The ?Maryada Purushotham?
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The ?Maryada Purushotham?

Dr Rajkumar did for Kannada what many of us could not. He reached the lowest of low and gave a feeling that (their) primary identity is of a Kannada speaker, writes Dr UR Ananthamurthy.

india Updated: Apr 16, 2006 00:13 IST

Dr Rajkumar did for Kannada what many of us writers of Karnataka could not. He reached the lowest of low and gave a feeling that (their) primary identity is of a Kannada speaker. This is a very difficult thing to achieve in Karnataka because, unlike Bengalis, we do not think of ourselves as Kannada speakers. Tamil speaking people too have caste feelings, but they are united politically and by the love for Tamil. I would say, historically, in the 20th century, such a need was felt by all our poets and writers. And, such a need was fulfilled more effectively by Dr Rajkumar and his films than by any of us. He could reach the semi-literate and the illiterate.

Compared to the acting of other great South Indian actors like the late MG Ramachandran, the late NT Rama Rao and the late Sivaji Ganeshan, Dr Rajkumar was a more sombre actor. There was less melodrama in his films. All the films of MGR were versions of Ramayana, and that was true of Dr Rajkumar too. But the hero who triumphs in Ramayana is more like the ‘maryada purushotham’, more human and more vulnerable. Thus, the values that the middle class cherish and the lower classes aspire for were embodied by him in is films. And, his rise to fame from the late 1950s coincided with the formation of the state of Mysore (now Karnataka).

Dr Rajkumar excelled in both social and mythological films. A student of cinema can perceive a certain relationship between the two. There’s a mythological dimension to his social films and a social relevance to his mythological movies. What’s extraordinary is that as a person whom we met in public life, he tried to look like an ordinary person dressed in a white shirt and dhoti. He never tried to cover his bald head. He was still Muthuraj, a dropout from primary school, who worked hard to become the actor that he was. This was not true of either MGR or NTR.

I have heard that MGR would come to a political meeting without washing off the grease paint, while NTR was an actor even in politics. He (NTR) once said that he could combine the truthfulness of Rama and the strategy of Krishna in his political role. But when an ordinary man saw Dr Rajkumar in public, he would wonder, “Is this the same man we see in films as a romantic hero and a mythological demigod?” The people of Karnataka preferred their actor to be so simple in public life and at the same time extraordinary in his acting.

There is something distinct about the temperament of Kannadigas. Dr Rajkumar never entered politics, but he had more following than any mass leader of Karnataka. The neighbouring Tamil Nadu had a Rajaji and a Kamaraj in politics before the cultural figures of DMK emerged on the screen. But I must say that Kannadigas did not have a leader of that stature and many people hoped that Dr Rajkumar would take up that place. He refused to. He was an extremely private person in some way and genuinely tried to be a good actor. He could sing the keerthanas of our dasas in a way that anyone with a good voice could imitate. He made everyone feel that he was a reachable figure for the common man.

A few months ago, I sat by his side at a public meeting, when he confessed to me that he was never happy with his own acting in any movies except the one on Raghavendra Swamy. I wondered whether it was a statement coming from his devotional nature or an aesthetic statement.

Now the question about violence and frenzy after his death. All the people who loved him felt that Dr Rajkumar belonged to them.They could grudgingly accommodate his own family. But, when I watched the television, I had a feeling that they felt restless and angry at all the political figures, whom they suspect, had gathered around his body at his house. His abhimanigala sangha (fans association) is not a well disciplined or organised group, essentially because the actor was not interested in turning it (the association) into political strength.

The state government should have moved his body to a place well thought out, but the officers took time to do that. They could have placed his portraits in every mohalla for people to pay symbolic homage.

I cannot forget a young man in the suburbs telling a TV channel that he too would donate his eyes just as Dr Rajkumar did. This is a very important aspect of his influence over his abhimanis (fans). But in a group like that, there could be others who admire him for his success and fame. Since these abhimanis were denied a chance to pay respects to the body of Dr Rajkumar, they must have taken to violence. All such riots, anywhere in the world, are irrational. But perhaps, it was not as bad as it could have been. This might be because many of his abhimanis contained themselves.

Personally, I feel sorry for the plight of the policemen. They tried hard, as we could see on the TV. I feel that party politics has entered into the great sorrow over the loss of Dr Rajkumar. Rather than blame one another, we should learn to handle such a situation in future and learn from our mistakes.

Our politicians are extremely short sighted. Instead of mutual mud slinging, they could channelise a cultural hunger of ordinary people, which was apparent in the admiration for Dr Rajkumar, and the need to strengthen Kannada as the language of the state. I suggest a great campaign for total literacy in Karnataka, which can be launched on the goodwill that Dr Rajkumar has created.

(The writer is an author, based in Bangalore.)

First Published: Apr 15, 2006 22:12 IST