Puneeth Rajkumar Tribute: Meeting The Power Star As A School Student
Puneeth Rajkumar passed away on Friday after being hospitalised for a heart attack.
Every morning and evening for nearly a year, in 2002, I recklessly danced to ‘Baare, Baare Kalyana Mantapakke Baa’ and ‘Taliban Alla Alla,’ from the movie Appu, in a moving school van. And that’s how I first met Puneeth Rajkumar.
I had, of course, watched him dash his way through the glitz and glamor as a child actor in the older movies where he had shared screen space with his father, Rajkumar. But the newfound interest in his second stint in the film industry was unmatchable. He was no longer a little kid; he had become a bona fide star.
With each of his films from then on, Abhi (2003), Veera Kannadiga (2004), and Maurya (2004), his stature grew. And then something happened, a turning point in my life, if you will, which I’m going to elaborate upon in the next few paragraphs.
I met Puneeth for the second time, albeit for real, in 2005. After half a day at school (it was a Saturday), while I was trudging back home with a friend, we found out that Puneeth was hanging around Kadu Malleshwara temple, in Malleswaram.
Without wasting another moment, we ran toward the destination to catch the star in action. And as expected, he was there for a shoot. He was patiently taking cues from a choreographer for the song ‘Hodi Hodi’ from Aakash. There were too many people on the street, folks like us, who had arrived in dozens to feast on the presence of Puneeth and Ramya in flesh and blood.
‘Hodi Hodi,’ as you know is an upbeat track, so the mood on the set was naturally enthusiastic. Since my friend and I were small (we were 12-year-olds then), we squeezed our way in by shouting, “Uncle, jaaga bidi, uncle jaaga bidi (Uncle, step aside, uncle step aside),” and made it to the front of the crowd. All of us were made to stand in a circle and I certainly enjoyed whatever was unfolding before me. The crowd, too, had a similar feeling because now and again, there’d be waves of clapping and cries of joy.
The assistants, however, had a tough time since they were burdened with the task of keeping the crowd in check. After what seemed like an hour, Puneeth approached us and shook our hands. I was too shy and nervous. I honestly had no idea what to tell him. And as the adults around me started yelling, “Autograph, autograph,” I was ready to slip away from the crowd.
Obviously, this incident occurred before the era of selfies descended upon us. And having spotted my perplexed face from a distance, he told an assistant, “Makkalanna modhalu mundhe bidi (Let the kids come in first).” He went out of his way to make kids, like me, feel safe. If he hadn’t stepped in at the right time, we could have ended up getting hurt – as the noonday wore on, the crowd started getting unruly.
Perhaps, that’s why he’s adored across the state – and the nation – so much. He genuinely cared about the well-being of the people around him. And having earned the privilege of jumping the queue, I fished for a decent-looking book from my backpack and naively picked up my rough notebook and handed it to him.
He smiled at me warmly and turned to the last page and signed his name. While he was at it, he asked me what grade I was in, what school I was going to, and did I love his movies. The conversation didn’t last longer than a minute and yet I remember each word he uttered as though it happened yesterday.
I returned home with a grin so big that my parents thought I was up to some mischief and heaved a sigh of relief only after I doled out some information regarding the facts of the day. And, later in school, for a brief amount of time, my friend and I turned into some sort of local heroes, as we tom-tommed about shaking hands with Puneeth.
To this day, ‘Hodi, Hodi,’ remains a special song in my head and Puneeth Rajkumar remains the only celebrity that I’ve been starstruck by.
If you want to understand his star power, you can watch the many blockbusters that he’s been a part of – Jackie (2010), Hudugaru (2011), Raajakumara (2017), etc. But if you want to know the person behind the star, you should watch his interviews. That’s where you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of his real-self.
And apart from the action entertainers that he had built his career upon as a protagonist, I always had an eye on the movies he produced – Kavaludaari (2019), French Biriyani (2020). They were quirky and fun.
It brings me great sadness to speak about him in the past tense. This isn’t how I thought I’d bid him farewell. It feels like we lost him in a blink. And the loss is truly, madly, deeply unbearable. I wish I still had the notebook that had his autograph. It disappeared while moving houses a decade ago. I wish we all had a lot more time with him on and off the screen.
I wish we could dance to his songs in school vans, in college auditoriums, in wedding halls, knowing well that he’s out there, safe and sound. I wish.
Rest in Power, Puneeth! It was great meeting you. And thank you for the memories and the movies.
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