A titan of Kannada cinema, Singanalluru Puttaswamayya Muthuraju, better known by his stage name Rajkumar, was at once a beloved matinee idol and a venerated cultural icon. He is best known for his work in Thoogudeepa (1966), Naandi (1964), Malli Maduve (1963), Bhoodaana (1962), Sati Nalaayini (1957) and many other films.
During his extensive career, the actor was presented with eleven Karnataka State Film Awards, ten South Filmfare Awards, two National Film Awards and a National Film Award for Best Playback Singer. He also received the 2002 NTR National Award, an honorary doctorate from the University of Mysore and a Padma Bhushan in 1983. Early Life
Rajkumar is the son of theater artists Puttaswamayya and Lakshmamma. Born on 24th April 1929 in Gajanur, Tamil Nadu, he discovered the world of acting through his parents; his father, in particular, was known for his talent for portraying the roles of Kamsa, Ravana, and Hiranyakashipu.
After dropping out of school at the age of 8, Rajkumar performed in small roles till he turned 25 and received his first lead in the film Bedara Kannappa (1954). Personal Life
Rajkumar was married to Raja Gourava Parvathamma and the couple had five children together, two daughters and three sons. His sons, Shiva Rajkumar
and Puneeth Rajkumar
both followed their father`s footsteps into the Kannada film industry while Raghavendra Rajkumar became an actor-turned-producer.
During the year 2000, Rajkumar, his son-in-law Govindaraju along with two others were abducted by notorious gang leader Veerappan from the actor`s mansion at Gajanur. Veerappan demanded the release of his fellow gang members who were imprisoned due to a defunct anti-terrorism law. It was a testament to Rajkumar`s unparalleled popularity and influence when the event prompted a nationwide manhunt, throwing the Karnataka government into a crisis. After 108 days of being held captive in the thick of the forests that Veerappan ruled, the actor was released unharmed on 15th November 2000.
On 12th April 2006, the retired actor died, following a cardiac arrest at his home in Sadashivanagar, Bangalore. His eyes were donated after his death according to his wishes. As a tribute to the beloved actor, more than 50 statues dedicated to Rajkumar were erected across Bangalore. Movie Career
In 1953, Rajkumar was offered his first role in H.L.N Simha`s Bedara Kannappa. He was eventually cast in the film and christened `Rajkumar` by the director. The actor is known primarily for his roles in Kannada cinema, deviating only once to appear in the Telugu remake of Bedara Kannappa titled Sri Kalahastiwara Mahatyam (1954).
Rajkumar had a diverse acting range, portraying romantic leads, action heroes and double as well as triple roles. He has also depicted mythological characters and contemporary social causes over his five decades in the industry. Along with his contemporaries Udaya Kumar and Kalyan Kumar
, Rajkumar received the name `Kumara Thrayaru` of Kannada cinema. He acted in 36 films with Udaya Kumar and five films with Kalyan Kumar. The films were historical representations of the southern kingdoms, ranging from the legendary Vijayanagara Empire to the Mysore royalty. His historical films include the drama Ranadheera Kanteerava (1960) and the biopic Kaviratna Kalidasa (1963). In the latter, Rajkumar portrayed the classical Sanskrit writer Kalidasa and was hugely successful earning the title of one of the all-time top money grossing films in the history of Kannada movies.
Rajkumar also appeared in films against perceived social evils such as drug abuse in Shabdavedhi (2000). He acted alongside many well-known leading ladies including Jayanti
(36 films), Pandaribai (18 films), Leelavathu
(28 films), Bharati
(28 films), Arathi
(13 films), Harini
(11 films) and Krishna Kumari (8 films). The popular Bollywood actress Rekha
was paired with Rajkumar in her debut film Operation Jackpotnalli C.I.D 999 (1969).
In the 1968 spy-thriller Jedara Bale, Rajkumar became the first Indian artist to enact the role of James Bond. He later portrayed the character of Prakash a.k.a Agent CID 999, in Operation Jackpotnalli CID 999 (1969), Goa dalli CID 999 (1968) and Operation Diamond Racket (1978). The films were box office hits and garnered a cult following. The actor holds the record for ten South Filmfare Awards for Best Actor for his work in several notable films of the 70`s and 80`s.
In Gandhada Gudi (1973) the actor portrayed Kumar, a forest ranger that protects the natural resources of Nagarhole National Forest from the poacher Anand. The film was a mega blockbuster with praise given for the themes of natural conservation.His next win was the historical film Mayura (1975) depicting the life of Prince Mayurasharma of the Kadamba dynasty. Shankar Guru (1978) is considered one of the best Kannada movies of the 70`s and won Rajkumar best actor for his role of businessman Rajashekhar.
In 1981, the film Keralida Simha was released to rave reviews. The movie featured songs by the actor and a fantastic performance as a police officer Shankar, who catches a gang of drug dealers and his thrilling story of bringing crime to justice. The actor`s subsequent wins for Best Actor included romance Shravana Banthu (1984), Adhe Kannu (1985) and romantic comedy Bhagyada Lakshmi Baramma (1986). His biggest milestone came in 1993 with thriller Aakasmika, a film about policeman Murthy played by Rajkumar, that solves different cases related to his personal life. The movie won Best Director for Hamsalekha
, Best Actor for Rajkumar and has since developed a major cult following. After taking a small break from acting, he returned in 1994, earning his 13th Karnataka State Film Award for the romantic drama Odahuttidavaru. Rajkumar has acted in over 220 films throughout his career, retiring with the movie Shabdavedhi in 2000. Singing Career
Rajkumar was trained in Indian classical music at a young age and sang for numerous Kannada movies. In 1992, he earned the National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer for the song "Naadamaya" that featured in the movie Jeevana Chaitra. His repertoire included songs of various genres, ranging from pure classical to disco and fast numbers. The actor has also performed an English song "If You Come Today" that appeared in his film Operation Diamond Racket (1978). The song became an internet meme in India after the actor`s death in 2006.
Rajkumar also performed Kalidasa shlokas, ghazal songs such as "Sadaa Kannale" and religious songs about the Hindu gods Hanuman and Raghavendra.