Ambareesh worked in Anirudh’s film for free

A young actor recalls the warmth and generosity of the ‘rebel star’.

Ambareesh Anna should do this role,” the director of my movie ‘Rajasimha’ declared. I knew it was a small guest role, but it was very important. And I understood Ambareesh was the only person who could do it. The responsibility of approaching him was daunting, and the director put it on my shoulders.

I was close to Ambareesh but felt a little awkward to ask him for a favour. If he accepted, it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to work with him. But would he? I could ask Bharathi Amma or my wife Keerthi to speak to him on my behalf. But if they did, how would he feel? I knew him too and he might think I was shirking. So I decided to go ahead.

Was I being impulsive? I knew he liked me from the very day we first met. He always made sure I was comfortable and ask me to sing. But would he mix the personal with the professional? I had also heard people saying he was choosy and difficult to convince. What if he refused? I became hesitant.

Oh! But yes, I had a trump card. He had a terrific relationship with my father-in-law Dr Vishnuvardhan, and as every Kannadiga knew, they were the closest of friends. So why worry? I gathered the courage and called him.

He asked me to go over to his house. I asked him, “Uncle, should I bring my director and the producer too?” I thought the director would explain the role to him and the producer would discuss his fees. But he clearly said, “No! Don’t bring them. You narrate the sequence to me.”

So I took the blessings of my parents and Amma, bowed to Appa’s photograph, and went to meet him. As always he was a great host.

Before I could start telling him about the role, I had the feeling he had already decided to do it. Immediately after my narration, he asked me about the date and costumes. When I said I would send a costumier to take his measurements, he told me not to worry; he would get his clothes stitched. Then I had to ask him about his fees and costume expenses to which his answer was his trademark abuse. That was just his way of showing unconditional love.

How could he accept money to do a role for me? After all he was the ‘Karna’ of the Kannada film industry, Appa’s ‘kuchikoo’ friend and my dearest Ambareesh uncle.

When he passed away last year before his new house was completed, and his son’s first movie was released, all of Karnataka was in tears, not just me. A few months later, I went to his house-warming ceremony with Keerthi and Amma.

It is a big beautiful bungalow, and his large smiling photograph welcomed us. Sumalatha aunty, his better half, was looking confident about her victory in Mandya. She was warm, as usual.

Then came Abhishek. His eyes, his talk, his attitude and his mannerisms assured me Ambareesh uncle was still around. He lives on in his son, another ‘rebel star’ in the making.

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