Singanallur Puttaswamayya Mutthuraju, who was the ‘Anabhishaktha Dore’ of Kannada Cinema, was born on this day in 1929. Mutthuraju, popularly known as Rajkumar, was the last of the actor-singers, and he was one of the best in his profession. Rajkumar was admired for his humility and the human values that he espoused in his films, most of them mega hits.
Rajkumar’s birthday was a festival for his fans. They used to gather in thousands in front of his house in Sadashivanagar and wait to have a glimpse of Annavru. Meeting him on that day was every fan’s desire.
People from the film industry would start coming to his residence very early in the morning to wish the thespian. Later, Rajanna would come out in his trademark Bili Panche and Bili Shirt and wave to his fans from the balcony. The crowd would cheer and shout slogans like ‘Annavrige Jai’ and ask when his next film would hit the silver screen. He would cut a giant sized cake and distribute sweets to one and all. Rajkumar would then say a few words about Kannada, Thayinadu, Thandhe-Thaayigala Aashirwada and assure his fans about his plans of acting in a few films.
When I met Rajanna a few months before his death, I had asked him which his favourite role was. He smiled and remained silent for a few seconds. “Kumbara, Kalidasa” he said. He told me that when he watched his movies, he felt very embarrassed seeing his acting. But then he also told me that there were times when he said to himself, “Baddi maga, parvagilla, acting baratthe ivanige.”
Rajkumar was the first actor in the Indian Film Industry to get an honorary Doctorate for acting (from Mysore University). He is the only Indian to be given the prestigious ‘Kentucky Colonel’ award by the Kentucky state, USA. Dr. Rajkumar is the only actor to have acted in only one language (Kannada) over a period of 50 years.
He is also the only actor in the Indian Film Industry in whose name the State Government started giving an Award every year, when he was still alive, to a person who has given outstanding contribution to the film industry.
Dr. Rajkumar has a very rare achievement that no other actor can boast of. He is the only actor to receive National Award for both Singing & Acting.
Circa 1962. In the movie Devasundari, Rajkumar sang for comedian Narasimharaju. Remember, it was in the film Mahishasura Mardhini (1959) that Raj first sang for himself. Then it was in 1974 for the film Sampatthige Sawal that Raj started his singing career in full swing. In between, as many as 16 singers gave voice to this unmatched actor, notable amongst them being CS Jayaraman, Sirkali Govindarajan, PB Sreenivos, Ghantasala, Bhimsen Joshi, Balamuralikrishna, Pithapuram Nageswara Rao and Yesudas.
His first film ‘Bedara Kannappa’ won the National Award for Best Movie. He is the first Kannada actor to win the prestigious ‘Dada Saheb Phalke Award’, given by Indian Government for the achievement in the film industry.
Dr. Rajkumar is the only Kannada actor to receive “Padmabhushan” award for achievement in the Kannada Film Industry. He won 9 State awards for acting, 10 Film Fare awards and 2 State Awards for singing.
Annavru is the only actor ever to act in 14 Films in a single year twice, once in 1964 & again in 1968. Dr. Rajkumar is the only Kannada actor to act as Hero with both mother (Aadhvani Lakshmidevi) and daughter (Roopadevi) in Kannada movies.
Dr. Rajkumar is the only Kannada actor to win the “NTR Award” given by Andhra Pradesh Government for his outstanding contribution to the Film Industry.
Known for his down-to-earth demeanour, Rajkumar never had the air of a superstar. What impressed everyone who met Rajkumar was his simplicity and innocence. He was a very straightforward man and had respect for all. His simplicity came naturally to him. He was very humble; he spoke to people as if they were his friends.
From donning diamond-studded crowns and silken robes and commanding armies to playing suave roles akin to 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 across all genres.
It was his subtle acting, spontaneous style and his flair for giving reel characters real credibility that helped him survive the onslaught of time, age and changing demands of the celluloid world.
Annavru, unlike MGR or NTR, stayed away from politics though offers were aplenty. Being a champion of the state language, he did however take active part in the Gokak agitation in the early 1980s, seeking primacy for Kannada. Along with his films, it was this affinity for Kannadigas that gave him demi-god status among the people of Karnataka stirring up mass hysteria when forest brigand Veerappan kidnapped him in 2000. His release was met with state-wide celebration with thanksgiving and prayers!
For the past few years, on every birthday (till he passed away), he would say that his ambition was to act in the film ‘Bhakta Ambareesha’. It is worth remembering that when Rajkumar got an offer to act in ‘Bedara Kannappa’, he was with Subbayya Naidu Nataka Company. The play that he was acting in at that time was ‘Bhakta Ambareesha’, in which Rajkumar played the role of Ramakantha while Subbayya Naidu played Ambareesha. Somehow, this dream of Annavru remained unfulfilled till the end.