A legend’s life, one that is essentially larger-than-cinema, is the prerogative of a chosen few. Vishnuvardhan, the Sandalwood icon who passed away on the penultimate day of this decade, was a definitive member of that tribe.
Like any legend whose story remains incomplete without a thorny path to glory, Vishnuvardhan too had to negotiate angst-ridden moments in his voyage. One such defining moment came early in his career during the filming of Gandhada Gudi in which Vishnuvardhan played the wayward brother of Dr Rajkumar — the matinee god of Sandalwood. The scene that was to be acted out involved a gun battle between these ‘brothers’.
While in a hurry to follow director Vijaya Reddy’s instructions, little did Vishnuvardhan know that he was using a live ammunition-filled gun. Even though the bullet missed Dr Rajkumar, his incensed fans from then on seldom missed an opportunity to defame Vishnuvardhan. There were occasions when he was not allowed entry to Gandhinagar — the hub of film activity in Bangalore. It was also not possible for him to visit Dr Rajkumar’s residence at Sadashiva­nagar. The shooting and screening of several of his films were disrupted. And worse still, vandals also caused trouble at his father’s funeral.
Whenever journalists approached him for a response, he would just point a hand to the heavens. But through films such as Bhoothayyanamaga Ayyu, Vishnuvar­dhan also became a darling of the masses and the connoisseurs alike.
Hero of remakes
Vishnuvardhan is one of the few actors who has starred in many remakes. And remarkably, most of them — including Aaptha Mithra that broke all box office records — were blockbusters. Vishnuvardhan had an astute and an almost intuitive understanding of the dynamics of market. “Product is important; not the source. For example, your guest will not ask you about the source of the food you serve him. He is interested only in the way you serve it to him,” he would say.
A reluctant leader
South Indian movie industry is replete with instances of actors having a successful political career as well. Though many expected Vishnuvardhan to lead the film industry (after the death of Dr Rajkumar), he was always reluctant. When Sandalwood artists were staging a dharna for the Hogenakkal issue, Vishnuvardhan was prompted to come to the forfront. He refused to do so saying, “Why should I? I am not a leader.”
He had a few friends in the industry such as Ramesh Aravind, Avinash, Che­than, Anirudh, Sivaram, Abhijith, Sunderraj and Darshan. Together they formed a sort of friendship club called ‘Sneha­loka’. The group was instrumental in raising funds for victims of flood that recently ravished north Karnataka. Sources say his magnanimity and munificence were befitting for someone who was fondly called aaptha mitra (close friend).
Vishnuvardhan considered himself destiny’s child. “I never plan for future. Everything depends on destiny. It is god who decides what we have to do. I am talking to you now because it was decided by the god,” he once told media persons. Considering the way the script of his life and career turned out, he sure was one of destiny’s favourite children.
Vishnuvardhan’s premature death has left three of his pet dreams unfulfilled. He wanted to refurbish the Puttanna Chitramandira (a theatre built by his mentor, the legendary Puttanna Kanagal). Though he tried to convince the Bruhat Bangalore Manahanagar Palike to handover the theatre to him, the civic body failed to take a decision. As an actor, the character of Shiradi Sai Baba was his dream role. It was said that he wanted to start shooting for this after completing his 206th film. His 200th film Aaptha Rakshaka is yet to be completed.
He also wanted to act in a film based on S L Byrappa’s novel Aavarana. Director P Seshadri has claimed to have narrated the script to Vishnuvardhan who had expressed his willingness to act in the film. Incidentally, Vishnuvardhan made his debut with the film Vamsavruksha, which was based on another novel penned by S L Byrappa.
(With inputs from Suresh P Thomas)