How India’s Yash went from bus driver’s son to mega movie star: the KGF franchise actor is one of Kannada’s biggest names, appearing in Googly and Masterpiece, and raking in millions

From determined wannabe actor to Kannada’s biggest star – this is how Yash made it big. Photos: Namma KFI/YouTube, @thenameisyash/Instagram
In a flop-filled year for Indian cinema, when Bollywood’s Khans, Kapoors, and Kumars have all failed to deliver, one actor from the southern Indian state of Karnataka named Yash has done the unthinkable.
KGF: Chapter 2 came out in April but is still finding success and winning fans for its star Yash. Photo: @thenameisyash/Instagram

The biggest star in Karnataka’s film industry, better known as Kannada or Sandalwood, Yash’s pan-Indian action-drama KGF: Chapter 2 has become India’s highest-grossing movie this year. Yash plays Rocky, the criminal overlord of a gold mine, in the film, which earned around 1,250 crore (US$157 million) worldwide within weeks of its release, according to news website India Today.

Yash’s latest film, KGF: Chapter 2, banked US$157 million worldwide in its first few weeks of release. Photo: @thenameisyash/Instagram

Even this year’s much loved 1920s action drama RRR – that other rare Indian film breaking US$100 million globally – misses matching KGF: Chapter 2’s box office haul by US$13 million.


For a man from such a humble background, this feat appears even more incredible.

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How did he get his start?

He got his first acting part aged three – in a sense – but now 36-year-old Yash can say he truly is a huge star. Photo: @thenameisyash/Instagram

Born on January 8, 1986 in Hassan, Karnataka as Naveen Kumar Gowda, Yash always wanted to be a movie star. According to Forbes India, one of his earliest memories was of energetically pretending to be a policeman at his school’s fancy-dress competition at the age of three. The crowd loved it and branded him a hero.

A young Naveen Kumar Gowda – now better known as Yash. Photo: Namma KFI/YouTube

His ambition grew with age, but his family didn’t share his vision. His father, Arun Kumar, worked as a bus driver for the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation and later the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation. Like many Indian fathers, he wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and get a secure public sector job.

But young Naveen Kumar Gowda had other plans, and when he turned 16, he insisted on being allowed to move to the big city to take his chance, and took a bus to Bengaluru, the hub of the Kannada film industry.

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From stand-in to leading man

Film star Yash co-owns a clothing brand called Villain. Photo: @thenameisyash/Instagram

Gowda started off as an unpaid assistant director for a film in 2003, but the project was shelved after just two days.


He then joined a theatre group as a backstage worker before being promoted to stand-in actor. A year later, he bagged his first television soap operas, Uttarayana and Nanda Gokula.

Yash started out as a stand-in, filling in for actors who couldn’t make it to set for whatever reason. Photo: Amigo Indirajal Movies

After a few years on the small screen, Gowda – by now using his childhood moniker Yash as his screen name at his friends’ suggestion – scored his first movie part in the Kannada film Jambada Hudugi (2007). A supporting stint in romantic drama Moggina Manasu (2008) followed, fetching him a Filmfare award for best supporting actor. One of his first super hits in a lead role was Kirataka (2011).

Yash and Kriti Kharbanda in 2013 hit Googly. Photo: IMDB

Yash then headlined several more blockbusters, including Googly, Gaja Kesari, Mr. and Mrs. Ramachari, Masterpiece and Santhu Straight Forward.

Yash in the film Santhu Straight Forward (2016). Photo: IMDB

But the success he had enjoyed to that point was nothing compared to what was to come. When the two KGF movies (Chapters 1 and 2), directed by Prashanth Neel came his way, Yash was in for unprecedented nationwide and international fame, starting in 2018.

But it certainly wasn’t just luck that got Yash to where he is today. Film Companion interviewed his former colleagues and film critics, who all cited his immense hard work and self belief as the biggest keys to his success.

“I thought it was arrogance, it was actually sheer confidence,” Indian journalist Shiv Kumar said of the actor’s early days, while well-known stunt choreographers Anbumani and Arivumani (known as Anbariv) also saw Yash’s quality shine through with the first KGF film: “We all saw the solid hard work he put in to become Rocky. On screen, he had an arresting presence. And, while his eyes radiated power, his movements were very graceful.”

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Making the big bucks

Those around him may not have been convinced by his vision, but Yash always believed that he would be a huge star some day. Photo: @thenameisyash/Instagram

According to entertainment portal Koimoi, Yash now has a net worth of US$7 million, and is the Kannada film industry’s highest-paid actor.

Yash and Radhika Pandit have two children together. Photo: @thenameisyash/Instagram

So how has he rewarded himself for all that hard work? His biggest splurges include a duplex flat in one of Bengaluru’s nicest neighbourhoods that he shares with his actress wife, Radhika Pandit, and their children, three-year-old Ayra and two-year-old Yatharv, according to Koimoi.

GQ India reported that the star also owns a Range Rover Evoque, Mercedes-Benz GLS and Mercedes GLC 250D Coupe. He also co-owns a men’s lifestyle brand, interestingly named Villain.

Yash and his wife Radhika Pandit are both actors. Photo: @thenameisyash/Instagram

Yash is also an active philanthropist through his Yashomarga Foundation, which focuses on water conservation and water rejuvenation in local villages.


Despite Yash’s huge fame, his father Arun Kumar reportedly still works as a bus driver. A humble family indeed.

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  • Since its release in April, KGF: Chapter 2 has become one of the biggest Indian film hits of all time, banking US$157 million globally and cementing Yash’s place as Sandalwood’s biggest star
  • Married to actress Radhika Pandit, Yash now lives in one of Bengaluru’s fanciest neighbourhoods and cruises around in Mercedes-Benzes and Range Rovers