Mandya/ Bengaluru: Actor and politician M.H. Ambarish, who passed away in Bengaluru last night, was Kannada cinema’s most popular actor after Dr. Rajkumar and Dr. Vishnuvardhan. He was also the only one, of the three, who took a successful shot at electoral politics. Co-incidentally,
Ambarish’s brother Dr. Harish passed away on the same day last year, November 24, 2017.
Ambarish was the quintessential angry young man of Kannada cinema, and called ‘rebel star’ by his large fan base. But his 206 films showcased his acting potential that surpassed the action-hero image. His last film ‘Ambi Ning Vayassaytho’ was released in September 2018.
Malavalli Huchhegowda Amarnath was born on May 27, 1952 into an illustrious Mysuru family of renowned violinist T. Chowdiah in 1952, took the name Ambarish as he debuted in ‘Nagarahavu’ in 1972. He started playing supporting roles and slowly graduated to lead roles.
Love of flamboyance
Unlike Dr. Rajkumar and Dr. Vishnuvardhan, who thought of themselves as middle-class role models, Ambarish lived it up in full public view, making no secret of his love of flamboyance and that included horse racing.
Ambarish became a sensation with his very first film, Nagarahavu (1972). He owes his debut success to Puttanna Kanagal, the famous director with an unerring finger on the pulse on the Kannada audience. Nagarahavu was the first Kannada film to run for 100 days in the theatres.
Angry young man
As Jaleel, the wayward Romeo who gets beaten up for harassing the heroine, Ambarish established a powerful screen presence. The film catapulted both hero Vishnuvardhan and villain Ambarish to stardom, and their friendship, like their careers, endured. Ambarish was cast in many films in angry, anti-establishment roles, earning title of ‘rebel star.’ The most popular in this series was Antha (1981), in which he played an upright Policeman. The same year, he delivered perhaps his most mature performance in Ranganayaki, a Puttanna Kanagal film again.
Not many of his younger fans know about his connection with T. Chowdiah, the violin legend. Chowdiah was his grandfather’s brother. Whenever he was asked why he hadn’t taken to classical music like Chowdiah, he had a candid answer: “He told us not to as he was afraid we would ruin his name!” But Ambarish did get to play a classical vocalist on screen, in a Malayalam film called Gaanam.
A go-to man
Ambarish was called ‘Appaji’ in Kannada, which means ‘Dad’, by most of the Sandalwood stars and was always a highly respected man. He was awarded the State Best Actor award for ‘Antha.’ Ambarish married multilingual actor Sumalatha in 1991. Ambarish was also the go-to man in the Kannada film industry. He filled the vacuum left by legendary actor Dr. Rajkumar to lead the industry in the last decade and a half.
Ambarish was considered a ‘strong rock’ of Kannada film industry as he was believed to be the only man who could stop internal ‘star-war’ in Sandalwood. After his demise, Sandalwood lost a dependable negotiator. He was indeed a ‘trouble-shooter’ of the Kannada film industry and often tried to sort out issues in other south Indian film industries.
He did not shy away from colourful language. In recent years, even Kannada film industry considered him a patriarch, and sought his intervention when faced with tricky problems, such as the #MeToo row between Shruti Hariharan and Arjun Sarja.
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