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In Hindsight: When Rebel Star Ambareesh spoke of his reluctance to audition for Puttanna Kanagal

By his own admission, Ambareesh never sought the role of Jaleela in Naagarahaavu, and even jeopardized the screen test

  • Swaroop Kodur

Last Updated: 06.47 PM, May 29, 2022

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In Hindsight: When Rebel Star Ambareesh spoke of his reluctance to audition for Puttanna Kanagal
Rebel Star Ambareesh and Puttanna Kanagal

It wouldn't be a stretch to call Rebel Star Ambareesh Kannada Cinema's first superstar villain. Sure, his predecessors and contemporaries like Balakrishna, Vajramuni, and others commanded immense respect (and fear) but it seemed as though Ambareesh was destined to be a bonafide cultural icon. For a person who never sought acting in a serious manner, fame and power beckoned Ambareesh with glee and he went on to become a custodian of Kannada Cinema. 

Interestingly, Ambareesh's journey to stardom began on the note of coercion. Puttanna Kanagal was reportedly auditioning for all the various roles in Naagarhaavu, and Ambareesh's friends Sangram Singh and Rajendra Singh Babu (filmmaker) felt that he should definitely give it a shot. But the "rebel" in the future star was quite rampant at the time who showed reluctance to take part in the screen test and instead dodged his friends on the day. Ambareesh had to be forced into eventually meeting Kanagal at the Premier Studio and when the former confessed that he knew nothing of acting and nor was he too keen on becoming an actor, the auteur spotted something star-worthy in Ambareesh right away. He was then asked to mouth a single line and fling a cigarette in his mouth in swagger. The rest, as they say, is history because Ambareesh was then selected to play the part of Jaleela in the iconic film.

Ambareesh's portrayal as the wily bad guy in Naagarahaavu is still remembered as the birth of a new kind of cool in Kannada cinema. In a print interview many years ago, the actor himself alluded to the fact he was indeed the first villain in the industry who was celebrated and hailed. His entry as Jaleela on-screen was one of the most anticipated moments for the audience who would cheer and whistle at the sight of the cycle spokes, even before he was seen on screen.  

Ambareesh's career, post the stellar debut, remained to take off until 1978 when he was finally cast as the leading man in a film. The actor had forged a niche himself up till that point as the go-to villain but once the audience saw him in a new light, it was apparent that he was going to reach the greatest of heights. Ambareesh would eventually be known for his magnanimity and acting remained only a part of his large repertoire as he carved a successful political career for himself. He would breath his last on November 24, 2018 following breathing troubles and other health issues.

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