Dr Rajkumar and the vacuum he left behind…
There’s a scene in ‘Bangarada Manushya’ in which a grief-stricken Rajeeva (Dr Raj) refuses to move away from the smouldering pyre of his wife Lakshmi (Bharathi). When his well-wisher Rachotappa (Balakrishna) tries consoling him, Rajeeva breaks down pointing at the ashes—hitherto a life that meant everything to him.
A gut-wrenching scene sans melodramatic overtones. The hero in his humble farmer’s attire with a handloom towel thrown over his shoulders grieves so inconsolably (and so convincingly!) that it commands my unwavering attention no matter how many times I watch it.
Rajkumar’s acting prowess used to reach its pinnacle in such scenes. I am not sure who else could have looked and acted so natural, so amazingly down-to-earth than Rajkumar himself.
There was something about this man that cannot be reduced to words. That’s the reason why years after his death, writing about Rajkumar is not totally bereft of some fond memories and feelings around which my childhood evolved.
His entry on the silver screen used to have the crowd going into raptures. And his voice that delivered dialogues to perfection was enough to have the film running into many hundred days. He had an amazing screen presence that could dwarf anyone else. Those who grew up watching him would know the sheer craze Rajkumar movies used to whip up those days with just one wall poster in smudgy fluorescent shades. What a contrast when juxtaposed with today’s high-octave film publicity campaigns and digitised perfection!
That doesn’t mean there were no imperfections in the cinema of yesteryears. Women characters hardly ventured beyond their quotidian existence. She had to be a saree-clad ‘pathivritha’, a sacrificial goat, or nothing less than a divine prostitute. She had to embody all the perfect traits of a ‘good woman’ as defined by the elders of the family and those beyond. It’s hard to find a film script that extricated itself from this mould barring exceptions like “Belli Moda”.
Nothing much has changed though.
But cinema becomes timeless only when the script emerges beyond the situation it is born in. And hence, an actor has little power over how his and other characters evolve. This is the reason why I am ready to discount the imperfections when it comes to Rajkumar movies and those shades of melodrama his directors threw in.
No matter how many blockbuster movies Rajkumar belted out, I still get a feeling that he was underutilised.
He had a lot more to give.