Sampath Kumar (18 September 1950 – 30 December 2009), known mononymously by his screen name Vishnuvardhan (Kannada: ವಿಷ್ಣುವರ್ಧನ್), was an Indian film actor.Fondly called The Phoenix of Kannada Cinema, he appeared in over 220 films, predominantly in Kannada in a career spanning 37 years. He made his debut in the 1972 film, Vamsha Vriksha, in a supporting role. The same year he played the lead role in Puttanna Kanagal’s Naagarahaavu — catapulting him to fame — and was recognized as the ‘angry young man of Kannada cinema’.He proved to be extremely versatile by playing variety of roles, be it the character of an action star or the romantic hero, comedy roles or the serious ones.
A road stretching 14.5 km from Banashankari Temple to Kengeri in Bengaluru has been named after the superstar. It is the longest road in Asia to be named after a celebrity.He was a martial arts expert. In an interview with The Hindu, he had said that it was the era of Bruce Lee and it was only Kamal Haasan and himself who had learnt martial arts in his generation
Vishnuvardhan was born in Mysore to H. L. Narayanan Rao and Kamakshamma. His ancestors are from Hallegere, Mandya district of Karnataka. His father was an artist, music composer and a scriptwriter who was known for his collection of musical instruments. His sister Rama was a Kathak dancer at Mysore Palace. He had six siblings. He was educated first in Mysore’s Gopalswamy School and then at Bangalore’s Kannada Model High School. He attended high school and obtained a degree from National College, Basavanagudi, Bangalore.
Vishnuvardhan started his career with the National Award-winning movie Vamshavruksha (1972) directed by Girish Karnad based on the novel written by S. L. Bhyrappa. His first lead role was in Naagarahaavu, directed by Puttanna Kanagal and based on a novel by T. R. Subba Rao. It was the in Kannada film history to complete 100 days in three main theatres of Bangalore. In his 35-year career, he played a variety of roles in more than 200 films.
In Sahasa Simha, it was reported that he had done all his stunts.
Vishnu was one of the prominent figures in popularizing romantic rain songs in Indian movies. His steamy scenes with Bhavya and Ambika are memorable.
While shooting for Muthina Haara, Vishnu performed a dangerous parachute dive without a double and narrowly escaped death. He ventured into parallel cinema and acted in movies like Harakeya Kuri (based on Chandrashekar Kambar’s novel with same title).
Vishnuvardhan is also heavily criticized for acting in Remake Movies even though being Super Star. As much as 120 movies out of his 200 movies in Kannada are remade from other languages.
He appeared on television for the first time in the 1980s. Shankar Nag directed Malgudi Days and introduced Vishnuvardhan as the main character Venkat Rao, in an episode called “Rupees Forty-five a Month”. Here, his co-star was Gayatri Nag.
As an acknowledgment to his service to Indian cinema, the state government decided to name its annual lifetime achievement award to long-serving film personalities after Vishnuvardhan, renaming it as the Karnataka State Dr. Vishnuvardhan Award.
He has appeared on postage stamps issued by the Government of India.
The State Government has named roads and parks in the capital city Bengaluru after him. A park in Jayanagar, Bengaluru has also been named as ‘Dr.Vishnuvardhan Park’.
The government of Karnataka decided to build a film city in the name of Dr. Vishnuvardhan. It will be similar to the model of Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad. Sources indicate that once the film city comes up, all Kannada film-related work will be done under a single roof.
The Karnataka Assembly showed respect to the star by praying for a minute for his soul to rest in peace for. After that, the election of the Speaker was held under chaotic circumstances as the Opposition parties wanted the elections to be postponed due to this shocking and unexpected incident.
There are statues erected in his honour, especially in Bengaluru. A 7 feet (2.1 m) high statue in Gowri Palya on 1 March 2012, Laggere on 4 March 2012, Kengeri on 9 October 2011, KP Agrahara in Vijayanagar on 11 March 2012 and in other places of Bengaluru and Karnataka were unveiled.
Vishnuvardhan was cremated at the Abhimaan Studios, in the outskirts of Bengaluru on 30 Dec 2009 with full state honors. Almost all the leading politicians and actors were present there.
A 14.3 km-long stretch of road between the Banashankari Temple and Kengeri in Bengaluru has been named after the superstar. It is the longest road in Asia to be named after a celebrity.
Vishnuvardhan’s fans for whom he is a demi-god have built a temple for him naming it Dr. Vishnuvardhan Mandir
Vishnuvardhan started an organisation called Sneha Loka to promote harmony and to help during calamities like floods. He was heavily involved in many charitable causes, but took care not to publicise many of them.
He was known for his personal involvement in many charitable causes. He was a brand ambassador for Mysore’s Vikram Hospital and took responsibility of the treatment of rural children from humble backgrounds suffering from heart ailments. He conducted a ‘padayatra’ to collect funds for the flood-affected people in the northern part of the state. Vishnuvardhan and his wife Bharathi had adopted the Melukote town in Mandya district where he had dug borewells in the water-starved temple town. Many of his other charitable donations were revealed only when the beneficiaries came forward and spoke about it. In January 2005, Vishnuvardhan, cricketer Syed Kirmani and Shivram participated in a Cancer Awareness Walkathon organised by Bangalore Institute of Oncology (BIO) to commemorate its 15 years of public service in Bangalore
S. P. Balasubrahmanyam is record-holder for having sung more than 45,000 songs in Indian languages including Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and Hindi. SPB’s voice suited Vishnuvardhan, and people felt it was a perfect combination.He started singing for Vishnuvardhan in the 1972 film Naagarahaavu. Balasubrahmanyam as music director, composed all the songs for Vishnuvardhan’s Sowbhagyalakshmi. Vishnuvardhan never missed any of the birthdays of S. P. Balasubrahmanyam. In every film of the actor, he had to sing couple of songs and Vishnu would insist. Balasubrahmanyam has sung all the five songs in his last Kannada film. Aptharakshaka and was awarded the Best Playback Singer Filmfare Award for the song Gharane Ghara Gharane. He dedicated his award to Vishnuvardhan.
After Vishnuvardhan’s death, Balasubrahmanyam paid tribute to him in musical nights and one such show happened in Bengaluru
With Dwarakish: After a series of entry into films, actor/producer Dwarakish approached him with a project. Vishnu and Dwarakish acted together in several movies — the last one being Apthamithra that ran for a year. Vishnuvardhan-Dwarakish starrer Singapoorinalli Raja Kulla was the first Kannada movie shot outside India. Dwarakish was the producer of these movies and the Vishnu-Dwarakish Jodi helped him establish his production unit. Their combination started in the year 1974 with the film Kalla Kulla directed by KSR Das produced by Dwarakish. After that, they acted together in many films like Galate Samsaara, Kittu Puttu, Singapore Nalli Raaja Kulla, Guru Shishyaru, Avala Hejje, Pedda Gedda, Indina Ramayana, Prachanda Kulla, Maduve Madu Thamashe Nodu mostly under his production. Vishnu insisted Dwarakish direct; henceforth, Dwarakish became the director for films like Nee Bareda Kadambari and Nee thanda Kaanike starring the actor. Dwarakish, after the 1985 film Nee thanda kaanike chose to direct and produce films without the actor. He requested Vishnu to act in a film under his direction and production in 1993 film Rayaru Bandaru Mavana Manege. He tried entering politics and introducing his sons to the industry. He tried Shashikumar in a film named Hosa Kalla Hale Kulla. He was in debts and was in a situation of losing all his properties. He approached and requested him to act in his film Aaptha Mithra in 2004. Vishnu agreed and the film created records and ran for a whole year.
With director Bhargava: The actor’s combination with director Bhargava was very well received by the audience and hence this combination ended up doing almost 24 films together. Their combination started in the year 1979 in the film Asaadhya Aliya and after that they made films like Guru Shishyaru, Avala Hejje, Pedda Gedda, Onde Guri, Gandugali Rama, Jeevana Chakra, Karna, Krishna Nee Begane Baaro, Soubhagyalakshmi, Karunamayi, Shubha Milana, Nammora Raja, Jananayaka, Krishna Rukmini, Hrudaya Geethe, Shiva Shankar, Mathe Haadithu Kogile, Jagadeka Veera, Raajadhiraaja, Nanna Shathru, Bangarada Kalasha, Janani Janmabhoomi and more. This was a milestone in Bhargava’s lifetime too.
With actor Suhasini Maniratnam: Vishnu-Suhasini combination is considered as one of the best combinations of South India. Their films Bandhana directed by Rajendra Singh Babu and Suprabhatha directed by Dinesh Babu ran for a whole year in the theatres and created history. Muthina Haara, Himapatha, Hendthig Helthini, Maathaad Maathaadu Mallige, School Mater and others were the films they were seen in. This was a big break for Suhasini’s career, too, since two out of the four Filmfare awards that she has won in Kannada is for films with the actor. They have been close friends from years. Suhasini was close to his family too. Suhasini, wife of India’s greatest director Manirathnam, recently at a press meet in Bengaluru said she was all set to direct her first movie in Kannada. She also said that the actor and close friend Vishnu had always told her to take up direction and the actor who was never a producer had told her that he would produce the film.”People who are close to me know I have a funny side. Vishnuji was one of those people. He was also great at comedy”, is what Suhasini said.She was also seen shedding tears in Bengaluru when her close friend died. In her interview with rediff.com, she said “Working with an actor like Vishnuji was such a great pleasure because it’s such a learning experience. He would take great pains to get into the skin oif the characters. I learnt so much from him, especially while working in Mathaad Mathaad Mallige. There are many unforgettable moments that I would always cherish while working with him like the way he handled the comedy sequences in a film like Hendthige Helthini, or his super cool reactions in Mathaad Mathaad Mallige”.
With actor, MP Ambareesh: Vishnu and Ambareesh debuted together in Nagarahavu under Putanna’s direction. From then they were larger-than-life friends. Though Ambareesh was a villain in many films after Naagarahavu and Vishnu was already a star, their friendship remained the same and even when Ambareesh rose to fame as a hero. Though they were on parallel tracks, they never considered each other as competition and neither did they have any ego problems. When Vishnu departed in 2009, Ambarish was seen handling every bit of his close friend’s funeral. From coordinating with the stars, to coordinating with the government, from shifting the body to managing crowds, he did every thing that the police and the government had to do. At one point he even picked up the microphone in the funeral place and shouted at a few frenzied fans and took situation into control.Ambareesh’s wife and Vishnuvardhan’s good friend, co-star Sumalatha Ambareesh says that she has never seen this kind of friendship in any other Industry between two actors in the peak who remained closest of closest friends throughout their life.They went on to act in Snehitara sawaal, Maha Prachandaru & Avala Hejje in the 80s. Again they came together in Diggajaru in 2000 and this film is remembered by both their fans as their best. It had the memorable hit “Kuchikku, Kuchikku”, a song about friendship featuring the two.
With Actor Rajinikanth: Vishnuvardhan and rajinikanth has worked together in many movies such as Sahodarara Savaal, Kiladi Kittu, Galate Samsara, sri raghavendra, viduthalai. Paying tributes to Kannada film veteran Vishnuvardhan who had died, Tamil actor Rajinikanth said it was the late actor who encouraged him to take up initial offers in Tamil films, which subsequently paved the path for his stardom in Kollywood. Rajinikanth told reporters, “Once I got an offer from Tamil film producer and also from a Kannada producer simultaneously. I was in a dilemma, which offer to choose. It was Vishnu who advised me to take up the Tamil film offer.” “He advised me that I should achieve something there and should go there and excel,” he said. “I cannot explain the value of our friendship. Our friendship was one that could be enjoyed, not one that could be expressed in words,” said Rajinikanth. He called on Vishnuvardhan’s wife Bharati at her residence here and offered his condolences and recounted his close association with Vishnuvardhan. He also apologised for being unable to attend the funeral of his “old and dear” friend owing to his hectic schedule
He started singing in movies occasionally and later went on to singing devotional songs for albums. The first song he sang was in the movie Nagarahole. The first devotional album sung by him was on Lord Ayappa and the title of the album was Jyothiroopa Ayappa. His other albums were “Thayi Bhanashankari” (on goddess Banashankari) and Vishwapremi Ayappa. He also sang devotional songs on Dharmastala’s Lord Manjunathaswamy, Malemadeshwara and Ranachandi Chamundi.
Some of his songs are:
“Hegiddharu Neene Chenna” (Sahasa Simha)
“Shashiya Kandu Moda Helithu” (Sirithanakke Savaal)
“Thuthu Anna Thinnoke” (Jimmi Gallu)
“Beda Annoro Unte” (Sididedda Sahodara)
“Kannadave Nammamma” (Mojugara Sogusugara)
“Abhimani Gale Nanna Pranaa” (Vishnu Sena)
“Ee Notake” (Naagarahole)
“Madilalli” (Kiladi Kittu)
“Aasegala THota” (Hanthakana Sanchu)
“Naguve Swarga” (Naaga Kaala Bhirava)
“Olavina jodi” (Kallu Veene Nudiyithu)
“Vayyari Nee” (Gandugali Rama)
“Savi Maathanu” (Chinnadantha Maga)
“Cheluvina Chenniga” (Rudra Naga)
“Muthe Maniye” (Khaidi)
“Nammora Beediyali” (Benki Birugali)
“Kannalli Nee Bandu” (Simha Gharjane)
“Kandaddu Kandahaage” (Huli Hejje)
“Anuraaga Geetheyalli Apaswaravu”(Benki Birugali)
Vishnu never played a role that ridiculed or passed nasty comments on women. He selected roles like ideal husband and affectionate lover, who is ever ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of his sweetheart. His performance in films such as ‘Haalunda Tavaru’, ‘Bandhana’, ‘Muthina Haara’ and ‘Ee Bandhana’ made him the favourite hero for women audience. His hot rain songs with Ambika and Bhavya made him the favorite hero for men audience.
He was very angry when director Phani Ramachandra named his teleserial ‘Dharidra Lakshmiyaru,’ a few years ago. He contacted Ramachandra, asking him to change the title of the serial or shelve it.He was guide for many heroines like Jayaprada, Suhasini and Shruthi.
On December 30, 2009, Vishnuvardhan died due to a massive cardiac arrest at King’s Court Hotel in Mysore. He was survived by his wife, Bharathi Vishnuvardhan, and two adopted daughters, Keerthi and Chandana.
Fans came to pay tribute at the National College Grounds near Basavangudi, Bengaluru where his body was placed for public view. A grand procession arrangement was made to pay tribute to the actor.
Bharathi Vishnuvardhan appealed for calm on TV and said that her late husband was a peace-loving man and that fans should allow him to rest in peace. He was cremated with full state honours.
Bollywood actors Amitabh Bachchan and Shatrughan Sinha expressed their shock at Vishnuvardhan’s death. Akshay Kumar who had worked with him in two films said “he was so popular! Men, women and children came to him to be touched by him. He was like God. Newly-born babies were named after him.” and called Vishnuvardhan “disciplined, focused and hard working” as well as “warm and very friendly.” Aamir Khan said that he was shocked to hear the news, and expressed his condolences to Vishnuvardhan’s family
The Tamil actor Rajinikanth expressed his gratitude to Vishnuvardhan for helping him towards becoming a star and talked about the strong friendship they had enjoyed.The actor and politician Chiranjeevi said “The suddenness of Vishnuji’s death has come as a shock. May God give his family the courage, strength and support”.
Cricketer Anil Kumble said that he had watched Vishnuvardhan’s films while growing up, and referred to the actor’s death as “the end of an era”
Celebrity friends of the actor who flew down from neighboring states included Prakash Rai, Suhasini Maniratnam, Dr.S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, Tamil actors Sarath Kumar, Raadhika Sarathkumar, and P.Vasu. Other actors including Mammooty, Mohanlal, Kamal Hassan, Dr.B Saroja Devi and politicians like B. S. Yeddyurappa, R. Ashok, H. D. Kumaraswamy, H. D. Deve Gowda, Governor of Karnataka state Hansraj Bhardwaj offered condolences
Vishnuvardhan married actress Bharathi on February 17, 1975 in Bangalore. They had two adopted children, Keerthi and Chandana