After completing class 10 in 1977, I came to Chennai from Tirunelveli along with my family in search of a better livelihood. Our family was called the ‘Bhattar’ family in the village…we were poor, and all I had when I landed here, was a torn trouser, a four mozham veshti, vest and `29 and 10 paise, in hand.
For generations our family has been into Purohitham, where we do vedic pujas and other rituals. So, it was natural for my father to carry forward the legacy in the city. He used to work in temples, and I learned a lot from him. I also began performing rituals in temples, conducting weddings, homams, and other rites. My formative years in Dharmapuram Adheenam Madam, my knowledge of Thevaram and my father’s guidance helped me a lot. So far, I might have conducted more than 1,000 weddings.
But, that wasn’t enough to survive in this city. So, after working in small shops, I took up diploma courses in editing, theatre projector operating, driving and being a bus conductor. It was a struggle to learn it all, but I had a family to take care of, and I had to rise to the occasion.
After two years of apprenticeship, I got my projector operator license in 1987 and from then on, I have been operating all the projectors at Udhayam Theatre. I have the longest service as a projector operator in this theatre.
Every day, for the last 30-odd years, I have been screening films in the evenings and nights. I usually finish all my purohitham work in the day and wherever I am, I reach the theatre by 6 pm and start screening the film. I wrap up by 2 am.
Back then, I had to roll the reel, load the film and simultaneously attend two projectors. It was extremely taxing. The running time of films used to be over three hours and I had to stand until the end. Today, it has changed...it’s all digitised and easier. But even if there are few people in the theatre, the movie has to be projected. Recently, during one of the night show screenings, there were only five people for a specific movie. But it’s my duty to project the film, and I did.
I’ve operated different projectors — 8mm, 16mm, 35mm, 75mm, scope, Genome to the recent digital ones. I love being around these equipments. I am treated with respect here and also, I get to meet different people, including actors, who often visit our theatre. It’s an interesting job. I feel ecstatic to have screened films like Nayagan, Chinna Gounder, and Mouna Ragam which ran for 175 days in this theatre. More recently, I screened Jungle Book and Padmaavat. People often ask me if I take my family for every film which I project, but they are not movie buffs. I tag them along only when they want to watch a specific film.
I have two daughters and both are inclined towards studies. My eldest daughter specialises in veterinary ophthalmology and works towards helping, rescuing and saving animals. I am extremely proud of my children and for what they’ve made for themselves.
I am a people person and I enjoy teaching them the nuances of different rituals. I can explain the layers of dharmas and ‘karmas’ according to people of different beliefs and faiths because I have read the Bible and Quran as well. I have four students who are learning purohitham under me. I teach through my experiences.
I am also open to sharing my experiences and learning as a cinema projector. I have learned to be openminded. I focus on doing good deeds, without expectations. Maybe that’s why life is so beautiful...that’s how I look at it.
Both the professions, purohitham and theatre projector operator, are poles apart but, Narayanan manages to do them with ease. “From the wee hours until noon, I am a dedicated vadhyar — I do pujas in about 13 temples, both big and small every day, and other rituals according to the need. On an average I work 25-27 days a month.