Puneeth Rajkumar, Kannada film actor who died on Friday sending shock waves across the State, was on screen most of his life as he made his debut when he was six months old. He had an emotional connect with the audience that was rare in a star-driven industry.
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His appeal as a leading actor across all age groups — from children to octogenarians — probably had its roots in how he literally grew up in front of the audience over the years and how he consciously kept to the legacy of his father, Dr. Rajkumar, in his choice of films as well as how he came across as a person.
“His down-to-earth personality and humility endeared him to many,” said film critic and historian K. Puttaswamy. His stint in television by hosting ‘Kannadada Kotyadhipati’ introduced him more intimately to the Kannada audience as a person that he was.
Of his three sons, Dr. Rajkumar promoted Puneeth (then called Lohith) the most, producing several films and starring in them himself. “The family considered him a child prodigy and was keen on promoting him. Films such as Yarivanu , Bhakta Prahlada , Eradu Nakshatragalu , and Bettada Hoovu were produced explicitly to promote Puneeth,” recounted senior film-maker Bhagavan. He went on to win a national award and two State awards for best child artist. The many songs he sang as a child artist endeared him to people, especially given that he was the son of Dr. Rajkumar who was also a singer-actor.
Most bankable star
After his stint as a child artist, Puneeth took a break from films only to re-emerge as a lead actor in 2002 with the film Appu and grew to be one of the most bankable stars of Kannada cinema in the last two decades.
He acted as a lead actor in 29 films since then, with his last release being Yuvarathnaa . His collaborations with directors ‘Duniya’ Soori, Yogaraj Bhat, Jacob Varghese, and ‘Milana’ Prakash were looked forward to and produced big hits. Appu,Arasu,Milana,Jackie,Prithvi,Paramaatma, and Raajakumaara were some of his biggest hits.
“He is one of those who sustained the industry and contributed to making its baseline healthy. His films always drew family audiences and had very high success rates,” said K.V. Chandrashekhar, president, Karnataka Film Exhibitors’ Association.
Dr. Puttaswamy said Puneeth was always very conscious of the films he starred in and was in many ways “a chip of the old block” in the footsteps of his father in terms of his passion for cinema, professionalism, and selection of films. “Youths were drawn to him for his dancing skills and action sequences. But even his action sequences were never very violent. He consciously stayed away from ‘rowdyism films’, endearing himself to family audiences,” he observed. “But not many directors explored his talent, except in some films such as Prithvi,” he lamented.
Turning producer and encouraging new wave cinema, he had teamed up with Lucia- fame indie film-maker Pawan Kumar for a movie. Puneeth was probably on the cusp of reinventing himself as an actor too with this film, before his life was cut short.
Born: March 17, 1975, Chennai
Youngest of the five children of Dr. Rajkumar and Parvathamma Rajkumar
Earlier name: Lohith
As a child artist
Debut: As a six-month-old in Premada Kanike, starring Dr. Rajkumar
He was part of 14 films as a child artiste till 1989
Key films: Bhoomige Banda Bhagavanta, Chalisuva Modagalu, Bhakta Prahlada, Eradu Nakshatragalu, Bettada Hoovu
National award: Best Child Actor (Male) – Bettada Hoovu (1985)
State awards: Best Child Actor – Chalisuva Modagalu (1983)
Best Child Actor: Eradu Nakshatragalu (1984)
Best Child Actor (Male): Bettada Hoovu (1985)
As a lead actor
Debut: Appu (2002) directed by Puri Jagannadh
Acted in 29 films as the lead actor since then
Key films: Appu, Abhi, Arasu, Milana, Prithvi, Jackie, Paramathma, Anna Bond, Mythri, Doddmane Hudga, Raajakumara, Yuvarathnaa
Two films under production: James, directed by Chetan Kumar; Dvitva directed by Pawan Kumar
State film awards:
Best Actor: Milana (2008)
Best Actor: Jackie (2011)
Best Actor (Male): Arasu - 2007
Best Actor (Male): Hudugaru - 2011
Best Actor (Male): Rana Vikrama - 2015
Best Actor (Male): Raajakumara - 2017
As a producer: PRK Productions
Kavaludaari - 2019, Mayabazar 2016 - 2020, Law - 2020, French Biriyani - 2020
Under production: Family Pack, One Cut Two Cut An Flower Is Came
As a singer
Debut: ‘Baana Daariyalli Soorya Jaari Hoda...’ – Bhagyavantha , 1981
‘Kaanadante Maayavadanu Namma Shiva...’ – Chalisuva Modagalu, 1982
‘Nanna Udupu Ninnadu, Ninna Udupu Nannadu’ – Eradu Nakshatragalu, 1983
‘Kannige Kaanuva Devaru Amma Taane…’ – Yarivanu, 1984
‘Bisile Irali, Maleye Barali Kaadalli Medalli Aleve...’ – Bettada Hoovu, 1985
‘Taliban Alla Alla..Bin Laden Allave Alla...’ – Appu, 2002
‘Jote Jotheyali Preeti Joteyali...’ – Vamshi, 2008
‘Hosa Gaana Bajaana…” – Ram, 2009
‘Oorinda Odi Banda Joginoo Alla Rii...’ – Mylari, 2010
‘Janak Janak Mana Dole...’ – Run Antony, 2016