Back home in Karnataka, Union Minister Malavalli Huchegowda Ambareesh is better known as ‘Kaliyuga Karna’. The on-screen nom de guerre stuck following his career of 200-odd films spanning three decades. While he firmly believes that he is a “do-gooder” in real life who does “charity walking, waking, sleeping”, the title has more to do with his screen image as a ‘rebel hero’ and as a ‘messiah to the oppressed’.
Ambareesh was not the name given to him by his parents; Amarnath was. But the director who first signed him on found the name ‘Amarnath’ pedestrian. He promptly changed it to the ‘trendier’ Ambareesh.
Few are aware of the time when Ambareesh had to shoot a few scenes with a chimpanzee. While the director struggled to get the shots right, Ambareesh grew fond of the chimp. After the shoot, the animal was sent to Mysore zoo, but Ambareesh followed its track and told everyone travelling to Mysore: “Go, visit my son and give him a hug.”
Ambareesh’s brother-in-law Rajender Prasad was the one who acted as a courier between his sister Sumalatha and Ambareesh during the couple’s 10-year courtship. Rajender claims that Ambareesh’s ‘Karna’ image stuck through his political career. “He is ever willing to help. So often people come to him asking for assistance when travelling abroad.”
Those, like his wife Sumalatha, who have followed Ambareesh’s film career compare him to the ‘villain-turned-hero-turned-politician’ Shatrughan Sinha. Sumalatha, then an upcoming actress, was paired with Ambareesh in the Kannada film Ahuti. Eleven years younger than Ambareesh, Sumalatha was in awe of him till she realised what a ‘prankster’ he was. Had it not been for a co-star’s reflexes, she would probably have been dead by now. During a shoot on the banks of a river, Ambareesh suddenly pushed her into the water, beckoning her to swim ashore. It was only after another co-star told Ambareesh that Sumalatha could not swim that he jumped into the water and rescued her. Unscripted but a perfect film scene, which the director was quite tempted to use — except that the cameras were off.
Because of their teenage son, Abhishek, Ambareesh and Sumalatha have a ‘soft corner’ for Abhishek Bachchan. That apart, they are die-hard fans of Big B and even want to sign up in movies with him. Given that Sumalatha has paired up with the likes of Mithun Chakravarty and Dharmendra in Hindi cinema, she stands a better chance than Ambareesh who has no experience in North Indian cinema.