BIFFes 2019: Ambareesh as Ramanna in Ranganayaki

BIFFes 2019: Ambareesh as Ramanna in Ranganayaki

A still from the movie Ranganayaki. Image courtesy: Pragathi Ashwathanarayana


Ambareesh, popularly known as the ‘Rebel Star’ of Sandalwood is featured in this year’s Bengaluru International Film Festival retrospective section, and rightly so. His journey from a character/side actor in cinema to mainstream hero to the rebellious salt-of-the-earth politician has been well-chronicled. When he passed three months ago, fans thronged to pay their last respects to this gentle giant for whom everyone was family.


His foray into films was in a negative role, as Jaleela in Nagarahaavu, a small role where he is an eve teaser who gets bested by the hero in seeking the heroine’s attention. Nagarahaavu was screened on Saturday at BIFFes in their homage section. He was a regular in Puttanna Kanagal’s movies, but his most iconic role for me personally, albeit not the lead or the hero, will always be Ramanna in Ranganayaki.


I remember going to Navrang all those years ago as a young child who tagged along with her family to watch Ranganayaki. I didn’t understand why my sisters would go teary-eyed about Puttanna Kanagal and Arathi, but along with them I went, because a trip to the movies meant lots of popcorn to eat, guavas we would take along with us to eat while standing in the queue to buy tickets, no homework to worry about, and as the youngest of the movie-crazy troupe, no care in the world. 



While everyone went gaga over Ramakrishna, the son with the Oedipus complex, and Arathi’s magnificent portrayal of the actress (Nayaki) married to the stage (Ranga), I remember my restless mind quieting down during one scene: Ambareesh’s change in expression upon realising his love for Arathi will never come to fruition, when he realises that she thinks of him as a brother. The song he sings, as Ramanna, is arguably one of the best in the history of Kannada cinema, sung by SP Balasubrahmanyam: ‘Kannada Naadina Rasikara Manava’ (the actress who won over the hearts of Kannadigas).

Video credit: TVNXT Kannada

His expression in just this one song, during the line ‘Thangi, Lalitha Lathangi’ is to me the most sublime of his acting oeuvre, where the entire gamut of expressions traverses his face with those soulful eyes, from being lovelorn, knowing his love will forever go unrequited, to brotherly tenderness. His eyes follow Arathi from one end of the screen to another, and in that one single shot, his eyes go from grief to acceptance. 

What a treat it is that I will get to watch Ranganayaki again on the big screen today. To me, Ambareesh will always be Ramanna. 



Read more:

The Ambareesh you didn’t know
Ambareesh: His life in cinema
Ambareesh had strong bond with Mysuru