Puneeth Rajkumar: The last Kannada icon?

Puneeth Rajkumar was a superstar. However, no one could say that he had also become the greatest living icon of Kannada society. The shock and sorrow felt across Karnataka at the news of his tragic death made the truth clear.

Illustrating the unique ways in which the public ego and the private ego remain inseparable in India, the loving respect for Puneeth rested on a meaning for both her on-screen and off-screen character.

With his film characters still young, Puneet’s seriousness towards dance and fight sequences was impossible to miss. While his fit body, hairstyle, and clothes displayed middle-class respectability, his alluring smile and righteous anger left no doubt that his heart stood for the people below. To be a devoted son, brother, friend and lover, to be respectful of the elderly, to be comfortable with religion without being Orthodox, to be proud of the Kannada identity, not to accept social elitism and the Snobbery are among the core virtues that radiate through the characters in the film played by Puneeth for the past two decades.

He was a hero who held his individual passions out of respect for the community. With the virtues he held, he could be trusted not to betray the community in a modern world which threatened its survival and ensure its sustainability. His characters moved through modern landscapes, confidently affirming the virtues that mattered to the Kannada community. They touched on the big themes of honesty, courage, loyalty and social duty, to name a few, at a time when it is quickly becoming out of fashion in the film industry. Puneeth’s films could therefore earn him huge success in towns and cities across the state, even when every film he has made in his adult life takes place in contemporary urban settings.

Also Read: Puneeth Rajkumar to Receive Posthumous Karnataka Ratna Prize

Puneeth’s death instantly recalled the many movie roles he played as a child, many of them alongside his father and legendary movie icon Kannada Rajkumar. The footage from the film and the voice of the child actor recalled the older phase of cinematic fellowship with Puneeth, making the loss of his life deeper.

It should be noted that Puneeth inherited the aura that his father had acquired around him during his life. Indeed, in so many films, the characters played by Puneeth step out of the narrative to announce the actor’s relationship with Rajkumar, momentarily blurring the lines between film and reality and hinting at the thick relationship he has with the community. Kannada through his father, whose films had greatly contributed to the modern Kannada sensorium through their images, songs and dialogues. To recall a poignant example: when someone asks the character of Puneeth if he was a doctor, he responds with a smile: “No. But people used to call my dad a ‘Doctor’. Who knows, in the future they might also call me “Doctor”.

Apart from a few graphic violence films, Puneeth’s films were considered healthy: the whole family, as the common remark goes, could watch them together. Bearing witness to the somewhat relaxed social orthodoxy inside and outside the Kannada film industry, its characters freely ate meat and, on rare occasions, even smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol. And sometimes – in Milana, for example – the community presence in his films might be slim in the tradition of films made in the wake of Yash Chopra Chandni and Lamhe, where the focus is almost entirely on the couple’s romance, with everything else muted.

Puneeth’s anchoring in Kannadada Kotyadipathi, the hit game show on the model Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, and his presence on various public occasions has revealed him as affable, good-natured and down-to-earth, much like the characters he portrays in his films. In Dr Rajkumar: The person behind the personality (Parvathamma Publications, 2012), a charming tabletop book he co-wrote, Puneeth credits his father for instilling these qualities in him from an early age.

Puneeth Rajkumar was in the prime of his life. He was supposed to foster a tradition of low-budget, high-quality Kannada films through his production house. With millions of others, I can only say, “He should have been with us today.

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