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|Occupation||Actor, Filmmaker, Producer, Lyricist Writer, Singer, Prajakiyan|
|Years active||1989 – present|
Priyanka Trivedi (m. 2003)
Upendra Rao, known as Upendra, is an Indian filmmaker, actor, and politician known for his work in Kannada cinema. He started his film career under actor and film director Kashinath, as a writer and an assistant director. His first directorial venture was Tharle Nan Maga (1992). He is currently one of the highest paid directors and actors in the Kannada cinema industry.
In the mid 1990s, Upendra directed Om, which portrayed actual Bangalore gangsters, followed by A, which was his debut film as an actor. Upendra, his next film, starred Raveena Tandon, a Bollywood actress. After a decade of acting in Kannada, Telugu and Tamil films, he returned to the role of director with the Kannada movie Super, which was well-received critically and commercially. Upendra is known for his work in films such as A (1998), Upendra (1999), Preethse (2000), Super Star (2002), Kutumba (2002), Gokarna (2002),Hollywood (2002), Raktha Kanneeru (2003), Gowramma (2005), Aishwarya (2006), Anatharu (2007), Budhivanta (2008), Super (2010), Kalpana (2012), S/O Satyamurthy (2015), Uppi 2 (2015), I love you (2019). Upendra directed movies were not remade in other languages. Upendra got an Honorary Doctorate from Angkor University in 2015.
Upendra is known for his thematic representation of Indian politics and society in films directed by him. In October 2017, he joined a political party Karnataka Pragnyavanta Janata Paksha. However, owing to internal differences, he quit the party five months later and formed another party named Uttama Prajakeeya Party (UPP) based on the principles of Prajakiya (citizen-centric administration).
Upendra Rao was born in Kundapura, Udupi district in the erstwhile Mysore State (now Karnataka), to Manjunatha Rao and Anusuya. He was the second son to his parents, his older brother being Sudheendra Rao. Rao's family was poor. As a baby, he suffered from an eye problem, the result of which could be seen in his ability to roll his eyeballs, which were seen in sequences of many of his films. He obtained his Bachelor of Commerce degree from APS College of Commerce, Bangalore. During his time at the college, he participated in plays, often forming troupes with his friends. His association with actor and director, Kashinath, who happened to be a distant relative of his, began during his final year in college, who would play an important role in his film career.
Career as a director
It was Upendra's ambition to become a director, for which he first sought to assist director Kashinath in various departments apart from assisting in writing songs, dialogues, and screenplay for his movies. He co-directed a film with Kashinath. He started as a director with a typical Kashinath style comedy called Tharle Nan Maga in 1992. The film introduced a famous comedian Jaggesh. The movie went on to be a runaway hit and has since achieved a cult following.
Upendra directed a horror suspense thriller next called Shhh! in 1993. The film featured his mentor Kashinath and a young producer and actor named Kumar Govind. The film was a major box office success, and Upendra came out as an independent director. Shhh! is considered as one of the best horror/thriller movies in Kannada Cinema.
His next film was a gangster film called Om, which was released in 1995. The film starred Shivrajkumar and also had real gangsters in its cast, and had a message of peace. Om became a blockbuster, and went on to be one of the highest-grossing Kannada films of its time and made news at National Level. Upendra became an overnight star director. With Om, Upendra also introduced an actress from Coorg, Prema. Om was also remade into several languages – the Hindi version was called Arjun Pandit and had Sunny Deol playing Shivrajkumar's role.
Upendra then turned towards a project of directing an extended version of the 1981 film Antha, and he called it Operation Antha. The film had Ambareesh reprising his role from the earlier 1981 version Antha, as Kanwar Lal. The film contained revolutionary ideology and a strong feeling against corruption, where the protagonist is obsessed with the corrupt world and finds a way to change the system through the extremist way. The film was much ahead of its time and hence was not very successful. However, it was controversial for its taunts on some real-life political figures.
In 1998, Upendra directed A, through which he made a successful transition to acting. A was again a revolutionary film about exploring deeper meanings of love. The film had outrageous posters, even more, outrageous dialogues, and a controversial story-line. The plot was of a director falling in love with his lead actress while filming, and then becoming dejected as she leaves him when she becomes successful. The film also dealt with dark truths of the film world, like the casting couch. Rumors were thick that it was Upendra's own story, and the actress in the film portrayed his protege Prema. This only added to the popularity of the film, and it broke many box office records upon release and went on to become one of the highest grossing Kannada films of its time. The film had a 175-day run in Karnataka was also dubbed to Telugu, and repeated its success in Andhra Pradesh too, where it had a 100 days run. The film won accolades from Bollywood personalities like Amitabh Bachchan and Anil Kapoor. Upendra was now a big name in Kannada cinema and was also popular in Andhra Pradesh.
Upendra's next movie was Swasthik with lead Raghavendra Rajkumar, which was released in 1998. The film performed averagely at the box office but was still a hit with the critics. However, it is still remembered for its smart narration and innovative screenplay and is generally considered to be among the best of Upendra's screenplays.
In 1999, Upendra made a self-titled film, Upendra, a psychological thriller that explored the nuances of ego. Upendra acted in this film as the unnamed protagonist (or antagonist) Naanu (I or Myself). The film starred three heroines, Damini, Prema, and Bollywood actress Raveena Tandon. Naanu was an arrogant character, bordered on misogyny, and was very insulting to women, which led to a lot of criticism on the film. However, the film broke many box office records and went on to be a much bigger hit than A, both in Karnataka as well as in Andhra Pradesh. The film had a 200 days run in Karnataka, and its Telugu version had a 100 days run in Andhra Pradesh. Upendra was now not only a remarkably successful director, but also a big star with a large fan base in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Since then, Upendra gave up direction and concentrated more on his acting career.
Upendra came back as a director after a hiatus of 10 years in 2010 with the movie Super. The movie was released in a record number of theatres all over Karnataka and was also dubbed into Telugu and released in Andhra Pradesh. The Utopian film, set in a futuristic India, tells the story of a NRI who, through political manipulations, helps India become a superpower in 2020. Super was a blockbuster, breaking many box office records upon release and completing 175 days of the run, becoming one of the highest-grossing Kannada films of 2010 and was also critically acclaimed.
In 2011, Tamil actor Rajinikanth attended a private screening of Super in Bangalore. Rajinikanth watched the film along with Upendra and a couple of friends. "Upendra is a great actor and director. There is hardly anyone in Indian Cinema, who would think like him. Only he can think like that. I like watching Upendra's films, and this was no exception. If I get an opportunity and an impressive script, I'd like to act in a Upendra film in the future," said Rajini.
In 2015, Upendra directed and starred in a sequel to his 1999 film Upendra, titled Uppi 2. As it was a sequel to Upendra and his comeback as a director after 5 years, it had huge hype and expectations before release. The film was simultaneously released in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and USA in over 600 theaters. Upon release, the film set records for the highest first-day collections ever for a Kannada movie. Although the film got mixed response because of its confusing story-line and screenplay, it was a commercial success completing 50 days of the run and was highly profitable at the box office. It sold the second-highest number of tickets in online ticket sales on Bookmyshow among Kannada movies in 2015. It was also successful in the Overseas, becoming the second-highest-grossing Kannada film of all time in USA.
Career as an actor
Upendra first appeared on screen making an appearance in Kashinath's 1989 comedy film, Anantana Avantara. He appeared as Lord Kamadeva in the song "Come On Come On Kaamanna". In Ajagajantara, also directed by Kashinath, he made a cameo appearance. In his directorial debut, Shhh! (1993), Upendra made another cameo appearance, like a mad man in the attire of a police officer barging into a film set. In his 1995 directorial Operation Antha, he appears as a man urinating on a roadside wall and explains of India's ways to a complaining Mandakini (played by Sangeetha).
In 1998, Upendra directed and starred in A, which was his fifth film as a director but his first lead role as a Hero. Upon release, the film had a 175 days run and became a trend-setting blockbuster in Karnataka, with its Telugu dubbed version also becoming a Super Hit by running for 100 days in Andhra Pradesh. Due to Upendra's newly found popularity in Telugu, ace Telugu director E. V. V. Satyanarayana cast him in the 1998 Telugu film Kanyadanam alongside Srikanth and Rachana, which also became a commercial success. In 1999 Upendra again directed and starred in his self-titled film Upendra which starred Bollywood actress Raveena Tandon. The film went on to become a bigger hit than A, both in Karnataka as well as in Andhra Pradesh. The film had a 200 days run in Karnataka and 100 days run in Andhra Pradesh. In 2000, Upendra starred opposite Bollywood actress Sonali Bendre in the psychological thriller Preethse which was a remake of Bollywood film Darr. Preethse became Upendra's third consecutive blockbuster by completing 175 days of the run. With three back to back silver jubilee hits, Upendra had attained Super Star status in the Kannada Film Industry with popularity in Telugu as well. In 2001 Upendra wrote and starred in a Telugu film titled Raa, which became a box office hit in Andhra Pradesh. Raa was a typical Upendra style film in which he plays a womanizing playboy. Upendra starred opposite his future wife Priyanka Trivedi, for the first time in this film.
In 2002, Upendra hit a rough patch, with his most expected films such as H2O, Super Star, and Hollywood not meeting expectations and having average run at the box office and films like Nagarahavu and Naanu Naane flopping at the box office.
However, Upendra made a strong comeback in the next three years, i.e. from 2003 to 2005, which is considered his most successful period. During these three years, he starred in 5 back to back 100 days films, such as Kutumba, Raktha Kanneeru, Gokarna, Gowramma and Auto Shankar, all of which were super hits at the box office. The only films of Upendra which didn't do well during this period were Omkara (which had a 50 days run with huge opening) and News.
During the span of 1998 to 2005, Upendra was considered as the most successful actor, much ahead of his contemporaries like Puneeth Rajkumar, Darshan, Sudeep and Shivrajkumar, having starred in eight 100 days hits in eight years, such as A, Upendra, Preethse, Kutumba, Raktha Kanneeru, Gokarna, Gowramma and Auto Shankar.
Upendra went through a bad phase during 2006 to 2009, with most of his films during this period going unnoticed at the box office such as Uppi Dada M.B.B.S., Tandege Takka Maga, Parodi, Masti, Toss (Telugu), Lava Kusha, Sathyam (Tamil), Dubai Babu and Rajini.
The only commercial hits he gave during this period were the candy floss romantic comedy Aishwarya, which ran for 75 days (which was also the debut film of Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone), and the moderately successful Anatharu which ran for 70 days. Upendra also received praise and critical acclaim for his performance in Anatharu.
Budhivanta, which was Upendra's only release in 2008, was considered as his big comeback through which he rose back to Super Stardom. The film was declared as a blockbuster and completed 100 days of the run, becoming the top box office grosser of the year. Budhivanta was a typical old school Uppi style film in which Uppi played a womanizing con-man, (somewhat similar to his 2001 Telugu hit Raa) and his seven get-ups in the film were highly appreciated as were his witty dialogues. Budhivanta's Telugu dubbed version was also a hit, completing 50 days of the run in Andhra Pradesh.
2010 marked Upendra's comeback to direction after 10 years. After several ups and downs in his acting career, Upendra finally came back as a director after 10 years in 2010 with the movie Super in which he starred opposite Tamil actress Nayantara and Tulip Joshi. The movie was released in a record number of theatres all over Karnataka and was also dubbed into Telugu and released in Andhra Pradesh. Super was a blockbuster, breaking many box office records upon release and completing 175 days of the run, becoming one of the highest-grossing Kannada films of 2010 and was also critically acclaimed.
Upendra then starred in several films like Shrimathi (2011) opposite his wife Priyanka Trivedi and Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly, and Aarakshaka (2012). In 2012, Upendra starred in several commercially successful films like 3D fantasy film Katari Veera Surasundarangi which was declared a Super hit and became the second-highest-grossing film of the year, followed by Godfather which did above average business and the horror-comedy film Kalpana which also did reasonably well at the box office.
In 2015, Upendra starred in a parallel role alongside Allu Arjun in the Telugu film S/O Satyamurthy directed by Trivikram Srinivas. Upendra played a powerful and important character and was a highlight of the film. The film was declared a Blockbuster, grossing ₹92 crores and netting over ₹60 crores at the global box office becoming the seventh-highest-grossing Telugu film of all time at the global box office.
The same year Upendra directed and starred in a sequel to his 1999 film Upendra, titled Uppi 2. Upon release, the film set records for the highest first-day collections ever for a Kannada movie. Although the film got a mixed response because of its confusing story-line and screenplay, it was a commercial success completing 50 days of the run and was highly profitable at the box office. It sold the second-highest number of tickets in online ticket sales on Bookmyshow among Kannada movies in 2015. It was also successful in the Overseas, becoming the second-highest-grossing Kannada film of all time in USA.
In 2016, Upendra starred in a sequel to his earlier hit horror film Kalpana titled as Kalpana 2 which became an average grosser at the box office. He also starred along with Sudeep in the remake of Bollywood film OMG titled as Mukunda Murari, which became a box office success and completed 50 days of the run. Upendra's "I Love you Nanne Preetse" released in June 2019 and got favourable opening and movie doing sound business at the box office till the last known.
Upendra's upcoming films include Soggade Chinni Nayana remake which is titled as Upendra Matte Baa, Inti Ninna Prema opposite Prema and Shruti Hariharan, Kanneshwara along with Komal and opposite Vedhika, directed by Naganna (who directed his earlier hit films like Kutumba, Gokarna, Gowramma), Uppi Rupee opposite Rachita Ram, directed by K Madesh (of Power, Brindavana, Hudugaru fame), a crime drama biopic written by Agni Shridhar and directed by Mummy director Lohith in which Upendra will play Bangalore's first Underworld Don M. P. Jayaraj, his 50th film directed by Masterpiece director Manju Mandavya, a film directed and produced by Shashank and Dr. Modi directed by Uday Prakash, he has just finished shooting for Buddhivanta-2, a romantic entertainer, Sonal Monteiro and Meghana Raj are the female leads for the movie and it is directed by newcomer Maurya DN.
Upendra's films have been criticized for their unusual plotlines and screenplay. During a radio interview, Upendra expressed his disappointment at being labeled as a "different director" and explained that most of his directorial ventures deal with the things that he had undergone in his real life. He said regarding the non-linear narrative that "When one wants to capture the upheavals in one's mind, it becomes a jumble. Our mind is like that, always confused."
The subject of the films coupled with Uppi's novel approach too made headlines for both good and bad reasons, Upendra added that his self-titled film he explored human nature which "ended with “Aham Brahmaasmi”, where I wanted to say rise above I." A dealt with the love story between a film director and an actress which is narrated through multiple flashbacks within flashbacks and reverse screenplay. The film deals with dark truths of the film world like the casting couch. Super depicts a Utopian India in the year 2030 where Indians are pictured to be wealthy, hard-working, and are seen wearing traditional clothing and in contrast, westerners are the ones taking care of menial jobs like taxi driving, janitorial, etc. It is a future where the rupee is valued 70 times the British pound and people who cannot speak Kannada are considered illiterates (and Westerners are visibly apologetic about the same). From this setting, the film regresses to the year 2010, where India is beset with problems of corruption, red-tapism, pollution and unemployment.
Upendra has done the highest number of Brand Endorsements among Kannada Actors. Upendra has been the brand ambassador of the United Breweries, Lunars Footwear, SK Super TMT, Royal Challengers Bangalore (replaced by Puneeth Rajkumar in IPL 3), Mavalli Tiffin Room (MTR), Bangalore Electricity Supply Company, Emani Navaratna Brand, Karnataka Milk Federation (Nandini), Udayavani News Daily.
Upendra has been the Brand Ambassador of United Breweries Group since 1999. His tag line Yella OK. Cool drink Yaake? has long been part of the ad campaign. Commenting on his long-standing association with the brand, Upendra added, "UB Export was successful in bringing out the quirky side of me in one of my most popular punch lines ever, Yella ok. Cool drink Yaake? It's been almost 10 years since the ad broke out, but the fad of Yaake? still seems to linger. Fans even now refer to it whenever I meet them on occasions."
Upendra was born in Koteshwara near Kundapura, Udupi district of Karnataka. On 14 December 2003, Upendra married actress and former Miss Kolkata Priyanka Trivedi, who first starred opposite him in the Telugu movie Raa and then in H2O. Upendra and his family reside in Banashankari III Stage in Bangalore.
He started the political party Uttama Prajakeeya Party (UPP) in 2018, under the concept of "Prajakeeya" - which represents the workers, and the political party is focused on education, health and transparency in governance. Although he has strictly kept himself away from contesting in any elections, UPP had candidates across all the constituencies in Karnataka in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections.
Awards and nominations
- Other honours
- 2015 Honorary Doctorate from Angkor University
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