Actor Narain confesses to not being a fan of bilingual films. “I believe it (a bilingual film) doesn’t work or is very difficult to work in both languages, especially for an actor who works in both industries. Someone trying to enter a new industry might find it works to their advantage as they don’t have anything to lose.” He is, however, taking the plunge with the Malayalam-Tamil bi-lingual Adrishyam (Yugi in Tamil ). It is his first Malayalam movie since 2019.
The script gave Narain the confidence to give the film, directed by Zach Harris, a shot. The film is a three-hero project with Narain as the common factor, the others are Joju George and Sharafuddeen in the Malayalam version, and Natarajan Subramaniam and Kathir in the Tamil film. “It felt like acting in two films made in two languages. I had earlier done a guest role in the Tamil-Telugu bilingual U-Turn, which also marked my ‘entry’ into Telugu films,” says the Chennai-based actor who was in Kochi.
The fact that Chennai forms the backdrop for the action enthused him to take up the movie as “it is a familiar space for Malayalis also.”
Narain made his Tamil debut in Mysskin’s Chithiram Pesuthadi. A film that ironically led to him being typecast in Tamil films as the tough guy, inevitably a cop. It is an image he has been trying hard to shed. He has said no to more than 30-odd films in Tamil in the recent past that cast him as a policeman.
Image driven industry
“It is an image-driven industry; the makers who approach me believe that the boy-next-door or feel-good soft-natured character will not work for me. For the past 10 years, I have been telling directors to give me different kinds of roles, but they say, ‘no, that won’t suit you!’ I often wonder if films such as Classmates and Achuvinte Amma had come on Netflix or Amazon now they would have watched those films and seen the kind of roles I have done,” he adds.
He plays a private detective in Adrishyam, a role he has not done before. “This [Malayalam films] is where I have done diverse roles.” Emotionally disturbed private eye Nanda is investigating a case unknown to the others involved. “It is a layered character. The audience does not know if and how he is part of the action. The screenplay is the highlight of the film which has many twists and turns. There is a surprise for the audience, which was a hook for me.” The team, writer Bhagyaraj from Tamil Nadu and Zach Harris, a Malayali director, piqued his curiosity.
Both films have been edited differently, he reveals, “so it will be like watching two films. Interesting as the script is, it is not an easy one to make into a film. I appreciate the effort Zach has put in, it is not easy for a new director to pull off a film like this.”
This is also his first time working with actors of the new crop such as Joju George and Sharafudheen, “I enjoyed working with them. The same goes for the new breed of writers and directors who came up when I had already branched into Tamil. Perhaps it could be a reason why I haven’t got more roles [in Malayalam]. It is understandable that they would like to work with people they are comfortable with.”
Adrishyam has bittersweet memories too, for it was one of Prathap Pothen’s last films. “We were friends, in fact he called the day before he passed away. I missed the call, and was planning to return the call the next day… unfortunately we woke to the terrible news that day!”
Narain plans to relocate to Kochi soon so that he can focus his energy more on Malayalam films than Tamil. His last release in Tamil was Vikram. He is doing Kaithi 2, the sequel to the hit film Kaithi starring Karthi in the lead role, which was released in 2019, a franchise he is happy to be part of despite the ‘cop role’.
“Lokesh Kanagaraj, the director, is a huge fan of Anjaathe, it is one of his favourite films. When he wrote the cop role he had me in mind. Anjaathe came out so many years ago, but it has this kind of recall,” he explains.
Narain gets introspective when asked if he regrets moving to Chennai and shifting focus from Malayalam. “There are things not in my control, it would have been the same wherever I was. One way of looking at it is that I am part of an industry [Tamil] that is not easy to get into and establish oneself, especially as an outsider. Usually, an actor establishes themselves in an industry and ensures the market is safe before moving to another. I did not do that, I couldn’t capitalise on the success of Achuvinte Amma because I had committed my dates to Mysskin’s film. Having put in nine months into the film paid off, but sometimes I feel if it had not, I would have come back…” he says laughing.
He has just completed a Tamil film with Jeyam Ravi, completed Sugeeth’s Tamil film Kural (due for an OTT release) and made his first Telugu film in which he plays an agent with Interpol; in Malayalam he has completed work in Jude Anthany Joseph’s magnum opus 2018. Earlier, despite the consistent offers in Malayalam, he did not find any that he wanted to do. All that however has changed now and he has some interesting projects lined up. He says, “I can now say that I am in a better space!”
It took 20 years to get there. The actor made his film debut in 2002 with Nizhalkuthu. He worked as an assistant director for two years, and in 2004 came 4 the People. “Oh my God! It has been 20 years!” he exclaims as we count the years he has been working in the movies.