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Uppi's hardly uppity

S. SHIVA KUMAR

Spewing anti-women lines and sporting a bizarre look, Upendra is anything but the conventional hero. But in person, he is quite the antithesis of his screen image



DUAL ROLE Upendra, after a temporary break, has plans of renewing his career as director Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

Kannada actor Upendra, who has a shock value to him, is a prime example of the product not matching the potential of the filmmaker. Puneet Raj Kumar, Kannada cinema icon Dr. Rajkumar's youngest son, calls him Kannada cinema's best technician but his strength lies in his pen. His film A was loud and disjointed, like the ramblings of a delirious mind but made a lot of sense. It was more the outpourings of a man who wished to change social dichotomy but knew he could not.

The bustle at his residence nearly matches that at The Big Bazaar which is right behind. His physical appearance is surprising. He's clean-shaven with his hair trimmed to a respectable length, quite unlike the perverse guy one meets on screen. There is none of the onscreen bravura in his behaviour. He might have built a bungalow with a swimming pool but his humble beginning is evident in his disarming candour.

How would you describe the present state of your career?

I think I've just started my career. I'm in the process of achieving what I set out to. I started as a lyricist, storywriter and wrote dialogues.

You feel you haven't achieved anything?

Others may feel I have but not me. I have something in mind.

What's that?

I don't want to disclose that until I reach that stage. I want to do a lot for society for which I have to achieve a lot in cinema.

And as a filmmaker?

I have directed a couple of different movies. There was a lot of hype about my films. I started working in others films to dilute that situation. I wanted to reach out to all classes of the audience. Now I want to renew my career as a director.

How did you decide to work as an assistant to Kashinath?

I tried with a lot of people. I heard that Kashinath encourages newcomers. It also helped that we both hail from Kundapura. I was still studying when I joined him.

But none of the films you directed had his influence.

That's true. I learnt a lot of other things like working on a shoestring budget. What I learnt from Kashinath was planning.

Your second film was a remake of Vinod Chopra's Khamoshi.

The style was the same but I had introduced new elements in my script. I added comedy and horror. The industry gave me recognition after Sssh but audiences applauded Om.

How did Om happen?

It was a script I conceived when I was in college. I was disappointed when I watched Ramgopal Verma's Shiva because it was similar. After one year I changed the style of narration in the script. I think my style changed after that. I was without work for a year because I refused to compromise on the script. One fine day I got a call from Rajkumar's production house. They were very impressed with the narration and Om happened.

There was a flow in the narrative of Om that was missing in your subsequent films. It was more like disjointed thoughts.

Om was based on the life of a rowdy but I chose internal subjects after that. When one wants to capture the upheavals in ones mind it becomes a jumble. Our mind is like that, always confused. A was a love story but not conventional. It was about the confusion in a man's mind that was also the reason for it's success. There are people who watched it four or five times to understand the concept. Upendra was an extension where I converted feelings into characters. I didn't know whether I would be able to sustain that style and that's the reason I have not directed since. Also, there were false rumours about inflated budgets and terming my successful films as flops.

They say there's a frustrated actor in every director. Is that why you took up acting?

In a way, yes. I realised this each time I directed another actor.

Did the success of Om help in projecting you as an actor?

There's no doubt about that but the film was stalled after we started shooting. There were no financiers to back A. They were ready to back a project with me as director but not as a hero.

A and Upendra were big hits. Give me one reason why you stopped direction?

I wanted to prove myself as an actor with these two films but the image of the director refused to go away.

You lost women audiences after A and Upendra.

That happened too. People misinterpreted my views. That's also one of the reasons I stopped and decided I would do normal films. A few films after that were average grossers because audiences slotted me. It's only now that they accept me as an actor.

Don't you think it's too long a gap as a director?

Well, I need at least one year to make a film which I can't afford right now with my commitments as an actor. I wanted to do something this year but was floored by the script of the historical I'm doing with Vishnuvardhan.

You say you want to be just an artiste but Nagathihalli Chandrashekar says he had no freedom during the making of Superstar.

This was at a stage when I was scared to surrender as only an actor. I would have if the director were someone like Mani Ratnam. When you work for a couple of days you know a director's capacity.

Your neck is on the line if the film flops.

100 per cent true. That happened with Superstar. No one else was affected. The problem arises when the script is mine and I want someone else to direct the film. It's a vicious cycle. Producers expect my involvement with the script and sometimes the lyrics too. They were trying times. I should have directed or just left it to someone.

You think you have got out of those trying times?

Yes, with Kutumba. I was just an actor. But I had to be involved with the dialogues of Raktha Kanneer.

Om was released a long time ago. Films about rowdyism are back, but like Shivraj Kumar says Om is the reference point.

Every film in that genre is compared to Om. It happens when a film creates a sensation. It's a trend that's temporary.

The one complaint about Upendra the actor is that he's Upendra in any role with his unkempt hair and breathless dialogue delivery.

(laughs) That's changing too. There were a lot of Upendra clones. It's dangerous to break an image suddenly. You can see I've shaved and trimmed my hair. I think I've done the right thing in changing things gradually.

So how long do we have to wait for Upendra the director?

I'm planning one next year, hoping it will be a revolution in terms of narration. Let's see.

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