Upendra Rao was born on 18 September 1968 in Kundapura, Udupi district in the erstwhile Mysore State (now Karnataka), to Manjunatha Rao and Anusuya. He was the second son to his parents, his older brother being Sudheendra Rao. Rao was born to a poor family whose father struggled to make ends meet for his family. As a baby, he suffered from an eye problem, the result of which could be seen in his ability of rolling his eyeballs, which were seen in sequences of many of his films. He obtained his Bachelor of Commerce degree from APS College of Commerce, Bangalore. During his time at the college, he participated in plays often forming troupes with his friends. His association with actor and director, Kashinath, who happened to be a distant relative of his, began during his final year in college, who would play an important role in his film career. Upendra was born in Koteshwara near Kundapura, Udupi district of Karnataka. On 14 December 2003, Uppi married actress and former Miss Kolkata Priyanka Trivedi who first starred opposite him in the Telugu movie Raa and then in H2O. Upendra and his family reside in Banashankari III Stage in Bangalore.
His first directorial venture was Tharle Nan Maga (1992). Upendra directed a horror suspense thriller next called Shhh! in 1993. The film featured his mentor Kashinath and a young producer and actor named Kumar Govind. The film was a major box office success and Upendra came out as an independent director. Shhh! is considered as one of the best horror / thriller movies in Kannada Cinema. His next film was a gangster film called Om which was released in 1995. The film starred Shivrajkumar and also had real gangsters in its cast, and had a message of peace. Om became a blockbuster, and went on to be one of the highest grossing Kannada films of its time and made news at National Level. Upendra became an overnight star director. With Om, Upendra also introduced an actress from Coorg, Prema. Om was also remade into several languages – the Hindi version was called Arjun Pandit and had Sunny Deol playing Shivrajkumar's role.
His first appeared on screen making an appearance in Kashinath's 1989 comedy film, Anantana Avantara. He appeared as Lord Kamadeva in the song "Come on Come on Kaamanna". In Ajagajantara, also directed by Kashinath, he made a cameo appearance. In his directorial debut, Shhh! (1993). Upendra has done the highest number of Brand Endorsements among Kannada Actors. Upendra has been the brand ambassador of United Breweries, Lunars Footwear, SK Super TMT, Royal Challengers Bangalore (replaced by Puneeth Rajkumar in IPL 3), Mavalli Tiffin Room (MTR), Bangalore Electricity Supply Company, Emani Navaratna Brand, Karnataka Milk Federation (Nandini), Udayavani News Daily.
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