It is an emotional moment for fans as Puneeth Rajkumar’s last film, James, releases on his birthday. The tragic circumstance under which this movie has been released makes it significant and special. Puneeth would have turned 47 today if he had not died last year due to a cardiac arrest, in the prime of his career.
The action-thriller has people lining up to watch their idol to what he did best on the screen, one last time. Director Chethan Kumar opens James in a very familiar way. He introduces the main villains (there are plenty, actually) and the main conflict, and then sets the stage for the hero’s entry. Our hero Santhosh Kumar, played by Puneeth Rajkumar, runs a private security agency called J Wings. He gets hired by a rich businessman to rescue his daughter, who has been taken hostage by his business rivals. While top policemen and politicians on his payroll fail the aggrieved businessman, Santhosh doesn’t think twice before taking up the task.
Also, later we find out that rescue operations are right up Santhosh’s alley. The introduction scene of Santhosh ticks all the boxes in the hero entry manual. A loyal side-kick, played by Rangayana Raghu, talks up Santhosh. As composer Charan Raj’s orchestra plays the beats with a full-throttle blast, we first see Santhosh’s feet, then his silhouette and then him boarding his costume-made muscle car. We don’t see his face yet and it feels like the director is biding his time. But, considering the circumstance, Chethan knows that the fans are eager to see Puneeth’s face. It’s rather a special moment for them as that sequence is one of the last scenes that he had shot before his untimely death. So Chethan keeps the audience waiting a little longer, with bated breath.
Cut to a car-chase sequence. We only see Puneeth’s eyes through the rare-view mirror as he performs a series of manoeuvres behind the wheels to escape the enemy attack. And then he skilfully burst open water pipes on the road-side with his car. With water from the broken pipes pouring on the road like rain, drenching everything around it, Puneeth turns on the wipers of his rotating car, there, we finally see his face one last time – alive and kicking. The moment the audience has been waiting for.
One can’t escape the strong sense of melancholy that comes with the knowledge of the fact that it will be the last time one would see Puneeth dance, fight, smile, cry and deliver punchlines. And one would want to savour these moments without sussing too much. Shivarajkumar’s voice has surprisingly fit Puneeth perfectly. Puneeth’s elder brothers Shivarajkumar and Raghavendra Rajkumar have played cameos in the movie. They both play the teachers for a group of young orphaned boys preparing them spiritually and psychologically to handle the death of loved ones with strength.
In one scene, Puneeth’s character is shot in gut. A friend finds him lying motionless. Then he holds Puneeth’s shoulders and gives him a hard shake. Puneeth comes back to life sprouting blood from his mouth. But, it seems some things could only happen in movies.