It was only natural that I was a “fan” of film stars, considering I grew up in a household that watched movies and saw those narratives as part of life. The social construct of a “fan” often eludes analysis. I was a fan of Annavru (Dr. Rajkumar) as a child and veered towards Shankar Nag during my youth. Then came a phase when I began to view films intellectually and my emotional connect with them declined. It was in my middle age that I became a fan of Appu (Puneeth Rajkumar).
He was a “cute presence” in many of Annavru ’s movies as a child artist and had already left a mark in our hearts. In films such as Chalisuva Modagalu we did not admire him just because he was as Annavru ’s son but because of the charming way in which he played the role of a poor, street smart boy. Similar was his role in Eradu Nakshatragalu . The role he played in Bhagyavantha was not merely melodramatic. His execution of the role made us empathise with children in households such as the one depicted in the film and gave Puneeth a warm place in our hearts. He surprised us by emerging as an independent actor outside the shadow of his father in Bettada Hoovu .
When I look back at all his roles from Premada Kanike till Bettada Hoovu , I see a panoramic view of children growing up in ordinary homes in Karnataka. He comes across as a symbol that reflects the reactions of our own children as we show love and impatience by turns amid our daily grind. Annavru ’s fans like me secretly hoped that our own children would grow up street smart like the boy of Bettada Hoovu .
The initial roles he played as a grown-up “hero” somehow did not seem in tune with the Appu we knew. But in films that came after 2005 such as Arasu , Milana , Jackie , Prithvi , Paramatma , and Maithri , he came across as that same familiar boy now all grown up. He was much like the young man in our own homes with all the mischief, confusion, and human longings. We cherished his big, 16-teeth-showing smile.
In television reality shows, Puneeth engaged in conversations with ordinary people with an open heart, without even an iota of the airs we associate with big stars. He was no longer an artificial persona on the silver screen for most of us. I was forever ready to challenge those who saw it all as nothing but a game of advertising and big money. Why be so harshly judgemental when we too are caught up in the same trap of livelihood, I would say in his defence. Puneeth, whom I had never met, had become someone I would fiercely defend.
Though we knew nothing of his social commitment or service, the Appu we saw on our screens had built a deeply emotional connect. The grief we feel today with his passing away is but an extension of it.
(The author is a film enthusiast and critic.)