Keeping it real

In conversation

Keeping it real

Actor, director and now a producer, one of Sandalwood's prolific figures, Upendra, stays grounded despite having reached the heights of stardom. Bindu Gopal Rao catches up with the star who treads the off-beaten track...

It took me almost a month to get Upendra to give me this interview since he was busy with the promotions for Brahma and shooting for his upcoming movies.

I finally caught up with the actor for an exclusive chat at the sound recording of his much-awaited movie, Uppi 2, the sequel to his 1999 hit movie Upendra.

And all I can say is that it was certainly worth the wait.

As an actor, director, producer, screenplaywriter, lyricist and singer, there is hardly any department of filmmaking that Upendra has not dabbled in.
  
 So my first question to him is whether films were something he always wanted to do.

“Actually, it was quite unexpected, as I had no plans to be in the industry. I used to write a little, but my earliest memories of acting was when I was in Class 3 or 4. I failed an audition because I spoke feebly and the children who were chosen were the ones who spoke loudly.

That incident somehow stuck in my mind and during my next audition, I made sure that I spoke loudly and was chosen immediately.
  
After that, I did some theatre and garnered a lot of appreciation. These experiences made me believe that I can make a career in films,” he says.

 “Of course, to be in the movies, I first had to learn the ropes of filmmaking,” he adds.

Behind the camera

He started his career under director Kashinath as a writer and an assistant director. His first directorial venture was the Jaggesh-starrer Tharle Nan Maga, which was followed by Shhh!.

Noticing his potential as a director, Upendra was asked by Parvatamma Rajkumar to direct Shivaraj Kumar in Om.

“I was fortunate enough to direct a big star like Shivanna, and it was a huge break for me.” His acting debut as a full-fledged hero was in the 1998 release A, which won him the Udaya Film Award for Best Male Actor. 

Dabbling in so many aspects of acting, Upendra has just turned producer by launching his home production called Upendra Productions, and is set to explore a new dimension to filmmaking.

 Ask him about his favourite part in the movie business and pat comes the reply — writing.

“Writing is what I love. It is the basic framework on which a film is created.”

Upendra has a huge body of work in several other films like Upendra (1999), Preethse (2000), Raa (2001), Kutumba (2003), Raktha Kanneeru (2003), Gokarna (2003), Gowramma (2005), Auto Shankar (2005), Aishwarya (2006), Anatharu (2007), Buddhivanta (2008), Super (2010), Katari Veera Surasundarangi (2012), Kalpana (2012) and even the latest hit Brahma. 

Often self-directing, the actor says that the experience is a strange combination of having complete freedom and being under extreme pressure.

“As an actor, I do my best in front of the camera, but as a director my role is extended beyond filming. I need to be involved at every stage till the movie releases.”

Moreover, having gotten involved in movie production, Upendra knows that the dynamics will change.

“It was not something I thought about consciously. I am anxious to handle production and direction, which are two opposite sides of filmmaking. I am sure this will be a new turf and I am looking forward to the experience.”

Off the beaten track

Known widely for unusual names and interesting poster designs for his films, Upendra says, “It is just a way of projecting what is inside and outside as a contrast and showing different sides of the same emotion and triggering audience’s curiosity.”

Although he has dabbled in Telugu and Tamil films also, Upendra says that he wants to do much more in Sandalwood.

“I want to do something more in Karnataka beyond movies and maybe even enter politics. I want to do something different and that will create an impact.”

The actor-filmmaker’s humility comes to the fore when he says that he counts his fans’ appreciation more than any award.

“I respect awards as they indicate that your work is appreciated. Although there is a lot of focus on social media, I feel it’s best to connect with my fans when they watch me in a theatre.”  With a body of work that is testimony to his versatility, he admits that the audience’s expectations of seeing something different in his movies is something he has to handle.

“To deal with an on-scree image and meet people’s expectations is certainly something that puts pressure on me, but that doesn’t distract me from making a good film. I think of each film as a new challenge and do not get weighed down in the creative process.” 

 In 2003, Upendra married his co-star Priyanka Trivedi and they have two kids. The doting father says his children are free to choose their careers. 

 He currently has his hands full with upcoming releases Superro Ranga and Basavanna, after which he will start work on Uppi 2.

As I wind up my conversation, I understand why he is called Real Star.

He says, “Stardom and competition are things that I have experienced initially, but I feel that you need to understand that everything is a cycle. You have to start things from scratch everytime.” 

Three cheers to this talented star who has no trappings of his stardom and believes in staying grounded while scaling the heights of super stardom.

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