Narain Interview: I want to stop doing cop roles
The actor speaks about his experience working in the recently released bi-lingual film Yugi/Adrishyam, his desire to do light-hearted roles, and moving away from khaki...
Several factors influence an actor's choice of projects. While for some, it might be to evolve to the ‘next level’, for others, it could be the promise of being part of a compelling story. Narain, who made a terrific comeback with Kaithi (2019), followed it up with a reassuring performance in Vikram (2022), and now hopes to choose films that offer him the opportunity to take the story forward and make a difference. All that matters to him, he says, is the ‘proactiveness of his character’. "The character I play should be someone with whom I can identify or be friends with. He needs to be intelligent, and even if it's the same cop, I want to see some variation in the characterisation," says Narain, who has predominantly donned the khaki or played an investigator in his 16-year-old Tamil cinema career. In fact, to an extent, it is this stereotyping that made Narain become selective about the kind of films he did in Tamil.
However, some of these scripts do, time and again, pass through his filter. After turning down over 30 such roles in Tamil in recent years, Narain was convinced to play Nandha, a private detective, in his recently released bi-lingual film Yugi/Adrishyam. "I try to avoid cop or detective-type roles as much as possible. But as a few well-wishers suggested, I listened to Yugi's script, and by the end, I did not have a reason to say no. There was something mysterious about Nandha in Yugi. He's mostly quiet and composed and even his team members don't know what he is upto next. In my last two films, Kaithi and Vikram, my character Bejoy is loud and expressive. Nandha is different," he says.
Interestingly, Yugi, directed by debutant Zac Harris, is Narain's first full-fledged bilingual, though he previously made a special appearance in Samantha's U-Turn. "I don't think certain subjects will work in multiple languages. However, Yugi is one of a kind. One of the reasons I think it worked in both languages is that the story is very much set in Chennai in both versions, "he adds.
Narain is one of the few actors in the film to star in both Yugi and Adhrishyam, and shares that this experience paved the way for him to learn a few new things. "From minute variations in dialogue delivery like modulation and pitch to observing how my co-actors in both versions handled the same scene, I realised how certain mannerisms or body language is suited for just one version. For example, how you greet a friend here may differ from how it is in Kerala," he adds.
Experimenting with his choice of roles, Narain shares that redesigning his market to break out of stereotypes is his next career plan. "I am ready to do any role except really solemn characters. I want to do something light-hearted. I am looking to explore a character that has humour, romance and more," he shares. And in the first step towards such a change, the actor is set to play a man with autism in Kural. "It is a character that is very close to my heart, and I'm sure it will change my image."
Unlike in Tamil, Narain's career in Malayalam has offered him roles to prove his versatility, especially in the initial phase of his career. Making his acting debut with legendary filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Nizhalkuthu, he starred in the runaway sleeper hit 4 The People, in which he donned the khaki for the first time. Thankfully, his roles soon after helped the actor avoid stereotyping. "In Tamil, even after 16 years, I have not been able to get such a slate to prove my potential. I'd like the audience to revisit some of my classic Malayalam films like Achuvinte Amma and Classmates. It's just sad that these films were released at a time OTT platforms were not prominent," Narain adds.
While Narain candidly admits that his checkboxes in Tamil have definitely limited his visibility, it is this persistence and dedication that won him two promising films, Kaithi and Vikram. "I must say my association with Lokesh Kanakaraj brought me back on track in Tamil. I've lived in Chennai all these years. However, it wasn't until these two films that people began to recognise me in public more often. When I am out in Chennai, people bump into me to speak about the Lokesh Cinematic Universe. I recently visited the UK for a shoot, and I was surprised when people from other states identified me as Bejoy. I am cherishing this phase," he says.
About the much-anticipated Kaithi 2, Narain reveals that the project will go on floors after the completion of Thalapathy 67. "Lokesh's ability to connect with the audience has led to massive expectations for the LCU. Kaithi 2 is going to be big, and I can't wait to see what is in store. I am also super-excited to see fans asking for a spin-off series featuring Bejoy and the Boys," he adds.
Back in Malayalam, Narain is set to reunite with his Ore Kadal (2008) director Shyamaprasad for the upcoming Netflix anthology based on MT Vasudevan Nair's works. Narain shares that the project, which also stars Parvathy, has a faint parallel with Ore Kadal. "I like how he explains a character and manoeuvres the artists through the story. It is a liberating and refreshing working process."
Narain will also star in Jude Anthany Joseph's passion project, 2018, which deals with one of the most harrowing episodes in Kerala's history, the 2018 floods. "It's an ambitious project and is made on a big scale. I wish it turns out to be a remarkable film in the Malayalam industry," says Narain, hoping for rooted films with subtle humour to come his way in Malayalam.
Having completed two decades in the industry, Narain admits that it has not all been smooth sailing, but has turned out to be a worthy ride, nonetheless. "Even though I was with my guru Rajiv Menon as an assistant cinematographer, he understood my passion for acting. When my acting career wasn't taking off, he always had my back. After a point, owing to my strong determination, I worked hard and gave hundreds of screen tests and auditions. Then, 4 The People happened. One thing led to another, and Chithiram Pesuthadi paved the way for me in Tamil, and with Anjathey, I got my big break. From then on, I have just been keen to move forward in cinema by doing proactive characters," he signs off with a smile.