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Exclusive! I want people to look beyond the Rajkumar-Ramkumar tag and see me for who I am: Dheeren

The grandson of late Kannada matinee idol Dr Rajkumar is gearing up for his debut with Shiva 143.

Prathibha Joy
Sep 13, 2021
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Dheeren Ramkumar

Films have always been a part of Dheeren Ramkumar’s life. As the grandson of the late Kannada matinee idol Dr Rajkumar, Dheeren grew up seeing the fan adulation for the former, as also for his uncles, Kannada stars Shivarajkumar and Puneeth Rajkumar. Closer home, he also had his father, veteran actor Ramkumar to look up to for inspiration. And, yet, while he aspired to achieve some level of that fandom with a career in films, as the ever-dutiful son, Dheeren chose to listen to his mother, Poornima, and focused on academics first.

After completing his engineering degree, Dheeren even worked for two years as a quality engineer before revisiting the subject of venturing into films. “When I then went back to my parents and told them that I was ready to try my hand at films, they were more than supportive. But they also told me that I couldn’t blindly step into the industry and that I needed to prepare myself. So, for several months I trained under Jatta director Giriraj, as well as playwright-actor AS Murthy’s daughter, Gowri Dattu ma’am, while also learning dance and martial arts. Producer-distributor Jayanna sir once spotted me on the set of Appu (Puneeth) mama’s Ranavikrama and thought I had hero potential. He came back to me 3-4 years later with an offer for a film with Rambo 2 maker Anil Kumar,” says the young actor.

The film, which was made with the working title Daari Tappida Maga, and was later rechristened as Shiva 143, is an intense love story, which Dheeren began shooting for in 2019. “Shooting for Shiva 143 was an extraordinary experience. I had a bunch of workshops before we actually went on floor to get my body language and expressions right. We shot in locations across Bengaluru, Mysuru, Srirangapatna, Mandya and Maddur, among others. Although I had been to these places for the shoots of other family members, or on personal visits, being there for my own film was surreal. I have two looks in the film, especially with the length of my hair. The schedules for the different looks were intermittent, so there were times I’d cut my hair short and then had to wait to grow it back to the length for the other look. We could have perhaps used a wig, but that would not have looked natural, so we decided against it. The character has a lot of variations and will evoke different emotions in the audience; he can make them cry, feel irritated, or even sympathetic towards him. That’s what I found interesting about this role and why I chose it as my launchpad,” explains Dheeren, adding, “Initially, I was advised to start off with a campus subject, since I was out of college only a few years earlier and it was believed that it would be easier for me to handle. But I wanted to challenge myself; I wanted something different and more mature. The subject of Shiva 134 seemed just right, as I thought it would be novel for audiences. The icing on the cake is that I also get to show off my physical transformation, including six-pack abs.”

The film was ready to release around mid or late February last year, but by then, news of the pandemic had begun spreading. “We are still waiting for government clearance to allow 100% occupancy in movie halls and there is a lot of uncertainty about how things will pan out. But we are hopeful of resolving this soon. Right now, all eyes are on Bhajarangi 2; the producers have spoken to other filmmakers to allow it a clear window and be the first star film to bring audiences back to theatres. There’s a lot of hype around it, be it the star cast, director or music, etc. Bhajarangi 2 will, hopefully, provide that starting point to revive the culture of going to cinema halls,” says Dheeren.

What was his father’s advice, though, at the start of his career? “Dad gave me a lot of tips for the camera, like, for instance, not to blink too much while giving a close-up shot. He said that I should find my path and to keep aside the pressure that comes from being Rajkumar’s grandson and Ramkumar’s son. ‘You need to do what Dheeren wants to do and not what is expected of you’, were his exact words. My uncles were also supportive and glad that I was getting into cinema because I am genuinely interested in it and not just to be a part of the ‘family business’. One thing everyone in my family said was that I should give my 100% to whatever I do and that I should never feel guilty about my choices,” says Dheeren.

But leaving the Rajkumar-Ramkumar tag behind is easier said than done, right? “Yes, it is true that the first thing that people will notice about me is my lineage. But I do not want to be restricted by it and do only certain kind of films. My interest lies in content-oriented cinema and edge-of-the-seat entertainers, even horror stories, for that matter. I want to see myself in such cinema. I am very clear with every filmmaker who comes offering a role that I want a subject where the story is the hero and I only play a part in it. I don’t want any build-up for myself, or mass dialogues and larger-than-life action. Yes, I may do something like that once in a while, but that can’t be the defining factor for me. In fact, I don’t fancy love stories, per se, yet took up Shiva 143 because it had a lot of intense elements attached to it. I definitely don’t want to be stuck with a certain image and have people saying that I am a mass hero or class hero; I want a blend of both. Some filmmakers who approached me had pre-conceived notions that I want to do massy commercial entertainers. I think it is because they have no reference point yet, since my debut film is yet to release. Once Shiva 143 hits theatres, it will give them an idea of what I am capable of and the subjects that will be suitable to my persona and acting style. So, my next project will really depend on my vision matching that of a filmmaker,” says Dheeren, adding, “Right now, I am the new kid on the block and can experiment for a few years. I am like an empty canvas that you can paint anything you want on.”

Last week, the buzz was that the actor is committed to a film called Night Curfew, in which he will play a doctor. “That project is still in discussion stage only. Jayanna sir wanted to do another film with me and this story seemed nice. We are still trying to put the crew together and figure out what my look in the film is going to be. There’s nothing concrete about it yet,” he says.

How does it feel to come into the industry at a time when your uncles are still at the top of their game, your cousin Vinay (Rajkumar) is already a few films old and sister Dhanya is also prepping for her debut? “It’s an exciting time and I think it is now up to the audience to decide if they like me and will let me survive in the industry. I can’t force myself on them. Vinay has done a few films already and I am hoping his fans will see my movie too,” says Dheeren on a parting note.

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