A few days before the release of Vikram, actor Narain talks to Vishal Menon about his film career in the Tamil and Malayalam industries, his ups and downs in this 20-year-long journey, and his experience working with Kamal Haasan, Fahadh Faasil, and Vijay Sethupathi.
Edited excerpts below:
Let’s talk about the sets of Vikram. You’ve already worked with a lot of greats but this is another level of greatness. I mean on one side you have Fahadh Faasil, Vijay Sethupathi, Kamal Haasan, and of course now Surya too. What’s it like to be on those sets?
Actually, the film is a treat. Just like a visual treat, you have an actor’s treat too. Starting with Kamal sir, for me it was like I’m doing a film with Kamal sir and that’s it. It’s only because of him I entered acting otherwise I’d have done something else in life and I would have been a much happier life, I guess. I was telling in the audio launch the other day that whatever success I get, I owe a percentage of it to Kamal sir.
So, imagine I’m doing a film with Kamal sir. In the sets, I don’t have much screen space with Vijay Sethupathi but with Fahadh Faasil and Kamal sir definitely. For me, it was a dream come true first of all. For your question, it is a rare combination of actors doing a mass commercial film. So, you see these big films might not have so-called great actors. Here you have a combination of many of them in one film. So that is something unusual.
I’m sure that they all came just because of Lokesh Kanagaraj and of course Kamal sir. The moment I saw the teaser, I called up Lokesh and told him its awesome. He said, “Yes sir, one more thing, you are also acting in this movie”. To me that was it, I didn’t ask what it was or who was doing what, it didn’t matter because it is Kamal sir’s film. I am very indebted to Lokesh for that. During the dubbing of Kaithi, we came to know that we both are huge Kamal fans. So it is a dream come true for me.
Lokesh’s first film Maanagaram was a great one but a small film and had a lot of things that looked like a first film. But then the second you saw Kaithi, that’s when you really saw that this is a voice, this is a director. So when you were doing Kaithi and when you saw the final output, did you expect this guy to pull off this, or were you really surprised?
On the first day of the shoot, I was really happy to see him work because I saw a director who was constantly working. I might have 10 doubts but I have to wait for an hour to ask him because I wanted him to be in the right frame of mind for me to ask. This guy was very clear and he was under a little pressure because Kaithi was a big movie for him at that time. So you give that space, but we gelled easily.
On the first or second day of the shoot, I realised that this guy knows his stuff. Now the only thing I wanted to know was how he would execute this subject. Usually, you have a script and you know this, this, and this. But when he narrated the subject, after the first 20 minutes, he said, “That’s it, from then on its climax”. It was travel and so that was something I needed to see and let me tell you it was mind-blowing. I think that’s his strength, that genre. Vikram is also that genre. It’s almost like it’s his genre.
Tell me about this, as someone who started their career in Tamil and Malayalam simultaneously, how do you balance it? Usually, people settle for either one industry but you have consistently done both. What is your learning from trying to do this?
I realised that I am not on balance. This is not a good space to be in because I don’t have an example to look up to because in India if you name an actor, you have an industry associated to it. You may act in different languages but you will have a predominant industry. So, what happened in my case was that I did my first Malayalam film, and before the second film was released, I got my Tamil film. There was a consistency of hits and then there was a small career block. Films didn’t come the way I expected.
So, I should’ve actually probably chosen one. At that time, I was trying to focus on Tamil. I missed a lot of Malayalam films. So, the balance thing is okay in one way, but it doesn’t work if you want stardom. It’s high time I had to focus on one. When Tamil wasn’t working, I thought let’s not focus. Probably, I am focusing on the wrong side. I don’t know, so I have just kept it open.
What was the phase like when things weren’t working in your favour? How did you bounce back?
It was bad. You feel like you were in the wrong place every day. Everyone has their own philosophy of bouncing back. You work on yourself, it’s a daily thing. Either you go the religious way, or you go the other way, the philosophical way. You meditate, read or speak to people or you keep thinking, so you have to work on yourself and it helped me a lot.
I had this issue of wanting to do what I want to do. And it is not good always. In 2010, I decided if a decent director comes with a script, I’ll do it without thinking. For the next 12 years, nobody came. Obviously, with newcomers, you have to hear the script. With weak directors too. So, it looked like I was listening to many scripts and saying no. But somewhere inside I knew I’d work it out. The will to fight puts you back on track. That conviction kept me going.
When you do films like Kaithi, in supporting roles that are almost equal to the hero where you don’t have to take the pressure of the market, is it more comfortable for you?
Yes definitely. In any film, like the producer and the director, the hero has the responsibility and tension along with it. If someone does a supporting role it’s different. See if the film is a hit, it helps everyone but the responsibility or fear doesn’t fall on everyone. I know that because I know the pressure I had in films that I did as a hero. For Kaithi, it was different because we knew it was going to be a hit. The pressure was a little lower. Yet that’s the price we pay to be an actor or a hero.
Finally, looking back at your career, is it a mix of all the emotions, or do you generally feel like you’ve done your best, and are you feeling satisfied?
Satisfied, no way. For an artist, being satisfied is being far from the art. The moment you are satisfied you are dead. It’s a mix of emotions — in between the journey and a lot to go, let’s see.