The late actor M.H. Ambareesh, who died last November, was the Rebel Star of Kannada cinema—famous for his cigarette-flip like his close friend from across the border, Rajinikanth. Now, it’s his actress-widow Sumalatha who’s creating a splash. Local Congressmen in Mandya—the Gowda heartland that lies between Bangalore and Mysore, and a seat Ambareesh once held—want her as their Lok Sabha candidate. She’s never contested an election before but her husband was extremely popular in his home district—one of his film titles, Mandyada Gandu (Mandya's Hero), had become his defining epithet.
But as Sumalatha’s name began circulating, it was politics as usual. “She’s not even a Gowdathi,” went one JD(S) leader, pointing to her Telugu roots. The CM too questioned her contribution to Mandya. The JD(S) was priming the seat for the political debut of Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil, an upcoming actor. His recent film is a launch vehicle of sorts, with its dialogues about farmer distress. The CM’s brother Revanna too stoked a controversy, asking why Sumalatha, who’s in mourning, was so keen on contesting elections.
The Congress has a fierce rivalry with the JD(S) in this Vokkaliga bastion, but it can’t afford to antagonise its ally, with whom it has a seat-sharing pact. So ex-CM Siddaramaiah weighed in, saying the JD(S) has a natural claim on Mandya because it won here last time. There's talk that Sumalatha was sounded out on an alternate seat (Mysore) that she wasn’t keen on. "The people of Mandya came to me," she told Outlook. "It's an emotional appeal they made. They see Ambareesh in me, I didn't have the heart to say no."