Interview : Prashant Narayanan


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Prashant Narayanan may not have been a commercially successful actor, but his performances in films like CHHAL, WAISA BHI HOTA HAI PART II and SHADOWS OF TIME, have been much-appreciated. The actor is now looking forward to the release of his new film MR SINGH MRS MEHTA. Excerpts

From being a badminton champ to an actor in Mumbai. How has been the journey?
I was born in Kerala, but grew up in Delhi. I was the state badminton champion and studied at the Kirori Mal College of Delhi University. While in Delhi I was also part of a theatre group Act 1. In 1991, I shifted to Mumbai; was always passionate about acting and very particular about the kind of roles I wanted to play. I started off by assisting art director Samir Chanda. I worked on films like Govind Nihalani’s RUKMAVATI KI HAVELI, Subhash Ghai’s SAUDAGAR and Shyam Benegal’s SaRDARI BEGUM. I also worked as a costume director in the TV series Chanakya. In-between I delved into acting on television and worked in serials like Parivartan, Farz, Gatha, Kabhi Kabhie, Jaane Kaha Jigar Gaya Ji and Shagun. I got his first break in films in 2002 in Hansal Mehta’s CHHAL.

Tells us about your new film MR SINGH MRS MEHTA.
MR SINGH MRS MEHTA is the story of Ashwin Mehta and Neera Singh who

“Affair with married man is cool…”

find that their spouses are having an affair. Drawn together by shame and anger, they find comfort in their growing friendship even as they resolve not to be like their unfaithful mates.

How do you view this whole issue of extramarital affairs which have become now so common in the modern society?
Extramarital affairs are like accidents that you keep reading in the newspapers. You only get a jolt when it actually happens to you. A lot of people are of the opinion that just because they are married does not mean they are dead. A lot of people think that if you have a married woman you love, you are really safe…A lot of people think that having an affair with a married man is cool… A lot of people think a whole lot of things… MR SINGH MRS MEHTA is for all of them.

What is you role in the film MR SINGH MRS MEHTA?
I play the role of Ashwin Mehta. He is a talented painter still waiting for the world to discover him. His wife however has full faith that one day he will be a very rich and famous painter. While he is confident as a painter, in his personal life Ashwin is unable to stand up for himself. He is too much in love with his wife to confront her when he discovers she is having an affair. He knows if he confronts her, she will confess to the affair and he will not be able to live with it. Ashwin is a pretty traumatic character and full of complexes too.

What made you pick this role?
I was on a lookout to act in an independent film that upped the ante and raised bars when it comes to independent cinema in India. I read the script of MR SINGH MRS MEHTA while I was in London shooting for a film. What attracted me to the script was Pravesh’s no nonsense look at the problem of extramarital affairs. It’s a bold film, not just in terms of the sheer physicality of it but also because Pravesh has dared to raise some uncomfortable questions, in his very film, where people tend to play safe. Pravesh wanted to shoot the film immediately and I was already committed to do another film during that period. I cursed my luck, got drunk and wrote an ode on the cover of the script wishing Pravesh all the bloody luck for it. But as luck would have it, the film got delayed a little and I got to be part of it.

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view MR SINGH MRS MEHTA movie stills

It sounds like a pretty intense role.
It is. Even slight over dramatization of Ashwin’s emotions would have made him an unreal character. As an actor I loved this challenge. Character of Ashwin is quite “passive” in popular sense of the world, his hidden intensity gave the character a depth that went beyond what was written in the script

How did you go about preparing to play a painter?
Playing a painter in the film came naturally to me. Samir Chanda, the art director was the man who got me down to Mumbai as his assistant. He himself is a fabulous artist and a great guy to look up to for aesthetics and I learnt a lot about it from him. Since then I have been very comfortable in handling paint and brush and so did not need to attend any work shop to get the nuisances right. Personally speaking I am a bad painter but if you need to paint walls and bigger things like that then I am your man.

In the film you look very unlike a painter…
I had long hair when I reached the shoot and Manu Kumaran the producer, thought that a painter with long hair is a very standard thought. I wanted to tell

“Pravesh has dared
to raise some uncomfortable questions with MR SINGH MRS MEHTA”

him that I am an extraordinary actor, will pull off a different performance but then he was just too hell-bent upon seeing some of the locks fall on the floor. But then it really worked in bringing out the kind of character that I was expected to do.

Tells us about your shooting experiences.
Well, we were shooting in one of the most gorgeous locations in this world which is Wales. Just the fact that I was there for some 35 days was exhilarating. I was in the company of two gorgeous ladies – Aruna Shields and Lucy Hassan and Naved Aslam who is an old friend, and here I was shooting with Pravesh who has been a friend of mine since a really embarrassing period of time, and now we get to work together.

We used to steal a lot of apples and mix it with salt and pepper and keeping chewing on it, they were so delicious and crunchy that I still miss them.

Both your co-stars Aruna Shields and Lucy Hassan are Brit-Asian actors who don’t know Hindi. How was it like on the sets?
It was strange to hear the kind of Hindi that Aruna and Lucy used to speak. They are British and hearing such sentimental lines in their accent was something that I was not prepared for. It took some time for me to adjust to that. But it was really heartening to see both Aruna and Lucy being so wonderfully patient and try to get nuisances of language that is alien to them. I don’t think I had ever seen Aruna without her earphones, trying to go through her lines, when we were not shooting.