Naslen: It feels great when people call me a natural
The actor, who is gradually establishing himself as a bankable lead, on his latest release Premalu, and the expectations and responsibilities that come with it
Melvin in Girish AD's Thanneer Mathan Dinangal (TMD), a fun rom-com about a bunch of high schoolers, was like no other character in the film. His mother introduces him with the now-famous line "budhiyaanu ivante main", and unlike his other mates, he had zero interest in girls. He was more into relishing his juice and puffs, while casually spitting some pearls of wisdom. Remember the teenager saying, "Ninakku okke pranthaana pennungade pinnale pokaan"? Naslen, with his deadpan approach, delivered a hilarious performance, turning him into an instant fan favourite. There has been no looking back since for the actor. Five years and over a dozen other memorable roles later, Naslen still holds Melvin close to his heart. "Most actors usually find it difficult to pick one favourite among their roles, but I'm pretty sure Melvin will remain my most favourite forever. That character and the reception it got was where everything started for me," reflects Naslen.
After TMD, the Girish AD-Naslen duo hit off so well that the actor has been part of all the films helmed by Girish since then. While Naslen played supporting characters in the first two films, TMD and Super Sharanya, he is headlining the upcoming two films, Premalu and I Am Kathalan. When asked what makes their combo click, Naslen says, "It's majorly because of our friendship. Since Girish ettan was the one who introduced me, he knows all my strengths and weaknesses as an actor. Beyond a mentor-disciple relationship, there's a strong bond which makes it easier for us to trust in each other's skills."
Premalu, which is hitting screens on Friday, is yet again a rom-com, but of a "different tone," clarifies Naslen. "I've been a part of a few rom-coms before, but my romantic tracks in most of these films were mostly humorous. Though the humour element is there in this film as well, the romance part has proper depth with Girish ettan handling it seriously." Pairing up with Naslen is Mamitha Baiju, with whom he had earlier worked in Super Sharanya. "Though we didn't have a lot of combination scenes in that film, we still became good friends. That bond grew further with this film, which is basically a complete entertainer. So, the sets were also like that with no dearth of fun. Most of us working in this film knew each other before, so it was like a friendly get-together and I think that has had a positive impact on the overall output."
Premalu is backed by Bhavana Studios, headed by the trio of Fahadh Faasil, Dileesh Pothan and Syam Pushkaran. Naslen is delighted to have associated with such heavyweights, whose encouragement, he adds, is a "great confidence booster." "They're such great people to work with. They always ensure you are comfortable by fostering a friendly environment. They've already watched the film and have pinned high hopes on it. It's a tremendous feeling when people like them watch and appreciate your work."
In an early conversation with us, Girish AD called Naslen "an actor with a rare grasping power". According to the director, Naslen is very sharp in understanding the character and adjusting his performance accordingly. When asked about the same, a flattered Naslen laughingly says, "I'm not sure if all that's true, but I do keenly observe all the instructions. That's my process—I'll be constantly in discussion with the writer and director to conceive a clear sketch of the character. More often than not, the script itself will have all the details, but even the minutest of information that drips during such conversations helps in avoiding any shades of your previous performances. Beyond that, there are some characters that are completely alien and require a lot of homework, but I haven't done something like that yet." In his brief career so far, Naslen has mostly been part of youth-centric entertainers and light-hearted films. Though the actor is aware of the risk of redundancy and ready for new challenges, he feels it's too early to reject the incoming offers and keep waiting for demanding roles. "It's true that the scripts that I'm offered are mostly in the feel-good circles, but I've just started and can't afford to be too picky. All I can do now is to identify something different from the ones that I'm getting. Rasool in Kuruthi and Pachu in Ayalvaashi were two such roles that stood out. Similarly, a couple of my upcoming films including Tiki Taka and my next with Khalid Rahman will see me in different shades. I hope more of it follows as I'm eager to explore something like a dark thriller, which I love watching."
Naslen's last two releases, Neymar and Journey of Love 18+, were moderately successful at the box office, and with each film, the actor is establishing himself as a bankable lead. The youngster, who is still in the early days of his career, realises the same as he admits feeling a sense of responsibility adding up with every new release. "It might be a very small section of the audience who trust and spend their money on our film, but it's still our responsibility to live up to their expectations. I value that space they have given me and I'll continue to uphold their faith in me." With bouquets come brickbats and Naslen asserts he would always be welcoming of criticisms. "If one wishes to grow and prosper, you've to pay attention to criticisms. No matter what, the audience will always be able to identify our flaws. So, it's better to listen to what they point out and try improving it."
It's quite a sight to see Naslen being mobbed by fans, particularly young women, during public events and you can often see the shy actor trying his best to greet them all. For an actor in his early 20s who has done just about a handful of films, all this adulation must be exhilarating. But it's not the stardom or its perks that seem to excite Naslen the most. "I'm at my happiest when people appreciate my roles. I feel ecstatic when someone says I'm a natural and there's an organic flow to my performances. It's immensely moving."