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Puneet Rajkumar : The impeccable aura of the Powerstar continues to dazzle

“He’s a promising kid.” That was what a couple of filmmakers remarked when they saw the 11-year-old. He was receiving the National Film Award for Best Child Artiste for his performance in Bettada Hoovu. That too from the President of the country! The year was 1986.

Sure enough, he went on to become one of the biggest stars in the Kannada film industry. Today, he commands a fan following that can match that of his father, matinee idol Dr Rajkumar. Of the 12 films that Puneet Rajkumar has featured in as hero, since 2002, seven ran for more than 100 days. In the process, he became one of the highest paid stars and clearly the most sought after, which earned him the title of ‘Power Star.’

That was the story so far. Cut to the present. Puneet’s pad in Bangalore. The plush drawing room. An air of excitement mingling with nostalgia as Puneet relives the euphoria of receiving the National Award, as a child “The award did not mean much to me, then. I was far too eager to visit New Delhi since I was told that I will be staying in a star hotel that had a big swimming pool.” Puneet’s face lights up as he remembers his first sampling of Punjabi food. “At the awards ceremony itself, there was a whole galaxy of stars. Those pictures are etched so vividly in my mind. Only when I turned 15 did I realise what an honour it was to receive the award,” he reminisces.

Not many National Award winning child artistes have grown up to become stars in the big league. But for Puneet, acting came naturally. Likewise, opportunities literally fell at his feet. At least, initially. As a child artiste, Puneet acted in 10 films between 1976 and 1989, nine of them with his father as his favorite son, even on screen.

Eradu Nakshatragalu (Two Stars), directed by Singeetam Sreenivasa Rao, required a child artiste and the role seemed tailor-made for Puneet. This was probably the first and the only Kannada film in which a child artiste played a dual role. The high point of Puneet’s career as a young star in the making was Bettada Hoovu (Mountain Flower) for which he won the National Award. Ironically enough, this was the only film in which Rajkumar did not figure!

Parashurama, released in 1989, was the last film in Puneet’s career as a child artiste. By then, the skinny lad was in his early teens and packing in the pounds with gusto.

Around the same time, Puneet’s elder brothers Shivarajkumar (Shivanna) and Raghavendra Rajkumar (Raghanna) made a grand entry on the Kannada film screen as lead artistes. Puneet grew up watching Shivanna’s roaring success.

“Though I enjoyed my life as a child artiste, I never imagined that I would make a career out of acting. There came a point when it had to happen, and I decided to take the plunge. Raghanna is responsible for shaping up my career. Even today, he takes all the important decisions for me after listening to the script,” shares Puneet.

In 2002, Puneet made a sensational debut as lead actor with the Puri Jagannath directed Appu (incidentally, also his nick name, as called by his father.) It ran for more than 175 days across many theatres in Karnataka. The music was also a big hit. Even today, radio stations in Bangalore continue playing tracks from Appu.

A lot of work went behind Puneet’s big entry as a star. He shed oodles of weight, learnt stunts and dance. Then again, consider his biggest advantage – he was the pampered son of Rajkumar, who enjoyed demigod status among his fans. To cut the story short, he could not have asked for a better debut.

The actor today still remains firmly attached to his roots. “Whenever I try to gauge the popularity that my father enjoyed in Kannada cinema, I become overwhelmed. Even now, in every nook and corner people adore him, worship him. It gives me immense satisfaction when people recognise me as his son. He will remain a legend forever.”

We hear that Dr Rajkumar was apparently very keen on having Puneet try his luck as an actor. “I wish my father was with us to see my success. I am sure he would have been overjoyed. I miss him very much,” Puneet shares.

Indeed. And is he following his father’s footsteps? “Well, irrespective of the story-line or character, I do not want my fans to be disappointed when they walk out of the theatre. I want them to enjoy my films.” Something that Dr Rajkumar ensured so effortlessly. In terms of breaking moulds, Puneet is hungry for variety. “But it has to do justice to the script,” he reasons.

As far as variety goes, he played the role of a college kid, an angry young man and romantic hero with considerable success. Check out the recent Raaj – The Showman. The film completed 50 days of screening, while his latest film Raam with Priyamani also rocked the box office.
Till his demise, Rajkumar termed his fans as gods. The son seems to be following his footsteps on this count. Small wonder that Puneet’s fan following is the largest in Karnataka these days. He has a difficult time shooting in public places and gets mobbed easily. “I feel blessed whenever fans meet me. The affection that they have showered on me and my family is invaluable,” comes an easy admission from him.
But the superstar believes his best is yet to come: “It has been a fantastic journey so far. But there is a lot more to come. I have a long way to go…” Apart from his father, Puneet admires later Kannada actor Shankar Nag, Rajnikanth and Big B, among others. “They are unparalleled and unique. Also, given a chance, I would love to work with all the young crop of directors”

Female actors yearn to star alongside Puneet, since success is instant and guaranteed! So far, Ramya has managed to act in three films with Puneet. Priyamani chose to act with him for her Kannada debut. Priyanka Kothari was especially selected for Raaj – The Showman. Others include Pooja Gandhi, Meera Jasmine, Parvathi Menon, Hansika Motwani and Gowri Munjal.