It is not often that journalists walk into a press conference and are told to go up on the stage.
Usually, us note scribblers occupy an allotted seat in a press conference or event. We try to decipher the messages spoken by those who have gathered. We jostle with fellow journalists to try and ask questions as crisply and effectively as possible.
But when film star Upendra legitimised his political plunge with the launch of his political party - Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Paksha - the traditional roles were reversed. The organisers of the press conference at Gandhi Bhavan in Bengaluru, asked journalists to be seated on the stage, with the yellow stage lighting pointed directly on our foreheads.
Upendra, meanwhile dressed in khaki, was on the aisle as party workers and interested public watched from the audience. The unconventional setting, decided as a way to pay due reverence to the people who inform the public, formed the backdrop of a press conference where journalists were urged to ask questions (even if much wasn’t revealed in the way of answers).
Admittedly, the last time I saw Upendra on screen was when he was expounding the values of salt in the hit song ‘Uppigintha ruchi bere illa’ (There’s no better taste than salt). He had chosen salt, a symbol of utility and resistance as the main line of the song. I wondered if Upendra had thoughts of turning to politics in his hey days in 1999, when he burst onto the Kannada cinema industry with the film aptly named ‘‘Upendra’, a psychological thriller about a man who calls himself ‘Naanu’ (me).
It seemed a journalist behind me was also thinking the same as the actor turned politician was invariably asked if he planned this all along. “It seems a clipping from 17 years ago has gone viral on Facebook where I am saying cinema was not my ultimate aim but just a way to attain a higher goal. I’ll say there was always the idea but today, I am taking a step about it and starting a party that will contest in all 224 constituencies,” said Upendra to cheers and applause.
Once the applause died down, the journalist continued. “So, have you decided candidates for all 224 constituencies?”
“Not yet, I have found a lot of candidates. It’s not a decision we can take lightly. We are looking for honest candidates who show us a plan on how to improve their constituency, with documents and proof”, comes the reply from the man amongst the audience.
“It seems your cinema has touched on the same messages but practically, what do you plan to do about issues like reservation, Lingayat movement, Cauvery?”, asked another journalist.
Upendra decided to take up the serious questions at a later date. “We need to sit and discuss serious matters like this in detail,” he added.
Neither time nor history is on Upendra’s side. Karnataka goes to polls in six months and actors turning to politics have had mixed success in the state. Actor Umashri is a Cabinet Minister and ‘Rebel Star’ Ambareesh has also been a minister with the Congress in the past. Though actors like Shankar Nag and Anant Nag have campaigned for the Janata Dal in the 1980s, this is the first time an actor is launching his own political party.
After a career full of films laced with political messages, one of which saw Upendra in the role of a CM, the star is now set to embrace day-to-day politics. With a campaign built on the concept of transparency and honesty, Upendra will have to answer tough questions soon or his dream of being a Chief Minister will remain confined to the cinema reel.