Never one to be out of the running despite his advancing years, Rajkumar's appearance on the marquee was always heralded by wolf whistles, unhibited hero worship and mass hysteria -- even for films that have hit the screen after a long hiatus.
For this Padma Bhushan and Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner and the recipient of nearly nine state awards (for the best actor), 10 Filmfare awards and even a national award in the best singer category -- the title of 'Nata Saarvabhowma' (the emperor of acting) conferred by his fans, speaks volumes of the man, considered an undisputed cult figure in Karnataka.
The legend, Mutturaju Singanalluru Puttaswamayya, was born on April 24, 1929 at Gajanur Tamil Nadu before he was christened 'Rajkumar' for the Karnataka celluloid world by director HLN Simha, who discovered the would-be-matinee idol at a bus depot and signed him as a full fledged hero for the film 'Bedara Kannappa' in 1954.
The discovery not only rewrote the destiny of the 25-year-old Muthuraj but also that of the entire film history of the Kannada film world for the next 50 years.
Having inherited his theatre artiste-father Sinanallur Puttaswamaiah's acting genes, his tryst with the grease paint subsequently turned into a successful venture.Rajkumar essayed the role of many a mythological character and a historical figure and carried them with elan, be it Bhakta Kumbara, Satya Harishchandra, Bhaktha Cheta, Bhaktha Kanakadasa, `Ranadheera Kanteerava' (1960) Immedi Pulikesh (1967), Sri Krishnadevaraya (1970) or Mayura (1975). His role as Babruvahana is one that has been etched forever in the memories of filmgoers. The epithet Rajkumar sat snuggly on Muthuraj as he moved from the realm of mythological and historical films of yore to the age of neo-realism; marching along with the times; polishing his skills as he went along; marking many a milestone.
His role as a village simpleton in films like Mannina Maga, Anna Thangi, Chandavalliya Thota, Doorada Betta, Mayor Muththanna bonded him with the masses. The endearing image of Rajkumar riding a buffalo, singing a popular song in the film Sampattige Saval, brought to the fore the reality of rural India.
While his acting prowess singled him out as a super hero, his voice as a playback singer in Sampathige Saval propelled him into the bracket of an ace singer-actor.
The so-far enigmatic `voice' of Rajkumar forced `P B Sreenivas' bid adieu as the actor took over the role of a playback singer as well, even winning a national award as the best singer for the classical rendition of the song, `Naadamaya ee Lokavella' in the film Jeevana Chaitra.From donning diamond studded crowns and silken robes, commanding armies to playing suave roles of an Indian James Bond in films like Jedara Bale opposite actress Jayanti, Rajkumar soon became an icon, single handedly delivering box office hits, to the delight of his producers. Having worked with more than 75 directors, his roles have ranged from pages of history to protagonist of films advocating the ageless quality of Indian values.
It was subtle acting, his spontaneous style and his flair for making 'reel life' characters appear 'real life personalities' that helped him survive the onslaught of time, age and changing demands of the celluloid world.
Despite his box office success, Raj Kumar, a strong advocate of Kannada, confined himself to the Kannada film world. A champion of the state language, he had time and again espoused the cause of the mother tongue, taking part in the 'Gokak agitation' in early 1980s, seeking primacy for Kannada.
His affinity for rural India and that of Kannadigas transformed him into a larger than life figure, stirring up mass hysteria when forest brigand Veerapan kidnapped him. Veerappan, who ironically hailed from the same birthplace as the thespian, was fully aware of the priceless treasure in his custody when he sent out a list of demands to be met in return for the release of the King of Films.
The release of Rajkumar was nothing short of a celebration, a time to offer thanksgiving and prayers for the release of one considered a demigod.Rajkumar's unwavering popularity and paradox of destiny manifested itself when the primary school dropout was conferred an honorary doctorate by Mysore University. The hysteria whipped up by the icon was perceivable with stories of fans worshipping his replicas with milk and honey in Hassan, of those cycling for kilometres to view the first show of his film and of scores going on a rampage when a cinema house put up a board that tickets could not be bought for love or money for the next seven days, doing the rounds in the media on a regular basis.
His felicitation by the Karnataka government on completing 50 years of his film career and the endless bouquets of praises showered him on the occasion, also marked the matinee idol's hold over the Kannada film world.
The passing away of the idol to many will not mean just the removal from the scene of a star, but that of five eras put together and the new one that lost the opportunity of witnessing a magnum opus with Rajkumar as the lead.