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February 27, 2002

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The return of the son

Puneet Rajakumar April 2002 will see Puneet Rajakumar's debut (as an adult), Appu, at the marquee.

For the Kannada film industry, it is the debut of the decade. It is a home production of the Rajakumar family.

Incidentally, Appu is Puneet's real nickname.

Puneet has acted in over a dozen films as a child star, since he was a year old till his teenage years. Most of his films, including his first, Sanaadi Appanna, and last as a child star Parashuram, 14 years ago, featured his father Dr Rajakumar as the hero. Puneet was also known for his ability to sing and dance well.

The Rajakumar clan continues to be Kannada cinema's first family, and Puneet will be the last of Rajakumarís three sons to be launched. Puneet's eldest brother Shivaraj Kumar is already a megastar. His second brother Raghavendra mostly stars in home productions once in a few years.

So Puneet's debut is an event the entire Kannada film industry will watch carefully.

The muhurat of Appu The film will also star debutante Shwetha, who has been renamed Rakshita for the film. Shwetha is the daughter of renowned cameraman C Gowrishankar. Poori Jagannath of Andhra Pradesh will direct the film.

The mahurat of Appu was held in November 2001. Puneet has already completed two schedules of the film so far, all in Karnataka.

He has carefully kept himself and his film away from the media, wary of raising public expectation. Though he is now being flooded with offers from other film companies, he has decided to lie low and wait to see how his first film will be received.

M D Riti met him at his Gandhinagar office, the locality from which the Kannada film industry operates, and found him endearingly uncertain about the film and his future as a film star:

Who chose the name Appu for your debut film?

My brother Shivaraj Kumar. Appu is my nickname.

While I was shooting, some people asked me if the film was named after the Asian Games (1982) mascot Appu. Maybe they had seen me two years ago, when I was fatter than that elephant! *laughs*

What is the film about?

It is a typical commercial masala film. But it is interesting, unusual and original. It is love story, a college romance.

How does it feel to be back before the camera after so many years?

Puneet with father Rajakumar, and brothers Raghavendra and Shivaraj Very strange and different. It also feels quite funny because I have spent the last few years watching my father and brothers in the spotlight. Now it is my turn!

I do not remember much of my acting in the past. I used to accompany my father to all his sets ever since I was a year old, so they just started putting me in some of his films. I used to just do what the directors or my father told me to. This is my first experience of actually facing the camera and trying to act out a part all on my own.

Did your experience of acting as a child star make any impact on your acting now?

No. This is an entirely different ball game.

What was your father's advice to you?

He told me to be natural and spontaneous and never to copy anyone. He comes to my sets frequently, but never offers advice on how to act or handle a scene. He believes in letting each person do things his own way. Have your father's films or his style of acting influenced you in any way?

Not at all. My father is the same person in real life and in front of the cameras. He is a very natural actor. None of us others can ever be that! But I do try to put myself into the role fully when I face the camera.

This film has been in the pipeline for a long time now...

Yes, for almost four years. We were not in any hurry. We were waiting for the perfect script. In fact, we chose this director because he came up with the a script that we really liked. Jagannath had come to Bangalore to direct my brother Shivaraj's film Yuvaraja. He narrated, in just one line, the story of this film to Shivaraj, who liked it a lot and asked him to develop it into a full-fledged script.

We follow a standard procedure for all home productions in my family. My family --- parents, uncles and brothers --- sit together when a script is being narrated. We discuss it, enhance it and finally make a decision on its viability. This procedure has helped our film company deliver more hits than any other company in Karnataka.

Did the episode of Veerappan kidnapping your father delay this project further?

No.

Puneet with wife Ashwini

Is your wife Ashwini involved with the film too?

Yes, she has designed my clothes for the film.

What is the budget of the film?

Nowhere on the scale of Lagaan (Hindi) or AK-47 (Kannada).

Have you shot at foreign locales?

The story is set entirely in Bangalore, so there is no need for foreign locales.

As a child star, you used to sing in some of your films. Are you singing for this film too?

Maybe just one song. Udit Narayan and Shankar Mahadevan are doing the playback for me. Actor Upendra has written the lyrics of one song. Several music directors have handled one song each, like V Manohar, Kalyan and Hamsalekha. Guru Kiran is the music director.

So what were you doing all these years, after you stopped acting?

I did a course in computers for a while. I took care of my family's business interests in television serial production, hiring film equipment and film distribution. In fact, I still intend to do that.

You will be launched amidst a whole rush of new heroes: how do you think you will fare?

Yes, all of a sudden, there are 15 films on the sets with newcomers. But I think there is space for everyone out there. If this film clicks, I would definitely like to do more films.

Photographs: KM Veeresh

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