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This diamond is forever

K.R. GANESH

Vajramuni was the unparalleled bad man of Kannada industry for almost three decades. This amazing actor with terrific body language was a complete natural as a villain. So much so, his overpowering screen image often took over his off-screen persona too


Vajramuni was THE contribution of Kannada professional theatre


It was 17 years ago. The Shankar Nag-starrer Vajramushti had been released. The prime attraction of the film was that all villains of Kannada film industry had been cast in the film. But it was Kannada's unparalleled villain Vajramuni who made his entry amidst a thunderous applause and whistles galore. People jumped on to their seats, tossed coins at the screen and danced ecstatically. Despite Shankar Nag being in the lead role, it was Vajramuni who made his audiences overjoyed. Blood-shot eyes, twitching right eye, eyebrows forever ready to shoot up,a rugged, resonating voice that spoke chaste Kannada were the hallmarks of this Kannada screen's star villain. Vajramuni's contemporaries tried their hands at other supporting roles, but Vajramuni stuck to be a villain till the very end. And during his illustrious career that spanned nearly two-and-a-half decades, he spared no big star. Vajramuni clobbered all of them, including the hero who ruled the industry. Of course, the moral order had to be restored and he to got badly beaten up by them at the end.

For me and all my film-freak friends who bunked classes and religiously caught the first-day first-show of every release, Vajramuni was matchless. We knew his lines by rote. How can a true-blue Kannadiga forget the robust, forceful delivery of: "Atala sutala paataladalladagiddaroo sari, Mayura ninnanu hidide teeruttene" in chaste Kannada? Neither can one forget the blindman he played so poignantly in Bharjari Bete, nor the feudal gowda in Bettale Seve.

Theatre background

Vajramuni was yet another contribution of Kannada professional theatre to the film industry. Like most other actors of his time, he too came from theatre background. Till the '70s, Vajramuni had been active in theatre, playing lead roles in most mythologicals. He probably owes his fine diction, clarity of speech and voice culture to this early training. In the early '60s, Vajramuni had played the lead in Kanagal Prabhakar Shastri's Prachanda Ravana, and it was this performance that propelled him to popularity. Till date, it continues to be one of the most sought-after mythological plays. And for most actors, playing the role of Ravana was one of their life's most cherished dreams. Many have played Ravana's role, but none has matched Vajramuni's histrionics.

Interestingly, it was Ravana's role that brought him into the Kannada film industry. Puttanna Kanagal, who was watching the play, was floored by Vajramuni's performance and cast him in Mallammana Pavada. Producers insisted that Udaya Kumar would be a better choice to match to Shivaji Ganeshan who played the role in the Tamil version, but Puttanna insisted that it had to be Vajramuni. He finally had his way. Of course, Vajramuni didn't fail Puttanna's expectations and he eventually went on to become the unequalled bad man of Kannada film industry is now history. So much so that villainy and Vajramuni became synonymous. In fact, he did a number of films such as Mayura, Sampathige Saval, Daari Tappida Maga, Premada Kanike, Giri Kanye, Shankar Guru and Akasmika with Kannada's megastar Dr. Rajkumar. Needless to say Vajramuni never paled in comparison. Remember the delightful Sudhakara-Ramanna pair of Sipayi Raamu.



PHENOMENAL In all his career, Vajramuni never got another role that could match the lead character he played in Prachanda Ravana photo: Courtesy chitraloka.com

Vajramuni didn't limit himself to just acting. He, surprisingly, tried his hands at politics, film production, and even real estate business! In fact, he was so adventurous that he contested from the Congress party as the Basavanagudi candidate and lost. His popularity, sadly, didn't get translated into votes. Also, unfortunately for him, his anti-hero image didn't work too well for his political career. Many women believed that he was a villain and a rapist even in real life. Vajramuni, in one of the interviews, even said how women refused to open the door when he went on a door-to-door election campaign. Some women had even clenched their fists, taken the name of a character he had played in a film, and cursed him! He also sadly admitted how, when his kids were young, they would be scared to come to him.

His exploits didn't stop with this. The enterprising actor went on to make the ambitious film Gandabherunda. But again, he ran into rough weather with the film faring terribly at the box-office. Modelled on Hollywood's blockbuster Mackenna's Gold, this multi-starrer film was technically brilliant. But the audience was not quite prepared for it. Even during its making, the film had problems and took years to be completed. Undettered by the film's massive failure, he followed it with fairly successful films such as Hasida Hebbuli, Brahmastra and others.

Under the banner of Jayanagar Housing Co-operative Society, he made sites on Kanakapura Road and succeeded as a real-estate person. In fact, Vajramuni used the opportunity and doled out sites to many a needy artiste at very low prices. But for him, they wouldn't have had a permanent roof over their head.

For the go-getter Vajramuni, health played a spoilsport. It was probably his adamant nature that landed him in ill health. His kidneys failed and his body let him down, even though his spirit soared high. In fact, he was struck by a series of problems, but never did he complain, not once did he sound bitter. On hearing the news of his death, Dr. Rajkumar broke down uncontrollably. Vajramuni was someone who not only shared the star's background, but was also an actor on par. Vajramuni had stood by Rajkumar during the days of Gokak agitation. "I had so many things to share with him and also listen to all that he had to say. He went away without even giving me a chance," he cried.

What was very special about Vajramuni to me was his amazing body language. Unlike other villains, he didn't have to have a special hairdo, a prop or a mannerism to give his character that special edge. His resounding laughter, the twirl of his moustache and the manner in which he delivered his lines said it all. Going back to the play Prachanda Ravana, Vajramuni had improvised the Ravana character so brilliantly that the nine steps leading to his throne became the navagrahas and as he landed on each step, he spoke his lines and never missed the punch. The truth is, however, that Vajramuni never got a role more challenging in his entire film career. It was his own competence that gave life to every character.

Sadly, the man who was the king of Kannada industry for such a long time went into oblivion with his illness. In this passage of time, many villains came, his contemporaries passed away, heroes became villains, but none could take Vajramuni's place.

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