The day Vishnuvardhan nearly shot Dr Raj Kumar

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: The year was 1973. M.P.Shankar, a fine actor and a Mysorean, had decided to make a film with a storyline that revolved around a range forest officer posted in the wondrous jungles of Kakanakote, just 80 kilometres from Mysore.

The actor who played the range forest officer was none other than Raj Kumar and the film was Gandhada Gudi. A film that went onto become an all-time big hit with its gripping narration, thrilling locations and excellent background score.

It was also the film that could have nearly, yes nearly, injured Raj Kumar grievously on location.

Here’s how it happened, according to eye-witnesses.

Shooting for Gandhada Gudi had gone on for months in the Kakanakote jungles. Only the climax had to be canned. The last scene involved a dramatic and emotional exchange of words between the hero, Raj Kumar and the villain.

The villain of the piece was none other than Vishnuvardhan, a wisp of a boy who was just then gaining a toehold in Kannada cinema.

The climax was slated to be shot atop a hillock inside the jungles known as Masaale Betta, with the hero’s mother, played by Advaani Lakshmidevi, standing on a petrol-filled drum with a noose slung around her neck.

In the scene, the protagonist Vishnuvardhan threateningly points a double barrel gun at Raj Kumar screaming that he will shoot him and his mother dead.

The devious and wily Venkatappa Naika, played by the legendary Balakrishna, had orchestrated the whole sequence, completely disguising the fact that Raj Kumar and Vishuvardhan were actually brothers, born of the very same Advaani Lakshmidevi!

However…

However, on the fateful day, Prabhakar, the serving range forest officer of Kakanakote, invited the filmi forest officer Raj Kumar, producer M.P. Shankar and director Vijay for lunch.

Vishnuvardhan, the rookie that he was, was not given the invitation.

Prabhakar was an extremely powerful officer who held sway over the entire Kakanakote region in those days and had been of tremendous support and help to the unit ever since it had started shooting in the area.

As the men were lunching on the sumptuous spread, something happened that would have had disastrous consequences on the very existence of the film and particularly Raj Kumar.

This, say eye-witnesses, is what happened.

The team’s driver came along and announced that they were ready for the shot up on Masaale Betta.

“Hey, take that gun there and go to the spot. We’ll be there in a few minutes,’ ordered M.P. Shankar, pointing in the direction of two guns that lay in a corner.

The driver picked up the gun and left for the location.

Lunch over, M.P Shankar and the others too left, thanking Prabhakar for his hospitality.

Meanwhile, up on Masaale Betta inside the jungles, the shot had been readied.

Vishnuvardhan stood in his jungle boots at the appointed place, gun in hand. Advaani Lakshmidevi clambered onto the petrol drum, the noose around her neck in place.

Raj Kumar hurriedly donned grease paint. He gave himself a once-over in the mirror that the make-up assistant held and it was time for action!

But…

But, back at the place where lunch had been served, forest officer Prabhakar was getting terribly jittery. His double barrel gun was missing. He also remembered that it was loaded.

Suddenly, he realised that the gun had fallen into the hands of the film crew.

“Oh, my god, the driver has taken the wrong gun from here,” he shouted in panic as he began to rush frantically to the scene of the shooting.

And just as Vishnuvardhan was about to mouth his fiery dialogue, finger firmly on the trigger of the double barrel that he held, Prabhakar came onto the scene, his hands flailing like a mad man’s.

Nillisi. Nillisi. Stop the shooting. Put that gun down. It’s a real one. And it’s loaded,” he shouted.

A hush fell over the entire hillock as the film unit began to slowly come to grips with the consequences if Vishnuvardhan had indeed pressed the trigger, pointing the gun in the direction of Raj Kumar.

M.P Shankar’s huge frame was trembling.

The director Vijay was quivering.

And Advaani Lakshmidevi stood like a statue.

Raj Kumar composed himself and started walking towards a cane chair under a tree. He flopped down on the chair and wiped his brow with a handkerchief….

However, to their credit, neither the thespian nor the tyke allowed this incident to affect their relationship.

They eventually went on to shoot the climax, this time with make-believe guns, and Gandhada Gudi went on to become the hit it did.

(Reconstructed from interviews with eye-witnesses and some of the key players involved)