CINEMA Wife of the Kannada film icon Rajkumar, Parvathamma Rajkumar, walked with him like his shadow for 50-odd years. A woman of sturdy will and amazing poise, she says her life was defined by the great actor DEEPA GANESH
L et us say the last first. The stage will be set, things will fall into place, and our perceptions will have a guiding light.
“Samarasave Jeevana,” says Parvathamma Rajkumar, towards the end of our conversation. Quoting poet Da. Ra. Bendre, wife of the late Kannada actor Dr. Rajkumar, Parvathamma summed up her five-decade life with her husband — harmony is life. “Nothing was more important to me than the well being of my husband and children. I discovered that I could go to any length to keep my home intact. My husband was like one of my children. That's how I took care of him…,” trails of Parvathamma, standing before a huge picture of the thespian in the middle of their drawing room. She caresses the picture lovingly, and closes her eyes in prayer. “This is my everyday ritual,” she says to the background of a camera clicking away furiously.
It is unsaid; but is made very clear. Parvathamma is the centre of the story and Dr. Rajkumar the biggest star of Kannada cinema unfolds strictly through her viewpoint. Having recognised this, it is not farfetched to believe that she played a big role in stage managing the image of this Kannada icon. Gutsy and strong-willed, and by her own admission — “the word fear is not in my dictionary” — Parvathamma was certainly the Indira Nooyi of the film word.
Extremely courteous, Parvathamma sinks slowly into her favourite chair in the guest room, her mind racing back to when she was a seven year old girl. “My father and father-in-law were very dear friends. When I was born, my father-in-law came to see me, placed a silver coin in the cradle and apparently vowed to make me his daughter-in-law. I had no clue about this exchange of promises. I used to be very fond of this uncle and aunt, who later became my in-laws, and would be overjoyed when they came to stay with us,” she recalls with a mild smile.
“I think I first saw him when I was seven,” Parvathamma remembers seeing Rajkumar on her visit to Chamarajanagar where the Gubbi Theatre Company was camping then. Like any other young boy of his age, Rajkumar was also fond of cycling. He lifted her up to put her on the front bar and sped off to the Yediyur fair. He had bought her green stone earrings. “Don't tell anyone that I bought it for you,” he had told her rather sternly. It wasn't then so much a gift of love, it was more an act of concern — Parvathamma wasn't wear earrings at that time. “I went home and forgot about him. School, home, studies… ” A very good student, she excelled in her studies. Her family was very proud of her, especially her paternal uncle who had dreams of making her a doctor.
By the time she was 13, her mother-in-law began to insist on marriage. Parvathamma's parents implored that their daughter should be allowed to finish her SSLC, but that was not to be. “My mother in law went on a hunger strike. I couldn't bear to see her torment herself. Without realising what it meant, I told my parents that they should get me married if it would make her eat. I was so young, I can't even remember my marriage.”
Rajkumar, as Parvathamma recalls, wasn't too happy to marry this “dark and scrawny” girl. “I was much darker than what I am now. Like kaajal perhaps…” But he wouldn't go against his mother's wishes. “I have no money, how will I feed one more person,” he would often tell his mother. But fortunes did seem to turn: soon after their marriage in 1953, Rajkumar got his first film offer, “Bedara Kannappa”. With the Rs. 800 advance money, he cleared the loans he had raised for his marriage and left for Madras. After a year, Rajkumar was back at the Chitradurga camp of Subbaiah Naidu company. “I joined him there. I didn't know any housework. I just sat around, we would buy breakfast from a nearby hotel, lunch would come from the Company kitchen, and in the evening all the families went to watch plays, I would go along with Narasimharaju's wife. We used to watch the same set of plays, again and again. It was the best time of my life.”
Rajkumar used to play Rama at that time. A whole lot of Konkani Brahmins who lived in Chitradurga turned up diligently for the performance, offered their prayers before the play started, and next morning they would turn up at Rajkumar's house with the choicest dishes. “It took me a long time to figure out what was happening. I would have barely opened my eyes, and they would be at our doorstep, with my husband receiving all their offerings with the graciousness of Lord Rama himself. In due course, he unfolded to me as my Rama…,” Parvathamma explains in great detail.
“Bedara Kannappa” didn't change Rajkumar's fortunes. It was a hand to mouth existence in Madras. “But we were happy with what we had. We went to the beach, ate peanuts, had so many friends…When nothing came his way even after several months of waiting, he said lets go back to the Company. I insisted that he should wait for a while more.” As they waited for offers to come, Rajkumar, along with G.V. Iyer, Narasimharaju, Balakrishna, built the Chalanachitra Kalavidara Sangha and went around Karnataka performing plays.
After 1958, gradually, films started coming his way. But there was not much money in the initial days. “We moved to Bangalore in 1972, there were 24 kids at home, ours and our extended family's. It wasn't easy”. In moments of crisis when Parvathamma felt she would crumble, she thought of her father: “Don't ever bring back any of your problems to us. Come what may, struggle, and keep your family intact.” “It would ring in my ears constantly and gave me the courage,” Parvathamma remembers.
Parvathamma followed Rajkumar constantly. Her keen observation, soon gave her the confidence to start Vajreshwari Combines and became the producer of all Rajkumar's films. Recalling her brother-in-law Varadappa who was a big support to her, she says, “Trimurthi was my first film. It was a big success.” With her exhaustive homework, from casting to shooting schedules to finances — Parvathamma took care of everything. “I wanted my husband to look nice so I would choose his costumes as well. It was hectic, but I had support at home, and Rajkumar was very encouraging. I went around in flights everywhere. There would be threatening calls at times, but I never paid heed,” says Parvathamma, with a daunting calm.
It may have been difficult to manage a husband who was so switched off to the world and the demands that were made of him as a superstar. “He was thoroughly involved in his work, always thinking about his roles. I would be greatly moved by his commitment. But he never kept any money in his pocket and didn't want anything to do with it. It was difficult for me. But that's how he liked to be…he always dreamt of going back to theatre.”
After the Veerappan episode, Rajkumar became a ‘mouni'. There was not much emotional strength left in him, and with his dear brother Varadappa's death something snapped within him. “From the beginning to end, Rajkumar remained the same. He was very simple and pure at heart. He needn't have married a dark, thin girl like me… but he did and elevated my life as well…,” she said tearfully.
I didn't know any housework. I just sat around, ate and watched plays