Upendra is a 1999 psychological thriller Kannada film written and directed by Upendra. It starred Upendra, Raveena Tandon, Prema and Damini in the lead roles. The film explores three human emotions through the relationship between the main character and the three heroines. The songs of the film were written by Upendra and music was composed by Gurukiran.
The film won Filmfare Award for Best Film (Kannada) and Filmfare Award for Best Director (Kannada). A Japanese who saw the film in Bangalore was impressed by it as he found it similar to the story of Buddha and the concept of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and hence got it released in Japan. It was screened at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival in Japan in 2001. A sequel tilted Uppi 2 was released in 2015.
Betala begins to narrate one of his puzzling tales to Vikramāditya which is the story of Naanu (translates to I/Me/Myself), an ego-driven selfish rogue and the three women in his life. Naanu since childhood hates hypocrisy and always speaks the truth. In the process, he exposes the truth behind everything. A young woman Rathi comes to know her father’s hatred towards her in this process and falls in love with Naanu. However she finds out that Naanu wants to marry a billionaire Keerthi whose deceased father decides that her husband would inherit her entire wealth. He prints wedding cards and distributes it to all, including the employees working in Keerthi’s establishments. This angers Keerthi who orders her guardian’s son (who wants to marry her for the same reason) to attack Naanu. They bring a woman Swathi, who lives in his house and toture her. Naanu comes to her rescue and it is revealed that Swathi is Naanu’s wife.
Rathi meets him in person and confirms the facts. She threatens to kill both the women and commit a suicide if Naanu leaves her for anyone of those two women. He agrees, and Swathi leaves. She rescues the duo from Keerthi’s henchmen and in turn, Naanu peruades her to return. She too threatens to kill both the women if Naanu leaves her for anyone of those two, to which Naanu agrees. He continues to be in a relationship with Rathi and hides it from Swathi and vice versa. However, his obsession for Keerthi never dies. He traps her guardian and after a turn of events, Keerthi agrees to marry him. While they both are in a jubilant mood, Rathi and Swathi come to know about this and reach the harbour where the duo is currently hiding in from the henchmen of Keerthi’s guardian. When they reach the harbour, Keerthi is informed about Naanu’s plans and she drops her marriage plans with him. He kidnaps all the three women and kills Keerthi’s guardian and her son.
Naanu and the three women reach an old building where an injured Naanu threatens to kill all of them and forces all to be his life partners to which they do not agree. Meanwhile, a rich person meets Naanu there who happens to be a poor man in the past. Naanu in the past advised him not to follow behind women and instead focus on earning money, adding that women will run for you if you are a wealthy man. At the same time, he sees an once-wealthy man whose wealth is usurped by his girlfriends. This pushes Naanu in a dilemma and sits in a room in the first floor. The three women, with rods in their hands, decide to kill him. Vethala stops the story here and asks Vikramāditya whether Naanu would survive or die in their hands. Vikramāditya understands the tale’s intention and says that Naanu, Rathi, Swathi and Keerthi are not humans and instead represent human ego, beauty, responsibilities and money respectively. He concludes that Naanu should kill himself and take a rebirth again.
Naanu sees himself in a mirror and feels ashamed of his traits. He curses himself for pursuing all the three who never gave him any happiness. He realises the importance of „Us“ instead of „I“ and decides that ego is the root cause of all issues. By tearing the shirt featuring an imprint of his face, he kills his inner ego and the feeling of „I“. The three woman disappear and Naanu, now silent and aimless, walks out of the building drenching in the rain.
The film received mixed reviews from critics upon release. Reviewing the film for Deccan Herald, Srikanth wrote, „The film … hinges on one argument that the world is full of hypocrites. While most of them do not express themselves inside out, there are others like himself who express themselves outwardly, bravely and rustically.“ Calling the film’s screenplay „excellent“, he further wrote, „Upendra has overdone his role as a actor, director, writer etc. Perhaps, we should see him as a director who puts himself in the middle of the action. Damini shines as the debutant girl. Raveena Tandon dashes off a touch of glamour. Prema is herself let down by the character.“
Upendra said in an interview, „the theme is philosophical, but when I said it in a different way, some people were unable to digest it.“
Upendra was a commercial success and was well received by the audience 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 wanted A.R. Rahman to compose for film for that he met him and Mani Ratnam in the year 1997 – 98. Since he was busy after the success of Roja, Bombay and many and he was busy composing for Rangeela, Dil se then opted to the regular composer. The music was composed by Gurukiran and lyrics penned by Upendra. After a decade he made A.R. Rahman to compose for his movie Godfather in 2012.
There was also a Telugu soundtrack.
A sequel to the film titled Upendra 2 was announced by Upendra in January 2012. It was later titled as Uppi 2 and was launched on 18 September 2013 at Kanteerava Studios in Bangalore. The film starred Upendra, Kristina Akheeva and Parul Yadav in the lead roles. The film released on 14 August 2015 in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and United States simultaneously in over 600 theaters and became a commercial success.