W Power 2024

Ram Charan and Upasana Kamineni Konidela: The power couple

Superstar Ram Charan and entrepreneur-philanthropist Upasana are undeniably a power couple. Though they hail from different industries, the college sweethearts have each other's backs, and complement each other

Kunal Purandare
Published: Dec 28, 2023 11:45:01 AM IST
Updated: Dec 29, 2023 12:54:11 PM IST

Upasana Kamineni Konidela and Ram Charan. Image: Mexy Xavier Upasana Kamineni Konidela and Ram Charan. Image: Mexy Xavier

Upasana Kamineni Konidela’s heart-shaped diamond earrings dazzle enough to warrant a mention during a lazy afternoon at her mother’s sprawling and opulent property in Hyderabad. It’s the first gift from Ram Charan, on Valentine’s Day, informs the 34-year-old, while sipping coffee seated on a sofa. Since then, he’s given me nothing, she continues, and slyly looks at her husband who’s just returned from Chennai. “I didn’t have to… she’s asked and taken everything that she’s wanted,” the actor, who’s dressed in a casual grey T-shirt and tracks, plays along. Laughter ensues, setting the scene for a fun, memorable, engaging, philosophical and, at times, serious talk and photo shoot with Forbes India.

As achievers in their respective professions, with considerable reach and clout, they are undeniably one of the most powerful couples in the country. Konidela is founder, UR.Life, a holistic wellness platform, and vice chairperson CSR (corporate social responsibility) at Apollo Hospitals. Charan is a superstar in Telugu cinema, whose stardom has gone through the roof after his 2022 box office monster RRR won global recognition, including an Oscar earlier this year. On the personal front, life couldn’t have been better—the college friends, who got married in 2012, became parents to a baby girl, Klin Kaara, in June.  

Conscious of the fact that they belong to different worlds, with their individual challenges, they have been a strong support to each other and kept the lines of communication open. Along with trust and respect, they believe, these traits have helped them in nurturing and strengthening their relationship.   

“When you begin your career, you have lots of ups and downs, and Upasana brought stability in my life during that phase. She was an amazing listener,” says Charan. “And now it’s time for me to listen to her—as it should be,” continues the 38-year-old, adding that his wife is a pro at amplifying things related to his career. “She gets the job done.”  
Konidela, on the other hand, credits Charan for giving her an out-of-the-box, and alternative, perspective about her career. “You need someone to give you a reality check, who will tell you things unfiltered… and he is that person for me. I listen quietly, I don’t even question it,” she says.   

Contrasting cultures 

A third-generation entrepreneur and philanthropist from the Apollo Hospitals family, Konidela has made it her life’s purpose to improve the health care (physical and mental) and wellness space in India. While the earlier generations involved in Apollo worked on affordability, she says her focus is to ensure prevention—to keep people away from hospitals. As a chubby college student, the aspiring fashion designer faced what is today called ‘body shaming’. She went through a rebellious phase when she didn’t want to join the family business. A spiritual journey helped her realise her calling. “I understood that I am in this world, with this background, at this time, for a reason. And if I don’t make the best use of that, and now even my marriage, to spread good, then what is the use of my life?” says Konidela. The atmosphere would invariably be gloomy, but hospitals, for her, were like temples from the time she started going on rounds there with her grandfather as a five-year-old.  

In sharp contrast, Charan’s world was about glitz and glamour. Born to Telugu actor Chiranjeevi, who has had a storied four-decade career in the world of cinema, since childhood, he was accustomed to the sudden highs and lows one can experience with every film release. As a young boy, Charan was passionate about horse riding, and fascinated with cricket and automobiles—he wanted to be an automobile engineer, says his father. Post college, he expressed a desire to act.

And from the time he faced the camera for his debut, Chirutha in 2007, he has emerged as one of the finest artistes of his time.

“The pressure [to make a mark] was always there. But I was ignorant about all the stress around me. People would have seen it, but I’d never felt it. I was ignorant and that was my greatest plus point,” says Charan.

Their diverse backgrounds point to the obvious adjustments both would have had to make as a couple. Charan admits that it’s not easy to marry an actor and understand a film family. “It was a culture shock for me,” confesses Konidela, adding that their families, especially their mothers, played a big role in helping them overcome the initial concerns and giving them complete freedom.  

“Upasana shocked us with the way she blended so beautifully and seamlessly. She didn’t make it difficult for us as a family, though she could have,” Charan tells Forbes India. “She made the effort to understand my side of work. And she likes movies too, so she’s not disconnected. But she’s a total Yash Chopra fan, not my kind of movies. She’s the more romantic one.”

“I am the happy-romantic, he’s the sad one,” is Konidela’s repartee.  

Also read: I am constantly competing with myself. I am not competing with anyone else: Kareena Kapoor Khan

Chiranjeevi believes they complement each other beautifully. “Both Ram and Upasana are high achievers, progressive in their thinking and aware of the pressures of the modern-day life,” he says. “Ram is extremely supportive of Upasana in all her endeavours. And it is wonderful how Upasana navigates her personal and professional life.”

Sense of purpose

Konidela has a clear vision for Apollo. “It’s to treat with empathy and dignity, and people from all strata of society,” she says. Also, she is striving to ensure that the hospital experience isn’t a burden. “The real mental hit comes during discharge—doing the billing. I want to make that part pleasant,” she adds.

As a leader, she believes authority comes automatically with respect. And she seems to have earned that over the years. “Upasana leads with her heart and is truly driven by a deep sense of purpose, to make a meaningful change in the lives of people. It’s evident from the change she’s brought to the Apollo Foundation,” says Suneeta Reddy. The managing director of Apollo Hospitals describes Konidela as a “free spirit”, someone who went to boarding school, but “lived by her own rules”.  

Her philanthropic side is something dear to Konidela too. In her opinion, it’s a subjective word that everyone uses today, but it has a deep meaning. “In our line of business, people think of philanthropy as hygiene, so how you do it matters the most,” she explains, adding that they run more than 300 senior care homes across the country. “They are abandoned by their family and are waiting for life to pass. When you are treated with dignity and respect at such a time, it matters the most.”

Those who have worked with Konidela first-hand are witness to her desire to uplift communities and empower people. “The intrinsic motivation to contribute to the greater good, coupled with financial resources, sees her unapologetically addressing social issues she believes in,” says Anneysa Ghosh Kumar, CEO of Apollo Foundation’s Total Health. “Her story exemplifies how kindness and effective leadership can go hand-in-hand to drive success in today’s business landscape.”     

Though she comes from a family that has set up the best standards in health care, Konidela is asserting her individuality and leaving a mark as an entrepreneur. “She is extremely pragmatic in taking business decisions with a human touch. She has an eye for detail, and has inherent qualities of a good leader—caring, compassionate and a people’s person,” says T Karunakar, CEO, Family Health Plan Ltd, CHRO, UR.Life.

Charan is impressed with his wife’s ability to multi-task effortlessly without compromising on integrity and quality. He feels inspired by her work ethic and approach to life. “She’s really charged as a person and entrepreneur. She has many things going on in her head. In spite of all that, she is equipped to take on more challenges—not just as a mother, but also in office and the work she does for me,” he says. The actor says oftentimes she’s so busy with important things, but she stops her Zoom meetings and runs to the baby when required and takes care of everything when he is away. “She lets me go to my shoots, and never complains,” he adds.

“That’s because you co-parent so beautifully with me,” she chimes in, gently patting him on his shoulder.

Dynamic star

In public eye, Charan is the superstar with a dynamic screen presence who can draw in the audiences to theatres with his name alone. The hysteria was for all to see when he was in Los Angeles for the Oscars. As an individual he can be perceived as laidback and relaxed, but once the camera rolls, he transforms into a possessed artiste.  

“I am one of the actors who’s on sets sharp at 7 am. I roll the camera at 7.45… I like to start early, finish early. And for the last seven days, I have been shooting 16 hours a day. I hardly get time, but I like to be in that loop,” says Charan, who devoted three-and-a-half-years to RRR, a fictional tale inspired by the lives of two Indian revolutionaries.

Konidela believes discipline is her husband’s greatest virtue. And when it’s shoot time, nothing can come in between. “If he has to build a particular physique in a certain period of time, that’s it. I have seen him getting up early, eating healthy, training hard, giving it his all. That’s his success mantra,” she points out.  

Chiranjeevi feels he’s a director’s actor who can easily connect with people with the emotions he shows on celluloid. “With Charan, a director can keep discovering how much he can deliver, how much he can stretch and go beyond their expectations,” says the veteran actor-producer.  

Charan’s co-stars can’t stop gushing about him. “He’s extremely kind, has warm eyes and a big heart, and that’s what comes across on screen. He’s committed to the moment on sets. He takes in information and direction silently, and delivers without making a big hoo-haa about it,” says Alia Bhatt, who shared screen space with the actor for the first time in RRR. “There are a lot of layers that an actor can bring with silence, without doing much. There were several tough scenes, with layers, in RRR which I saw him portray with a lot of dignity… at the same time, he made them engaging, entertaining and had the audience hooked. It’s not easy to do that,” says Bhatt, who won Best Actor for Gangubai Kathiawadi at the National Awards this year.  

Another actor who was bowled over by Charan’s professionalism was Samantha Ruth Prabhu, who worked with him in Rangasthalam (2018). “He has an innate honesty, and that is always the best quality of an actor—when they can be completely honest and empathetic,” she tells Forbes India.

“The commercial films weren’t able to exploit his talent as much, but Rangasthalam gave him the opportunity to shine. And boy did he shine!”

Unlike Konidela, though, Charan admits that he does not have an entrepreneurial streak in him. “I am a bad businessman, I am extremely bad with numbers. That’s where Upasana helps me… in putting those numbers and everything together,” says the actor, who started the Konidela Production Company in 2016, and launched another, V Mega Pictures, in 2023. “I let my trusted ones handle the business and investment decisions.”    

He agrees with what his father told him once: That an actor should be stress-free. “I like to sail in one boat—acting. And maybe a little bit of production here and there where I don’t have any burden. Because when I go to emote, I need to have zero baggage to play somebody else,” explains Charan, who’ll next be seen in Game Changer.  

Wealthy and wise

The success in their respective careers as well as their lineage mean wealth is an integral and important part of their lives. However, they believe in using their monetary power for the benefit of others. Money, they feel, should be used on things that help them sleep with a clear conscience.
“I am third generation… I am supposed to be the generation that blows wealth,” jokes Konidela. On a serious note, she adds: “Staying alone on top does not give anyone a high. Wealth creation, in that sense, means the world to me. Creating wealth where you can use it and other people become wealthier with you… I think that is our philosophy in life.”  

The couple says in unison that their animals are their wealth. “I spend a lot of time with animals, I learn a lot from them—sensitivity, the way they reciprocate… it’s so beautiful. Animals bring out the sensitive side in me. I need them more than they need me,” says Charan, who’s often spotted pampering his pet dog Rhyme.

That also constitutes their idea of an ideal vacation. “We are into nature and environment,” says Konidela. “Our favourite holiday would be to volunteer in the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust where you take care of elephants and rhinos… or start something similar here. We had an encounter with the lions in Africa. We have adopted the Amrabad Tiger Reserve, and feel that’s ours. The tribals have adopted my daughter as well. Ram is into horses, so even going to England and learning about them would be great.”

“Upasana is extremely passionate about India’s wildlife population. In her personal capacity, one can see her going out of her way in building consortiums to support government efforts in protecting India’s tiger reserves,” says Kumar of Total Health.

Both, however, are different individuals and that has kept the spark alive. Charan shoots so much throughout the year that he likes to relax on the first two days of a holiday.

Konidela, on the other hand, likes spunk and is prepared with an itinerary and likes to tick off things. So much so that even if she misses spotting a particular fish in the Maldives, they’d go back just for that. Charan loves to ski, though, and there’s a healthy competition between them when it comes to diving. “If I go 10 feet, he has to go 15,” laughs Konidela.  

There’s a spiritual side to Charan, too, as he believes it strengthens him. “I believe in the superpower of positive energy. Ayyappa Swamy Mala, that I perform as a yearly ritual, grounds and disciplines me. It’s my way of getting control of myself and also thanking the universe for all that it has given me,” he says.

Also read: Vijay Sethupathi: Living his dream, his way

Legacy and goodwill

Life has indeed been kind to them. And they have returned the favour to those around them in their own capacity. Ruth Prabhu, for instance, says she grew fond of Charan because he comes across as truthful. “What you see is what you get. He has been very supportive of me. And I have great respect for that. If he likes you, cares about you and thinks you are good, he’ll go to any lengths for you. And I have been at the receiving end of that extra mile,” she says.

Bhatt saw the protective side of Charan while promoting RRR. She was witness to the pandemonium his presence would cause and what has stayed with her is how concerned he was about her during that frenzy. “The places we’d be in were chaotic, especially for girls. But Ram was constantly checking where I was, whether I was fine… he was extremely caring and made me feel comfortable,” she says. “I can proudly say that he’s a friend today, and someone I look up to as an actor and person.”

Konidela, too, has won the goodwill of her workforce and the industry. “Everyone is important for Upasana. She’s a wonderful daughter and daughter-in-law, cares for everyone around her, and is always willing to share what she’s learnt and her skills,” says Reddy of Apollo Hospitals. “Her kindness and empathy resonate throughout the workplace, creating a positive and inclusive culture,” adds Kumar. “At every difficult situation, I have noticed her patience and ability to drive an open dialogue.”

Both Charan and Konidela have a lot left to achieve. The actor is aware that expectations from him have shot up because of the unprecedented success of RRR. “It’s a beautiful responsibility,” he says. “Once you taste that kind of success and adulation, you want to recreate that again and again. And it is so difficult to do that,” he confesses.

Ruth Prabhu, who has been rooting forever for Charan, says he’s just stepped into superstardom and deserves all the appreciation that he’s getting. “There were millions of renditions of ‘Naatu Naatu’ on the internet, but no one could match his style, swag and energy. No one! I have seen so many of those reels, but there is only one Ram Charan,” she tells Forbes India.

Konidela has to live up to the family legacy and the trust that people put in Apollo. “My parents have worked hard so that I enjoy life with a diamond spoon… I must value it, I must be disciplined,” she says about what she discovered during her spiritual awakening. The Apollo family backs her to deliver in the near future. “It’s a great responsibility to uphold the family legacy and one sees her doing that gracefully. She genuinely believes in sharing of resources, whether it’s time, talent or treasure,” says Kumar. “My conviction about Upasana is that she learns and grows, so her best is yet to come,” adds Reddy.

Comfort factor

One’s relationships at home and work must be reviewed like business is something that Konidela swears by. That has helped Charan and her eliminate the possibility of any awkwardness between them. “If something is disturbing us, we have built that relationship to discuss it. We fight, but that’s what strengthens our marriage. In real life, he’s a bad actor, I know everything that’s going on in his mind,” she says. Charan believes that starting off as friends is a huge advantage as a couple. “We know each other in and out… there’s nothing to hide.”

However, that doesn’t mean they intrude into each other’s territories and personal spaces. There are boundaries and non-negotiables. What is common, though, is having each other’s backs and steely admiration for the other.

“It’s a beautiful give-and-take between us,” says Charan. “Upasana is such a powerful woman… nothing intimidates her, nothing challenges her. She has everything in her life, seen it all, experienced it all. All that she needs from her partner is trust and belief in this system. And we are working on it… it’s a continuous process.”  

Konidela completes him: “Marriage is like a weight-loss programme, you have to continuously work on it.”