Narain has the rare distinction of being an actor who bridges two films occurring in the same universe: Kaithi and Vikram. In this interview with CE, he discusses being such a pivotal part of what’s being dubbed the Lokesh Cinematic Universe, his experience of working with Kamal Haasan and what all this success means to him.
Not many know that you started your career as an assistant cinematographer to Rajiv Menon. Why the decision to turn actor?
I was always passionate about acting and Kamal sir was an inspiration. After graduating in cinematography, I assisted Rajiv sir. Even before joining him, I told him that I’m more interested in acting. He understood it and told me he will turn me into a cinematographer first. I worked with him for two years, during which I attended auditions. I got my first role in the Malayalam film Nizhalkuthu (2002), and things weren’t quite working out; so, I told Rajiv sir that I wanted to resign. He was gracious enough to tell me I could return whenever I wanted. I then got my first break with 4 the People (2004).
From 4 the People to Kaithi, the khaki just doesn’t seem to let you go...
I don’t know, man. I’ve done only a few cop roles, but I’m being offered a lot of them. After Kaithi, I got a lot of them. Maybe I should hold a press meet and clarify that I’m not interested in cop roles anymore. In Malayalam, I get more variety, but in Tamil, I’m still not able to crack it. People here are more concerned about the image. I’m now doing a film called Kural. It’s a murder mystery in which I play an autistic character. It’s my most challenging role yet, and I’m hoping it will be an image-breaker.
Let’s now talk about Vikram. What has changed after its success?
Right now, I’m in a happy mental space. I’m getting a lot of calls and appreciation. And it’s also great to see the box office numbers increasing every day. This is all new to me.
What was your first reaction when you learnt that you are playing the same character from Kaithi?
When Lokesh first explained, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I didn’t understand how he was trying to bring the universe together. But more than anything, I was eager to know if I would get combination scenes with Kamal sir. I was elated when I learnt that I would be a part of his team. I was so excited, but I couldn’t tell anyone.
How hard was it for you to guard this secret?
It was tough. I told just a few of my closest friends, and none of them could believe it. One fun thing that happened on the sets was, on the last day of my shoot, I had to shave my beard to shoot the Kaithi portions. All the spot boys and assistants were wondering if Kaithi 2 shoot had started. That’s how secretly we kept it... and it worked.
You’ve often spoken about your admiration for Kamal Haasan.
Kamal sir is the reason I’m in cinema. I will always be grateful to Lokesh for the opportunity to work with Kamal sir. The first scene we shot together was the jailbreak sequence. In that scene, Kamal sir throws his watch at me. After the shoot, I told him that it would have been like any other scene for you, but for me, the watch you passed on signifies time. It was like him saying to me, “Let the good time start now.”
Social media is abuzz with talks about the ‘Lokesh Cinematic Universe’. How do you see Bejoy’s character evolving?
I will ask Lokesh once he’s done with his tours. It will be interesting to see each character getting a story of their own. I don’t think Indian cinema has seen anything like that. I’m looking forward to what he does next.
Did you ever realise Lokesh would make it so big while doing Kaithi?
I was initially wary because executing a film like Kaithi is a challenge, but he proved what he’s capable of. During the shoot, I could also see how hardworking he was. I admire his writing. I was talking to Karthi the other day about the importance of writing. Most of the recent big hits were all about the grandeur, spectacular making, and the celebration of stars, but in Vikram, there’s so much writing involved. Everything is connected, and it demands your attention. That’s why the film invites multiple viewings. Kamal sir always believed in writing and Lokesh has done 200% justice as his fanboy.
You have admitted how hard it has been trying to attain a balance in Tamil and Malayalam. After Vikram, how are you planning to take this forward?
I’ve realised that it’s high time I concentrate on one industry. Whenever I have tried focusing on one language, it didn’t work out. Every time I pack my bags and try to leave this place, something good happens. Mugamoodi and Kaithi happened that way. So far, nothing has happened as per plans; so I think I’ll leave it all to nature.
Do you regret any of your choices?
Some of my decisions have gone wrong, but I can’t blame anyone. I don’t know if they are regrettable, but I made a mistake by not taking up films from big production houses. Back then, I was busy looking for good scripts, but I now realise I should have done those films knowing they would fail anyway. With big banners, comes good visibility. I missed out there.
You recently said cinema comes with a constant restlessness. Has Kaithi and Vikram changed this?
It’s an ever-changing process, I believe. Maybe the top stars don’t feel that. I’ve never been one, so I don’t know. People ask me why I’m not on social media. The fact is I’m not able to do the films which I want to do. So I don’t want to fake my image on social media. But yes, I’m in a better space than I have been.