Multi-faceted Upendra speaks to Shailaja Tripathi Taneja of his eventful journey and how he survived it all
“You can’t walk out of a hall after watching my film and say it was okay. You either love it or absolutely hate it,” says Upendra, in a very matter-of-fact manner. Sandalwood’s eccentric superstar is referring to all those films that he either directed or scripted;“A”, “Upendra”, “Shhh” and “Om” to name a few. While Uppi’s fans put him on the pedestal, copied his hairstyle and went delirious over his breathless dialogue delivery, his critics called his work as vulgar, melodramatic and arrogant.
The hype and hooplah, the actor says became too much to handle and he gave up direction, screenplay and dialogue writing in 2001. After a long gap, Uppi is back and penning the script. “Writing is my first love. I can write any number of pages.”But before he returns as a director and writer there is Ramnath Rigvedi’s “Buddhivanta” with Upendra acting in five different characters and romancing five heroines. It is also the first film to have been shot on the Great Wall of China. “My fans will get to see a few shades of the old Upendra.” Then there is S.V. Rajendra Babu’s ambitious project “Bhimoos Bang Bang Kids” involving high-end technology and graphics. The high-profile actor with interesting projects in his kitty got first noticed as a director and screenplay writer in the industry. “I came with an intention of becoming a hero. But I wanted to know all the aspects of filmmaking so I started off as an assistant to Kashinath,” says Upendra. Belonging to a middle class family of modest means, Uppi went through the regulation struggle. Then came “A” featuring him as actor for the first time. The psychological thriller “Upendra” catapulted him into superstar status, but also brought him criticism.
“I got tired of the controversies around my work. While I was immersed in acting, scripting and directing the films, the others were busy creating controversies. And I wasn’t clever enough to understand all this.
“Even as I was busy with post-production of ‘H20’, the producers spread the controversy that I had exceeded budget, while I was slogging it out in a dilapidated, poorly-equipped studio. It is ironic that producers want a good film, but at no cost. The pressures of working under stifling limitations, high expectations, and baseless rumours forced me to take a break,” recalls Upendra.
The subject of the films coupled with Uppi’s novel approach too made headlines for both good and bad reasons. “Horror, action and romance have been done to death. Searching for a fresh story, I thought of exploring the human mind and came up with ‘Upendra’. I showcased the human being the way he was, without any masks. It ended with “Aham Brahmaasmi”, where I wanted to say rise above ‘I’.In ‘Raktha Kanneeru’, my character took a dig at hypocrisy. In ‘H20’, I got real Siamese twins from Rajasthan for the climax. I employed a reverse screenplay in ‘Upendra’,” explains Uppi.
Playing safe for sometime, the versatile Upendra went on to star in a slew of remakes like “Preethse” (remake of “Darr”), “Naanu Naane”, and “Nagarahavu”. It was followed by his stint in Telugu film industry with “Raa”, “Sarpa Okemata”, and “Neethone Untanu”.
Upendra struck back with “H20”, a film in which he dealt with the Cauvery water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in the form of a love triangle. Two men – one a Kannadiga (portrayed by Upendra himself) and the other a Tamilian (enacted by Prabhudeva) were both in love with a girl called Cauvery.
“I wanted to prove that the Kannada industry is the best but my success was seen in isolation. In high spirits, I announced “Hollywood” but we couldn’t do it the way we wanted to,” says Upendra, who also started an ad agency UppiAds and dabbled with ad films for some time.
“Autoshankar”, “Anatharu”, “Lavakusha”, “Aishwarya” and “Masti” have followed…. It has been quite an eventful journey for the actor. The ups and downs have been great learning experiences.
“I will act and direct because people want me to do both. I will reduce the number of films and take on quality work,” says Upendra.