hero of the masses. But there is an element of sadness, that is connected with Rajkumar the actor. It also explains the crisis that the Kannada Film Industry faces today. Rajkumar's acting career can be roughly divided into three phases, which mark three important stages of the Kannada film world too. As an actor, Rajkumar — especially during this first phase — is a product of a particular tradition of acting, which believed in exaggerated gestures and dialogue delivery. The style of acting comes from the theatre, which believed in rhetoric and flourish. Rajkumar revelled in such roles where exaggeration was natural and innocent too. Portraying Ranadheera Kanteerava, Sri Krishnadevaraya or even the anti-hero rakshasa Hiranya Kashipu was done within a specific, stylised structure where modern canons of acting did not operate sharply. On the other hand, one did notice a variation, where the high mimetic mode softened quite a bit, when Rajkumar played the roles of Santa Tukaram, Raghavendra Swamy, Sathya Harishchandra... where "bhakti" became central. The element of bhakti was part of the cultural ethos of Rajkumar and the portrayal of saints and ardent devotees of the Lord again operated within the parameters of the indigenous cultural system. It is in such roles that one can behold elements of innocence and authenticity in Rajkumar.