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Upendra: Ups and Dowwwwwwns
- Somashekar.T, Bangalore

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Click here Kannada Movie section and Movie Reviews in kannada.
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Kannada film industry has witnessed very few good artists and technicians in the last decade or so. One among them has been Upendra. He has done well to gain popularity in a brief period. It is very important that we show concern on such an individual, because the eminence of kannada film industry lies in the hands of people like him. First, let me make it clear that I too am a big fan of Upendra. Kannada people definitely need more such personalities to bring about some cachet to the Kannada films. 

The Ups in Upendra's life look like a huge inspiration to the entire film industry, but his Downs look like an unsolvable puzzle and raise so many questions. That’s why they look like “Dowwwwwwwwwwwwwns”.  

I am deeply worried about Upendra’s career and here are my observations on his career. Although you may know most of the facts about him, I have my views on the various phases of his career. I hope readers would accept most part of this article. I have written this article to the best of my knowledge, though some matters may not be correct. 

Upendra is known to have roots from a poor-middle class family. He strived to succceed in film industry. He started off his career as a writer and as an assistant to Kashinath. It baffles me how Kashinath could be a god father to people like Upendra, Sunil Kumar Desai, V. Manohar etc.; To start with, Upendra directed a film called “Tharle nanmaga” which was the first puzzle put by him to people like me. I still can’t understand how Upendra could have directed that film. 

I think Upendra understood his mistake. Then he joined hands with a man called Kumar Govindu, who was eager to become an actor. Govindu was the producer of the first proper film directed by Upendra called Shhh. Both Upendra and Govindu should take mutual credits for helping one another. Upendra needed a producer like Govindu to retrace his career and Govindu needed a director like Upendra to mold his acting skills. 

But the proper talent survived and the other perished. Although Govindu acted reasonably well in Shhh, he was completely out of sorts in any of his other films. That shows the strength of a director. Shhh was a sensational suspense thriller (for a newcomer) with neat narration.
After Shhh, Upendra continued to stay on high with his next huge banner film “OM”. Upendra first of all impressed one and all by his amazing titles like Shhh, OM, A, Swastik etc. OM had a story based on underworld activities. It was a neat film with marvelous screenplay, narration and gorgeous acting . It gave a new image to Shivrajkumar. I can say that this film made so many people to start watching Kannada films again. This film made enough to impress one and all. 

With the popularity that he gained till then, Upendra jumped into a new venture of directing “Operation Antha” which was the extended version of the one time popular Kannada movie “Antha”. While “Antha” was viewed on sheer politics, “Operation Antha” contained revolutionary ideas. In this film, Upendra tried to narrate a character which fought against the deadly evils in the society in an ambiguous way. The idea was right, but the execution was wrong, many sequences in the film were melodramatic. The screenplay was not stiff. These types of films need heavy money to be spent on, which is not possible in Kannada’s market. “Operation Antha” was definitely one of the downs in Upendra’s career. 

So Upendra might then have realized the limitation of the market and switched to a fresh, deceptive, innovative narration to his next film “A”. He also made a statement that it was a film only for knowledgeable people. But I would say that it was a film only for people with heart. It showed how a great man strived to make a quality movie with a very low budget offered and with so many limitations bounding him. 

He also acted in the film for the first time in the lead role. Although he has some weakness in acting, I found it absolutely right when he decided to act. Otherwise, I think he would not have survived in the industry. The film industry should first understand that the young talented directors should be properly taken care and given enough respect. Directors are never considered as stars but they do need at least some money to survive, when the actors are grabbing heavy bucks. Because Upendra acted in “A”, he gained enough popularity and the star value, which helped him to carry on in the industry. 

After this, he directed a film called “Swastik” (I don’t know why he made this film) to perhaps give a rebirth to Raghavendra Rajkumar who was struggling to endure in the industry. Upendra chose a patriotic subject for this film. Although the story was good, the screenplay was weak with fanatical narration. These sorts of films need serious planning of scripts. But Upendra was still in the “A” hangover and he may not suit to do these types of films. This was another unnecessary move by Upendra in his career. 

I still appreciated Upendra for understanding his failure. He switched back to his style and made a beautiful psychological thriller “Upendra” to regain his fame back. But at the same time, this film of his was criticized the most for its arrogant, vulgar, illusory approach. But the critics did not understand the bright points of the film and more importantly the situation of Upendra. I think he was forced to influx a little too much vulgarism in this film to make sure that the film at least reached a big mass audience who like such stuffs. Understandably, he was feared of failure at this juncture of his career. But I strongly believe that Upendra also gained a lot of true film lovers who adored his direction skills. 

At this stage, Upendra became superstar in Kannada film industry. So he was then contacted by Rockline production which is a fantastic banner in Kannada film industry that makes big budget Kannada remake films with big actors. “Preethse” was the film which was remade from Hindi’s “Dhar”. In one way for some people, it might have been interesting to see how Upendra would act in Shahrukh khan’s role. But for me it looked like misuse of talent for business purposes. When Upendra was at his creative best, what was this producer trying to do? It is unworthy discussing anything about a remake film. 

But if the same money that was spent on “Preethse” was spent on “A” and “Upendra”, then those films would have become popular in the national arena. Of course, the big producers would hesitate to work with new directors, it’s understandable. But after the popularity that Upendra gained till then, at least Rockline production should have encouraged Upendra to do a straight rich film, Upendra would definitely have responded well. Why did they forget that Upendra was first of all a superb director and why did they deny him directing films? 

Then there was a big lull. This was the mysterious period in Upendra’s career. I don’t exactly know what happened in this period. Of course he went to Hyderabad to act in some Telugu movies. But I strongly believe that Upendra wouldn’t have had any poor gimmick. I think he was not impressed by the kind of offers that he received in Kannada. I think he might have forced to give up direction and to continue just as an actor. 

There might have been some politics involved. Upendra is often criticized for his arrogant, vulgar and ragged narration. May be the other directors were envious on his talent and misused this blame on Upendra. This might be the reason for Upendra to stop direction completely. So, from there on Upendra has never looked like himself again. This has been a great loss to Kannada film industry and Kannada film viewers. 

Coming back to his career, after a long gap he made a film called “H2O”, which was not directed by him, but he wrote the script for this film. This film had a lot of expectation not only because it was Upendra’s come back film, but also there were few more highlights like Prabhudeva was acting in this film; the film was based on the kaveri issue. The film actually took off well with Upendra’s usual approach. 

The criticism on the usage of Tamil language in the movie is meaningless. When the Tamil language films are running successfully here, when Tamil people are living happily here, when Tamil language is enjoying an unofficial second language status here, it is ridiculous on the part of kannadigas to bark on such matters. For me, it was a wonderful idea to use Tamil language in the film, as it was relevant to the story and also that it would attract some Tamilians living here. 

I am not telling that all movies should contain Tamil. Let us leave the language issue aside, let us talk about the story of the film. When we watch the film carefully it seems like Kaveri is affectionate towards them and reluctant to us. This actually hurt me and many others I believe. I don’t know what politics was involved behind this. We also understood that there were so many mix-ups before the release of the film. Any how this film did not impress Upendra’s fans by much. 

Quickly forgetting H2O, the fans eagerly waited for his next film “Super Star” to release. There was again hype surrounding this film, this time because it was directed by Nagathihalli Chandrashekar and was based on the tragic love story in a Royal family of Nepal. But there was a total mismatch. The narration of the film matched neither that of Upendra nor Nagathihalli. Certainly this was the worst film of Upendra in my opinion. 

I think Upendra tried to reveal his inner feelings in the form of two characters: Superstar and Real star (Actor and director). He might have split himself into two. One-the people made (or forced) Super star and the other the original creative director. If closely observed this film shows the frustration about his state in the industry. The climax in the film (assuming you have seen) actually indicates his awkwardness to whether kill the actor inside him (in the film - Ricky), whether to kill the director (in the film - Deependra) or to kill his career in the industry itself (in the film – Heroine). 

Finally he decides to survive everyone. That means he may continue his career, continue acting and leave the direction for sometime in the future, may be. I am not sure how much this assessment of mine is true. Overall the film was disappointing. 

In between his remake films, another straight film called “Hollywood” was released. This film was produced by the richest banner in Kannada film industry, Ramu Enterprises. Although Ramu decided to catch a big fish, the film lost most of its charisma because of the time taken to finish it. The film was first scheduled to shoot in Hollywood, USA but then was shifted to Australia. The heroine of the film got changed. The film got changed from a science fiction to a comedy film. Finally the director was also changed. The film was also affected by Upendra’s series of flops: H20, Superstar, Nagarahavu, Naanu naane. So the film was totally depleted and might have just impressed some children. 

But the real problem period of Upendra started thereafter and it is sad that it is continuing even now. He acted in a series of remake films made by various uncultured directors and producers such as Nagarahavu, Naanu naane, Kutumba, Raktha kanneeru, Gokarna and Devdas (yet to be released) It is better not to discuss any word about these films. Some of these films are hit and some are flops. But this has not done any harm to Upendra as an actor; he may continue to get more such films as long as he wishes.
This brief survey on Upendra’s career shows how difficult it is to become a creative director in Kannada film industry. If the good directors get at least 10% of encouragement that an actor gets, then it would do wonders to their careers. I am sure that Upendra is uncomfortable or pretending to be comfortable with his career today. Someone has to understand his feelings. Upendra himself has to reassess his career. I believe that he can do even quality films without depending too much on vulgarism or arrogance. He must know that there are plenty of fans behind him encouraging if he moves in the right path. 

- Somashekar.T, Bangalore

Click here if you would like to Contribute or send a feedback.
Click here Kannada Movie section and Movie Reviews in kannada.
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