Celebrating her career of 50 films spanning over more than two decades, Priyanka Upendra has shared a lot of insights about her journey in multiple film industries in this exclusive interview.
How do you see your career of more than 20 years ?
– First of all I feel blessed to have such an illustrious career. I was brought up in the US and Singapore. I became Miss Calcutta when I was 16 and started my career in the Bengali Film Industry. In a short period between 1999 – 2003, I worked in Bengali, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Odiya films. I worked with big stars during that time. I did films with Vijaykanth sir, Vikram sir, Prabhu Deva and Upendra. My first ever film was a Bengali film, Hathat Brishti directed by Basu Chatterjee who was a National Award winning director and that film recently completed 25 years of its release. I have learned a lot during my initial days of career itself. Then I got married and children were born. By that time, I never thought I would start my acting career again. I was happy with Family life. Then, slowly I started getting offers again. At that time there were not many actresses who got married to Superstars and started acting again after their marriage. Various aspects like, fans pressure, about who she will work with, will the audience accept her if she works with other heroes, what kind of roles can she do and so on. When I started again, I had to deal with all these aspects. But now it got better. I carved a niche for myself. Now it is a very good time with OTT boom which explores new content with a lot of different characters. It is a journey of learning from many people from all the industries.
What is the major change you find in yourself and also in your thinking pattern before and after marrying Upendra sir ?
– The first thing is I learnt Kannada after I shifted to Bengaluru. After children, underwent emotional experience personally. I haven’t worked in Upendra’s Direction. We always talk about films and watch many films together. He is very passionate about Kannada literature. I learnt more about that part from him. That has helped me grow as an actor. A certain level of maturity will also come after children. It’s a completely new phase. I travelled a lot, knew about Karnataka culture, and worked with new people. But, with Uppi I have learned a lot.
What do you seek from a script before finalising it ?
– I think nobody knows that I got 8 Bengali films after my kids were born. It didn’t matter to them that I was married and became a mother. But, with Kids, I couldn’t travel to Kolkata. So, I preferred to do films here only. I did ‘Shrimathi’ with Upendra which is a remake of Bollywood film ‘Aitraaz’. Then I did ‘Crazy Star’ with Ravichandran sir. Then I did ‘Mummy’ as lead and it did really well at the box office. It opened a new avenue for me that there is a market for female oriented films. Then I got a lot of horror films but I was concious about not repeating the same genre. Then I did ‘Second half’ and ‘Devaki’. When I listen to a script, I see whether I enjoy it while watching it with my kids. It should be relevant today. I follow my gut feeling. Will it suit me, will I enjoy watching myself in that role, who is producing it, will it be a quality product and can I be able to do it.. all these things matter.
What pressure do you feel while selecting a movie as a wife of a star hero and director ?
– In that aspect, I have a lot of freedom. We don’t tell each other what to do and not to do. We discuss. He gives his opinion and leaves the decision to me. Same thing for his films too. I say whatever I believe and feel. But, for my films, the ultimate decision will be mine. There is a huge platform and huge love from fans. So, pressure will be there not to disappoint them. I want to do strong roles, message oriented roles. I prefer doing roles and films which inspire women and children. Many married women on social media say to me that watching me in powerful roles makes them feel powerful. I like that empathy and I would like to maintain that.
What is the triggering point to choose ‘Detective Teekshanaa’ ?
– First of all this is my 50th film. Director Raghu is very passionate and hard working. I have already worked with him and I know his dedication. When he told me one-line about the film, I got connected to it itself because it wasn’t done before with a woman protagonist. So, instantly Byomkesh Bakshi, Nancy Drew, came to my mind. Again it reflects powerful, intelligent, brave women. Raghu has a very good vision about visuals too. I knew about Raghu, how hard he work to manifest his vision onscreen. In the first two days itself when I saw the output, I knew I made the right decision. The whole team is really good. My kids are super excited to see me in this role.
You have to portray yourself on the screen amidst many references when you do such super shero kind of films. What is the homework you do before going to a scene ?
– You have to be fit to do an action film. I have to do it convincingly. We worked on how she should be, about her body language, little nuances, intricacies and details of the character. These got beautifully translated on screen and it looks very nice.
Some roles are physically challenging while some are emotionally draining. Does this film have both. How do you balance both in this movie ?
– It does have some emotional scenes but this is more like a slick action entertainer. It will be very entertaining and interesting for the audience while watching ‘Detective Teekshanaa’
Whenever you come across a scene which was inspired from some other sequence in other language. How do you do it differently so that the audience can’t find resemblance?
– Honestly, I feel everything is inspired by something. I don’t watch a lot of stuff. So, that’s why I play honestly when it comes to my performance. As I don’t watch lot of stuff, I don’t get influenced. So, I do it in my own way.
Since this is your 50th film. What is the new learning and un learning thing ?
– I tried to be a little lite in this film in some moments. I have never played a character like this. It is a well written role. Half the battle is won when the script is well written. So, I have to add something from my side like expressions and relevant things.
This is a female centric film. How do you think it will work in the commercial zone ?
– I call it content oriented. I played an important character and there are also so many important characters in the film. It is a story oriented film. A fresh film with striking visuals and entertaining. I am really excited about that.
In your 50 films, you have worked with more than 30 directors. What do you find special in this film’s director Raghu ?
– Raghu is technically very sound. He has a really good team. The way his vision transcends into onscreen visuals is awesome. Right now Kannada film industry is rocking with films like KGF and Kantara. The makers from here just need a platform. Technically we have a very good team. For him, this film came out really well.
After Bahubali, KGF, RRR and Kantara boundaries between film industries have been erased. What kind of inspiration you feel as a woman watching this phase ?
– I started my career doing films in all languages. So, for me this is not new for me and was never an issue. I am a Bengali, brought up in US, married a South Indian and I worked in all languages films throughout my life. I always thought the whole India as my film industry. But, took a lot of pride in doing south films. Even though I am from Bengal, I preferred doing south films because I love the work culture here. The approach to film-making is so nice. I am really happy about how it is turning into a one big Indian film industry. My mom is excited about Upendra’s upcoming Pan India biggie ‘Kabzaa’. They have seen ‘Kantara’. Everyone knows Yash from ‘KGF’ in Bengal. It all started with ‘Baahubali’. The wider the audience the better and bigger films we make. I hope it goes internationally soon.
How does ‘Detective Teekshanaa’ inspire women ?
– This will inspire many women especially girls who used to watch male heroes can now see female super heroes in ‘Detective Teekshanaa’. This will definitely leave a positive impact on them knowing that women can be powerful, intelligent, brave and they can also solve crime like men do. That’s one part and another thing is exploring other genres like this which are also commercially viable.
In your 50 movie career you have faced many panic situations while doing some scenes and sequences. How do you overcome such instances ?
– I love films and I am very passionate about them. I don’t get panicked. I do my homework. But sometimes I need time. When last minute changes arise we need to rehearse and practice. For that I needed time but I never panicked.
How important is music for this film ?
– Music is important for every film. It is one of the main instruments we use to tell the story. Every time, you hear that particular tune, you remember that scene. Hearing a song will take you back in time evoking those moments in you again. BGM is definitely the feel of the film. It would be incomplete without proper music. They have done a very good job in music and BGM in ‘Detective Teekshanaa’
Do you discuss your films regularly with Uppi sir and ask his inputs ?
– I showed him the rush of this film. He is very impressed with the visuals. He said that he can’t believe the quality of visuals without DI work. He said it doesn’t look like raw footage. He is very happy with that. He came for the launch of the film. He is very supportive. I love the transition of myself into an action zone. I feel confident and happy. I just hope the audience likes it.
Any advice to the upcoming and aspiring actresses ? And also for those who want to come back into acting ?
– You can’t call it a comeback but it’s a transition like how Uppi transformed after kids were born. And no one said it’s a comeback for him (laughs) I think they only say that for us. But, now girls are continuing. Kiara got married, Hansika got married. They are continuing with their work. I don’t think it’s like before anymore. Mindsets have changed. For newcomers I would like to say, be your authentic self. Don’t get depressed when things won’t work out in your favour. Because mental health is very important. Be honest and work hard. You have to take care of yourself mentally and physically. Not just to look good but also to feel good.
Any character you want to play in your career ?
– I haven’t done a biopic yet. There are many inspiring personalities like Sudha Murthy mam, Jacky Kennedy, Mother Teresa… There are so many of them. I get inspired from a lot of them. It could have been about a female character or it could be about a male protagonist and then too I would love to play the key female role in it. But, I want to emulate that person which I find very challenging. I also haven’t played a negative role yet. That will also be interesting to do.
How do you differentiate ‘Detective Teekshanaa’ from other films ?
– I don’t think many films have come with a woman lead investigator. It’s more male oriented. Once the audience sees the film, they will know what the difference is. I can’t tell you much as it would reveal the story. But, ‘Detective Teekshanaa’ is relevant to today’s times and entertaining for sure. Visually it will be a very different experience.
In how many languages the film is releasing ?
– We are releasing ‘Detective Teekshanaa’ in Telugu, Hindi, Tamil, Bengali apart from Kannada.
About your upcoming and future projects ?
– After ‘Detective Teekshanaa’ I am Currently filming, Kartha Karma Kriya, Vishwaroopini Hulligemma, Khaimara and a Bengali film Master Angshuman. Apart from these The Virus, Kamarottu Checkpost 2, UgraAvatara are getting ready for release.