He makes acting look effortless and direction comes to him naturally too. So does scriptwriting, and penning lyrics, winning an entire generation of fans in the process. For Upendra or Uppi however, multi-tasking is no big deal. He has carried forward a rare legacy of a veritable all-rounder, preceded by a very few. And the rate at which he’s going, even after a decade, its unlikely Upendra will slow down anytime soon.
His inimitable dialogue delivery, together with histrionics and a radical sense of style have been crowd pullers for years now. There was a time when the portrayal of women in his films had drawn much criticism and he was branded as a ‘negative influence.’ Uppi, being who he is, casually brushed aside the accusations and churned out hit after hit. Some personal conviction, we say. “And my love for films and creativity,” he adds.
The films he makes are usually realistic and close to the everyday. “I am often criticised because my films depict the truth and ills of society. That has never stopped me from experimenting with subjects and I have always loved to take the road less taken,” he says firmly.
As a struggling artiste, for a long time he worked under actor-director Kashinath as script-writer and assistant director. Many argue that Uppi was indirectly responsible for Kashinath’s resounding success in portraying the darker side of society in his films. Life was never easy then and it’s constant challenge even now. A thrilling one, though!
After featuring in Tarle Nanmaga, Upendra’s next project as director was the suspense thriller Shsh, which launched Kumar Govind as a lead actor in the Kannada film industry. It ran for more than 100 days at several theatres. Subsequently, Uppi disappeared from the film radar for some time. In the weeks that followed, there were rumours that he was working on a secret project. The secret turned out to be the 1995 production Om, based on the Bangalore underworld. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Shivarajkumar starrer went on to become a trendsetter in the Kannada film industry, breaking several box office records in the process. It also shot Shivarajkumar into the league of established actors. Even today, critics say that Om brought out the best in Shivarajkumar’s performance.
After his subsequent films, Operation Antha and Swastika received a lukewarm response, people started wondering if Uppi was losing his Midas touch. But soon after, Uppi moved before the camera for A, while continuing to direct the film, design costumes. He’d written the script too. A went on to become a hallmark of style and set off fashion trends in Karnataka.
Risk taking became somewhat of an everyday thing for him during his next projects. A and Upendra were made in quick succession, starring and directed by Upendra, and both films set the BO on fire. Following this, he delivered several hits like Preethse, Kutumba, Gowramma and Rakta Kanneeru.
Just when everyone thought he was getting into a groove, he started to pen several songs for Puneet Rajkumar’s films. But gradually, things started slowing down a bit. There were even talks of the “Uppi Phenomenon” ebbing away with the onslaught of youngsters in the Kannada film industry.
Full of surprises he anyway is and his return to direction and acting was certainly a pleasant one. While he refuses to share much, we hear he will soon feature in a film without a title but represented by a symbol. As the script awaits the final touches, shooting will start anytime soon.
Though there are speculations that top Hindi female actors are being considered for this multilingual film, the actor is tightlipped. Even as he wraps up Srimathi, his ongoing project, we know he is working on the new film subconsciously.
The movie title seems to be the symbol, – the Hasta Mudra – thumb and fore finger forming a circle. This film would be made in Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. For now, it has generated a lot of interest in the industry as Uppi’s real life wife, Priyanka’s facing the camera after eight years! Upendra finds it exciting to act with Priyanka, after their pairing in the controversial H20.
Presently though, he’s also thinking of foraying into advertising and hospitality. But his heart remains firmly stuck in celluloid!