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To say that Puneeth Rajkumar’s untimely death has caused shockwaves across Karnataka will perhaps be an understatement. The feeling is more visceral and personal for the people of the state who literally saw him grow up in front of their eyes, on that magical silver screen. Son of their beloved Annavru, Dr Rajkumar, Puneeth Rajkumar made his debut with director Somashekhar’s 1976 thriller Premada Kanike when he was just 6-months-old. He continued to act in films as a child artiste, winning a slew of awards including the prestigious National Film Award, before he turned 14. The 1989 movie Parashuram marked his last appearance as a child artist.

After a long hiatus, he returned to the big screen with director Puri Jagannadh’s Appu. The wiry teenager was now a full-grown star. As a 14-year-old impressionable teenger, I remember I could not take my eyes off him. I vividly remember that I tagged along with my friends without knowing much about the movie or the man who was headlining it. To me, Puneeth Rajkumar felt like a manifestation of sheer force so strong that could move mountains. He was muscular, but that never got in the way of his flexibility. He could do a full split, backflip, and perform a variety of kicks in mid-air, unlike anything we had seen before. He was our version of Luke Cage. He was strong, dark and it seemed no object could break him. That’s why he came to be known as ‘Power Star,’ an honorary title to signify the force of nature he seemed like.

Puneeth was also one of the best dancers that the Kannada film industry had ever produced. Arguably, no star of his stature in Kannada cinema today could match his dancing skills. For an audience hungry for more, he was a complete package. And unlike most, he did not always play safe or stay securely in his comfort zone. He explored different characters and stories, even when his efforts did not always fetch the desired results.

Not just on screen, Puneeth was full of joy and warmth when off the camera too. He never rubbed his stardom in anyone’s face. There was something about him that felt grounded and calm. He always greeted everyone with a big smile and a lingering handshake.

Puneeth was also a fitness icon. He presided over most of the fitness programmes that took place in Bengaluru. He was often seen at marathon events in the city and even ran in a few. He always kept his fans motivated about fitness by posting videos of his high-intensity workout sessions.

Puneeth led an active life and continued to promote cinema till the very last. He was part of a pre-release event of his elder brother Shivarajkumar’s new movie Bhajarangi 2 on Wednesday, and happily showed off his dancing skills with his trademark energy and warmth. Earlier today, he tweeted his best wishes to the film as it opened on the big screens.

Ironically, the main theme of Bhajarangi 2 is the meaning of life. In a scene, Shivarajkumar’s Bhajarangi notes that even when one passes away, he will continue to live in the ideals and principles that one has left behind.

Even though Puneeth Rajkumar passed away way too soon, with many unrealised promises and dreams, he will live on in our memory as the “Power Star”. The man who seemed unbreakable to a 14-year-old boy.
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