For one and a half years in the early 1990s, national award winning film director P. SESHADRI aka SESHADRI DANDINASHIVARA worked as an associate under T.S. Nagabharana during the making of Aakasmika.
And, for one and a half years, Seshadri, had as close a view of Dr Raj Kumar as anybody could get, as ThaRaSu’s trilogy (Aakasmika + Aparadhi + Parinama) was rendered on the silver screen.
In a churumuri exclusive, Seshadri, a journalist turned film-maker, recounts five extraordinary instances involving Dr Raj and five common people.
1) Aakasmika, as everybody now knows, begins with the famous train shot, where Dr Raj Kumar enters a train compartment and finds himself sitting opposite Geetha. Vajramuni too comes in, lights up a beedi and starts smoking, sometimes right into the eyes of Dr Raj.
We shot this scene in two lots. The long shots were shot on one day. But due to a paucity of time, we had to put off the close-ups for the next day.
The next morning, Dr Raj came early for the shoot. Since Vajramuni had not come, we had to use somebody else to blow smoke from a distance of 4 feet to take realistic close-ups. But, we had a problem.
Nagabharana didn’t smoke. I smoked then but didn’t have the guts to do so in front of Dr Raj. And all the committed smokers on the set suddenly feigned to have all quit smoking, all at the same time. Such was their reverence for Dr Raj.
We were in a fix. Finally, I noticed the engine driver taking a drag. The engine driver, as was the norm those days, was a Tamil. He had no idea of the film, no idea of Dr Raj's stature or our dilemma. So, we asked him to help.
Eventually, it was the engine driver who sat in front of Dr Raj and blew smoke into the superstar’s eyes for the close-ups.
2) Dr Raj Kumar, like much of filmdom, was a deeply devotional man, and at all the studios, be it Chamundeshwari or Kanteerva, there was always an idol for the stars and technicians to offer their salutations before beginning their work for the day.
For the shooting of ‘Aakasmika’, the producers, Vajreshwari Combines, had provided a bus for the travel and transport of the crew. Dr Raj Kumar loved to sit in the conductor’s seat alongside the driver, and for most of us it was a sambhrama to be in the same bus as he.
One day, we were going to Shimoga via Tiptur, when Dr Raj suddenly remembered something. He said there was a temple nearby with a famous kalyani (pond).
When he was with the Gubbi Veeranna company, he said they used to pitch camp in Tiptur and use the kalyani to draw drinking water. So, when he saw the kalyani en route to the Aakasmika shoot, he asked the driver to stop and got down.
There was very little water in the pond. Dr Raj Kumar decided to enter it for old times’ sake.
Even as he stepped into it, a gruff voice shouted from afar.
‘Yavano avanu? Who the hell is that? Yenu buddhi-giddhi illva? Don’t you have any brains? Chapli hakonda hogudu? Who taught you to wear shoes and enter a public pond?”
Dr Raj was shaken by the attack and turned back.
The man was the guard of the temple, but when he saw that it was Dr Raj, he began apologizing. But it was Dr Raj’s turn to apologise to him in front of the whole crew.
“I am sorry. I don’t know what came upon me. Maybe it was arrogance. I am sorry,” he said and turned back.
3) During the shooting of Aakasmika, the bus journeys of the production crew became a major social event in the western ghats. In every village and town, the residents would stop the bus to get a glimpse of Dr Raj, and he would unfailingly oblige them with a short speech.
One day, we entered Hosanagar, near Shimoga, and as usual, the bus drew to the town square where a huge crowd had gathered. The bus was taken upto the platform where Dr Raj got down and began speaking.
Once he was done, he hopped into the bus. Hundreds of people began following the bus, hoping to touch him. As the bus gathered speed, the number got smaller, and eventually we were out of the town.
But once we had gotten out of the town, Dr Raj Kumar suddenly realised that in the melee, somebody had thrust a crackling fresh ten-rupee note into his hands.
For the remainder of the journey, Dr Raj was a baffled man.
“Why did that man give me a ten-rupee note? What were his feelings? Did he think I didn’t have ten rupees? Did he want me to do something special with it? Was there some other reason? What did he want me to do with it?”
None of us had any answers.
4) Everybody thinks the sunset at Agumbe is the best. But there is another better than that, at Barkana, close by. It was here that we shot a portion of the famous Hamsalekha song ‘Agumbeya….’
But it wasn’t easy to shoot. Barkana was 4-5 kms from the main road, and there was no approach road. It would be difficult for the stars to walk the distance, and it would be even more difficult to take the generators and cranes and light vans.
So, we decided to make a temporary road. We rounded up some 10-12 people from the local area, and we carved out a road in a couple of days.
Among those who helped us build a road was a person whose name was, rather beautifully, ‘Hoova’.
Hoova did not want any money for his help. All he wanted was to shake hands with annavru and to get a photograph clicked with him. I promised to get him both, and in three days, the road was done.
However, when the shooting began, Hoova was nowhere to be seen. Even as it was time for pack-up, he did not come to the location. I was worried. I asked his friends where he was.
Avana kathe ne bere saar, they said. Apparently, anxious of his meeting with Dr Raj Kumar, and to fortify himself, Hoova had drunk all night into the wee hours of the morning.
Result: he couldn’t get up in time, or make his way to the set. So, I sent his friends to fetch him. Hoova was brought to the set, but he was in no stage to shake hands with Dr Raj Kumar.
I explained the situation to Dr Raj. Great man that he was, Dr Raj himself walked up to Hoova, shook hands and then got a photographer to click a snap.
5) In the early ‘90s, there were widespread rumours of Dr Raj Kumar’s death. The speculation got so strong that the police chief had to ask him to make a television appearance to dispel the rumour.
Dr Raj Kumar went to the Doordarshan studios in Munireddypalya and confirmed to the world that he was indeed alive. Cut.
A year later, we were dubbing for Aakasmika at Chamundeshwari studio. At Chamundeshwari, like every where else, there is a somari katte, where those who have nothing to do come and while away their time, chatting and drinking tea.
Some of us were there that day waiting for Dr Raj Kumar. When he came in, everybody at the katte got up out of respect. In turn, Dr Raj did his usual ‘namaskara’ to all of us as he passed us by.
Among those who were with us that a DD cameraman, a Tamilian, who thought it beneath his dignity to get up and salute Dr Raj.
Dr Raj went in to the studio and suddenly remembered this oddity. He went all the way back to the katte and said: “Namaskara. I am Raj Kumar. Remember me? I had come to your studio last year, and you were the cameraman who recorded my statement?”
"With Dr Raj Kumar gone, everyone has memories of the star. I wonder what memories the engine driver, the watchman, the man who thrust the 10-rupee note, Hoova and the DD cameraman will carry to their grave," says Seshadri.