Rajkumar, the biggest icon of Kannada cinema, is no more. The 77-year-old actor, fondly called Annavru by his fans, will live on in the mind of every Kannadiga for the values he upheld and his unflagging love for Kannada
"Aaadisuvaata besara moodi, aata mugisida, sutrava harida gombeya muridu mannagisida... " This song from Kasturi Nivasa, picturised on the iconic Rajkumar, seems like the defining song of his life — a song that propounds the Karma theory of Indian philosophy.For the Kannadigas who literally worshipped Rajkumar, this is not an easy moment. It is traumatic to come to terms with the death of a man who had merged into the collective consciousness of every Kannadiga. As against other film stars in the South with acting careers of over 600 films, Rajkumar's career of 206 films is not an incredible feat, especially considering that it spans over five decades. But what makes Rajkumar unusual is the fact that he, during his long career, acted just in Kannada films (excepting Kalahasti Mahatma, the Telugu version of Bedara Kannappa), though in the early years of his career he did have offers from other south Indian languages. Unlike his contemporaries, he never drifted.
In his illustrious career, Rajkumar has done a wide range of roles, beginning from social dramas to mythologicals to devotionals to historicals to musicals and was equally competent in each of these roles. He grew to larger-than-life proportions and became Annavru for all, the film industry and the general public.Recognising the power he wielded on the masses, successive State Governments have acknowledged his supremacy and instinctively turned to him for guidance and advice. It is not often that one sees a film actor wielding such an awesome clout, in both political and cultural circles. Rajkumar is among the very few individuals who is both a singer and an actor, in Indian film industry and abroad. The other person who shares this credit with the thespian is K.L. Saigal. In fact, in an interview with this correspondent, he had even admitted to the fact that Saigal was a great source of inspiration for him. The actor never shied away from admitting that he was a school dropout. But for someone who did not have any academic grooming, Rajkumar was a great lover of Kannada poetry. Verses of the great Kannada poets was something that came very naturally to him. In fact, even in times of great adversity, for instance when the forest brigand Veerappan had kept him captive, he generously quoted Allama and Basava, the radical thinker-poets of the 12th Century. Almost making it seem like he drew all his sustenance from the grand literary heritage of Kannada. Rajkumar, was a great object of admiration for his chaste Kannada diction. His articulation was so unsullied that there hasn't been another Kannada actor who has been able to make the language sound so beautiful. Rajkumar attributed this to the training he had at Gubbi Veeranna's theatre company. His father Singanallur Puttaswamiah was an actor at the company, and Rajkumar and his brother joined as child artistes. He would also say that his sound training in music came from here, under the loving, yet non-compromising gaze of the doyen of Kannada theatre, Gubbi Veeranna. Masses and connoisseurs alike loved the way Rajkumar spoke. Whenever there was a persistent demand from the public to speak, he would address his fans in his inimitable style, "abhimani devarugale", equating them to gods, and would invariably sing a song for them. Most often it would be a song that celebrated Kannada nationalism. He always said to his admirers: "I don't know whether I will ever see God. But for me all those who are assembled here are my Gods." For all the stupendous popularity that Rajkumar gained, he was extremely simple. He was always seen in his trademark white shirt and white dhoti. He never nurtured any ambitions outside his film career. But was ready to plunge into any movement that espoused the Kannada cause. He took the forefront in the agitation to urge the Government to implement the recommendations of Gokak Committee Report. When the movement, which was started by the writers and litterateurs, failed to gain momentum, they appealed to Rajkumar to spearhead the agitation. Of course, that the Government had to accept the recommendations of the committee under his leadership is a different story. Rajkumar's strength was once again demonstrated in 1982, when he fought what was dubbed the "anti-Kannada policy" of the former chief minister Ramakrishna Hegde's Janata Government. Many people thought that Rajkumar would enter politics and ride on his popularity wave. In fact, when Indira Gandhi contested the election from Chikmagalur, post Emergency, the Janata Party wanted Rajkumar to contest against her. But Rajkumar shunned it all and made himself unavailable. Since then he kept all the political parties at a distance. But political parties continued to consult him in any discussion on the film industry. In one of his interviews Rajkumar had given a very clear picture of the purpose of his life. "I am an artiste. I have no time in my life to think of anything else. Politics is the last thing on my mind." The natural that he was, Rajkumar simply chose to renounce everything ambitious. He lived in Bangalore, but his heart was in the place of his birth, Gajanur, on the border of Tamil Nadu. He loved his hometown more than anything else in this world. Following his kidnap, there were restrictions on him to go there, which had pained him immensely. But it only cruel fate that by the time Veerappan died, his health was also deteriorating. And then his family restrained him from travelling. "I enjoy pondering over the days I spent in Gajanur. Given an opportunity, I want to sleep on the small platform surrounding the big banyan tree in my village. Gajanur is my janani and janmabhoomi and so it is swargadapi gariyasi, a place greater than heaven." Before Rajkumar could relive all the simple pleasures that he aspired for, fate has overtaken and lulled him into a permanent sleep.