With Kabzaa gearing to hit the screens on March 17, the Kannada industry is ready for its next big release. This will be Upendra’s first multilingual film. Known for his own directorial ventures that explored the underworld, R Chandru’s Kabzaa will see Upendra explore this world as an actor.
Calling Kabzaa a technician's film, Upendra credits the cast and crew of the film for delivering Chandru’s vision. “As a filmmaker, he braved through two lockdowns, and still managed to deliver a film of the scale of Kabzaa. It was his dream, and his honest efforts, which has created a wave everywhere. It is now to the audiences across Karnataka and the rest of India to express their opinion about the film,” says Upendra.
Kabzaa is one of the biggest films in Upendra’s career, and it has the potential to catapult him to the National level. Having accomplished so much in Kannada, one can’t help but think about what made Upendra aspire to something like Kabzaa. “My inspiration are the technicians of Kabzaa, including Chandru, I enjoyed working with them, and it is the urge to work up close with such talents and explore their skills that help me move ahead with my projects.”
It is clear that as always the actor-filmmaker continues to give utmost respect to his technicians. “Being a technician myself, I understand the value and technical requirements of a film. Kabzaa is winning attention across India not because of the presence of Upendra, Sudeep, and Shivarajkumar. Of course, the stars add a lot of value to the film, but it is just an advantage. It is the world Chandru has showcased in the trailer and teaser that is making the audience excited about Kabzaa,” he says.
Right from the time of the release of the trailer and teaser, the comparisons to KGF were inescapable. An honest Upendra says, “I am happy people are comparing it to an extraordinary film from our own Kannada industry, which had our director, Prashanth Neel, and our star, Yash. Having said that, Kabzaa does have a few similarities to KGF’s making, but on the whole, Kabzaa is a unique film with a different set of highlights. The period setting, recreating the costumes of that era, and maintaining vintage settings have elevated Kabzaa to a different level. I can assure you that be it this film, Om, KGF, or Kantara, each and every one of them are different,” says Upendra.
Om, starring Shivarajkumar and directed by Upendra, dealt with a rather realistic portrayal of the underworld, and Upendra says that the film was relevant to its time. “Rowdyism was something we experienced during our college days. The film was based on a real incident, and I want to convey a particular message. However, a film like Om will not be relevant today. On the other hand, we have Kabzaa, which is visually grand, and there is a lot of time that has gone into building that world,” he says.
Having faced his share of successes and failures, Upendra is at a place where he is comfortable with his stardom. For a maverick like him, do success and failures still matter? “It always matters. Success gives us encouragement to do more. Failures pull you down and make you rethink your ideas. It is very natural, and inevitable. I consider it a part and parcel of the industry. I believe it is better not to analyse what is good and bad, and keep working,” he says. But does criticism ever affect him? “Sometimes it is good to be criticised and it helps you get out of your dream world. It opens our eyes. There are silly comments, which should be neglected, but there are a whole lot who give valuable feedback and it helps us to analyse,” he says.
With the limelight firmly squared on the Kannada industry, Upendra weighs in on the respect coming the industry’s way from various quarters nowadays. “Kannada industry was always great. The industry did not come to the limelight with us. We had legends like Dr Rajkumar and Dr Vishnuvardhan to directors like Puttana Kanagal and Siddlingaiah to name a few. There were so many filmmakers, who have given great hits. When actors like Ravichandran, Shivarajkumar and myself came into the industry, we wanted to make different kinds of films. Now the industry is creating another trend with films like KGF and Kantara. That is the beauty of the Kannada industry,” he admits.
Kabzaa will mark Upendra’s first multilingual project, and his candidness once again came to the fore as he talks about the term pan-Indian. “Earlier, we used to remake or dub our films. Now the boundary has opened up with OTT and digital platforms. The advantage is that we get a wider and bigger market, and this has, in turn, increased the budgets too. This has enabled us to bring artists from different languages, which mount the film on the biggest scale possible. But more importantly, it is not yet time to sound the death knell for remakes,” says Upendra.
With linguistic boundaries becoming blurred, will Upendra find himself starring in other language films now? “It is always nice to explore yourself in other languages. You always feel you are new when you begin a new film. We have seen big stars there, and today we are there sharing screen space with them,” he says. Being a big star with a massive fan following has its own perks. A lot of people on social media were rewatching the classics of Upendra and expressing their admiration. We couldn’t help but ask how he is reacting to the young blood rewatching his film. Citing examples of Bangarada Manushya, or Nagarahavu, Upendra says, good films are not bound by time period, and the quality never fades. “You still have the same excitement that you felt when you watched it for the first time.”
The actor-filmmaker also has a strong political voice, and it is interesting how he chooses to say his statements through his own directorials even when acting in true-blue commercial cinema with others. “There are times I want to tell something seriously and that haunts me. I want to convey it to the audience. That is when I decide to take up directorial responsibilities. Otherwise, I am very happy with my acting career.”
Signing off, Upendra touches upon the unity in Kannada cinema that is evident in the camaraderie he shares with Shivarajkumar and Sudeep, who are playing pivotal roles in Kabzaa. “Stars are always like brothers. The wars are only between fans, and I don’t know why. As filmmakers, we are competitive, but not jealous. I hope fans understand this side too and stop engaging in fights,” says Upendra, who asserts that Kabzaa will be a spectacular visual experience that will reward Chandru with all the accolades and awards.
I did Kabzaa purely for Chandru
"Chandru is a good human. Some projects are done for friendship, and some out of love. I did Kabzaa purely for Chandru. He has put in a lot of effort, and I wish Kabzaa works really well for the sheer hard work of the filmmaker. I’m proud of his belief, the conviction, and the passion he had for this project,” says Sudeep, who plays the pivotal role of Bhargav Bakshi in Kabzaa. “Upendra is a technician himself, and someone who has inspired many technicians. I am happy to be working with him. When I see the rushes of Kabzaa, I can clearly see one man’s vision coming through it all, and we are proud of his conviction.
Kabzaa is an earnest attempt from our end, and it is a total teamwork
On bringing three superstars —Upendra, Shivarajkumar, and Sudeep — for Kabzaa, Chandru says it was all due to the support given by the actors. “I feel lucky to be working with such legends of the Kannada film industry,” says Chandru, who also talks about releasing the film on the birth anniversary of the late actor Puneeth Rajkumar. “I am proud to release the film on his birth anniversary. Puneeth had called me after seeing the first motion poster, and he had told me that he will be part of all the promotions for Kabzaa. He would often surprise us on the sets. Today, I am sure he is somewhere around blessing us,” says Chandru, adding, “Kabzaa is an earnest attempt from our end, and it is a total teamwork. The strength of Kabzaa is the producer and my friend, KP Sreekanth, who has been by my side at every stage of my career,” he says.