In starry footsteps

like father, like son

Puneet Rajkumar has come a long way. Starting off as a child artiste, he is today a two-time winner of the Karnataka State Film Award for Best Actor; his most recent award was for his portrayal of an honest government officer in ‘Prithvi’. S Nanda kumar speaks to the star on his celluloid journey so far.

Puneet Rajkumar is currently in the spotlight. He walked away with the 2010-11 State Award for Best Actor for his role of an honest government officer fighting a corrupt political system in Prithvi.

Puneet was self-effacing — a quality that reminds one of his father Dr Rajkumar — when he spoke about the award. “Of course I feel very happy and proud. But, I must give all the credit to the director (Jacob Varghese).

It was, after all, his baby,” he said, just before his departure to Hong Kong for the picturisation of a song for ‘Duniya’ Soori’s latest venture, Anna Bond. Despite the hectic, day-long shooting schedule, scores of well-wishers descending on the sets to congratulate him, and hundreds of telephone calls, coupled with numerous newspaper and television interviews, the actor bubbled with energy, enthusiasm and wit that was infectious.

Asked if the film gave viewers an inkling of hope in this depressingly corrupt political and social system, the actor reflected for a moment. After a couple of beats, he said, “It was an amazing thing — a person who had seen the film came and told me that before seeing Prithvi, he had wanted his son to be either an engineer or a doctor, but after watching the film, he said he was determined that his son should join government service. I think that was the biggest compliment I have received.”

On that particular award-winning role, Puneet said that he had some small doubts initially, about essaying the role. “I am normally not a very formal person. The way I speak in the film is not my usual style. I am much faster in speech and movements. I was wondering if I could do full justice to the role,” he elaborated. So, did that mean that roles were generally tailor-made for him, I asked, since that was another debate I had had with another senior actor a few weeks ago: on whether actors should be chosen for the role, or whether roles should be written for actors?

“No, no, I understand what you’re getting at. I don’t look at it like that. All I look for is that the role should be well defined and should thrill me. The audience should get something good out of it too. Basically, it should be a good story,” he said very simply, “This one in Prithvi was quite challenging, so I took it.”

He said he had got a great response to his role in Prithvi. “I wouldn’t like to mention names, but I got very good feedback from top Hindi, Malayalam and Tamil filmmakers. I even got some good offers.” I quickly interject to ask if he had accepted any of those offers. He gently laughed it off, but added on a serious note, “I would love to play some good roles in other languages. But Kannada is my language and I am very comfortable working in it.”

Starting early

Puneet was introduced to the Kannada film world as Master Lohit. Although he first appeared on screen when he was a six-month-old baby (Premada Kanike) and as a one-year-old child (Sanaadi Apanna), he grabbed public attention for his roles as a child artiste in Bhakta Prahlada, Eradu Nakshatragalu, Hosa Belaku, Chalisuva Modagalu and other films. He got the National Award for the Best Child Actor for Bettada Hoovu (1985).

Just as I began to remark that it would be safe to say that he had received early training in the world of films, Puneet laughed and cut in, “Not at all! I always say this when so many people refer to my films as a child-actor as some kind of a training school. It was just one of the ways of getting away from school, a ‘time-pass’, and having a good time with my father! I am the youngest child of my parents and my father always wanted to have me around him, that’s about it.”

But, I continued, it probably made him comfortable with the camera and working in front of so many people. “That’s another funny thing — when I did a film called Parashurama with my dad, I was very scared. I was 13-years-old. It was very embarrassing. I am actually a very shy person, I am not comfortable working in front of too many people!”

He adds that this shyness still continues, “This is especially true when I am abroad and running around trees. But I can’t help it. It is my profession, so I have learnt to enjoy it.” Coming from an actor who is always surrounded by technicians and fans, the fact that he was still fighting shyness was quite a revelation.

The young Puneet, as Master Lohit, sang quite a few Kannada film songs, and perhaps one of the most popular tunes was Kanadanthe mayavadanu from Chalisuva Modagalu. But once again the cheerful actor sprang a surprise when I mentioned that this meant he must be very fond of singing. “Not really!” he exclaimed. He was amused by my exclamation of disbelief. “Not even now. Of course, I have recently sung songs for Yogi (Yograj Bhat) and Ganesh, but I am still really working on it.”

One inescapable fact is that Puneet, like his brothers, has always been in the shadow of the great Dr Rajkumar. I wondered how this felt, to always have this link to the inimitable idol of the Kannada film world. “It feels great. Even today, when young boys who are hardly six or seven-years-old remark that I am ‘Annavara maga’, it is a great feeling.”

Directorial dreams

Perhaps the day might not be far when this energetic actor turns to direction. “Yes, I have had a great passion for direction for a long, long time. I may not take it up immediately, maybe four or five years later.” Does this mean he chipped in with his own suggestions when he was acting in a role? He was emphatic in his reply, “No, never. It is all left to the director. Before the film begins, when we discuss the role, I may have some suggestions. But, never after work on a film begins.”

After numerous films, and many hits at the box-office, Puneet must be a satisfied man; I prod, trying to get a fix on the psyche of this effervescent talker. Once again, the gentle laugh came into play, “No, I am never satisfied, I have never been satisfied with my roles. In fact, I never see my films too many times. I see so many flaws. The only thing I can say I am completely satisfied about is my wife and my two kids.”

Puneet is now a popular anchor on Kannadada Kotyadhipathi, the Kannada version of the popular Kaun Banega Crorepati, which he said he enjoyed doing. He struck a down-to-earth note when I talked about the future. “Well, you never know with an actor; one can never say how long one can last.” With 17 films behind him as a lead actor, and almost all of them having crossed a 100 days in the theatres, his fans are looking forward to his next film, Anna Bond, which is due to be released on April 26th. After this conversation with him, one thing is clear — this man is full of surprises.

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