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Prashant Narayanan on Mr Singh Mrs Mehta

Last updated on: June 24, 2010 12:02 IST

'I honestly don't know how many times I kissed Aruna'

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Nithya Ramani in Mumbai

There's more to Mr Singh Mrs Mehta than just the nude scenes and all that kissing, says Prashant Narayanan, the lead actor in the movie which hits the big screen this Friday.

Born in Kerala, Prashant Narayanan -- a state badminton champion -- grew up in Delhi. He studied at the Kirori Mal College of Delhi University, where he started theatre.

In 1991, Narayanan shifted to Mumbai to follow his passion for acting. He has always been very particular about the kind of roles he wanted to play.

He started off assisting art director Samir Chanda, and worked on films like Rukmavati Ki Haveli, Saudagar and Sardari Begum. He also worked as a costume director for TV series Chanakya.

Prashant also took to TV acting, and did soaps like Parivartan, Farz, Gatha, Kabhi Kabhie, Jaane Kaha Jigar Gaya Ji and Shagun.

Narayanan got his first filmi break 2002, in Hansal Mehta's Chhal, where he essayed the role of a hitman working with Mumbai's underworld.

His second film Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II too saw him as a hitman. Though the films received varied responses, his performances were appreciated.

In 2003, Narayanan was offered the lead role in German director Florian Gallenberger's Academy Award-winning film Shadows of Time.

His latest is debut director Pravesh Bhardwaj's Mr Singh Mrs Mehta, also starring Aruna Shields, Lucy Hassan and Naved Aslam.

He talks to Nithya Ramani about the film, the explicit scenes and his future projects. Excerpts:

The film seems to be generating a lot of buzz only for the kissing and the nude scenes...

I know. But I think people need to know that there is more to the film than just the kisses and nude scenes. People are counting that I have kissed about 32 times in the film.

I honestly don't even know how many times I kissed Aruna. But if that is what is making news, so be it. I am an actor and I have done my job. It is a wonderful movie that has come out well.


Image: A scene from Mr Singh Mrs Mehta

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'Extramarital affairs are like accidents that you keep reading about in the newspapers'

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Did you always want to be an actor?

No. I did theatre because I was bored. I ran away from Delhi and came to Mumbai, because Samir Chanda got me here. I did TV for pocket money. I always wanted to be a producer. I assisted Ketan Mehta and directed plays in Prithvi all for pocket money. Films just happened.

What is Mr Singh Mrs Mehta about?

It is a take on four dramatic characters. It is the story of Ashwin Mehta and Neera Singh, who 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.

There are a lot of movies that show extramarital affairs. What are your views about it?

Extramarital affairs are like accidents that you keep reading about in the newspapers. You only get a jolt when it actually happens to you or to someone you know.

What is your role in the movie?

I play Ashwin Mehta, 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 in his art, in his personal life Ashwin is unable to stand up for himself. He is someone who is living on his wife's money.

He loves his wife too much 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 full of complexities.

Even slight over dramatization of Ashwin's emotions would have made him an unreal character. As an actor I loved this challenge. 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.


Image: A scene from Mr Singh Mrs Mehta

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'Mr Singh Mrs Mehta is a bold film'

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You have been very choosy about your roles. What excited you about Mr Singh Mrs Mehta?

I was looking to act in an independent film that upped the ante. 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 where (other) 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 luck with the movie. But as luck would have it, the film got delayed and I got to be part of it.

How was it working with Pravesh?

Wonderful. He is someone who doesn't mince words. His intentions were right. Every director has a way to describe a scene and every scene has its pitch and rhythm. He has portrayed even the most difficult scenes very beautifully.

What kind of preparation did you have to do to play a painter? Apparently you are into art direction and like painting...

Playing a painter 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. I learned a lot about it from him.

Since then I have been very comfortable in handling paint and brushes, and so I did not need to attend any workshop to get the nuances right. Personally speaking, I am a bad painter but if you need to paint walls, then I am your man. I do a lot of interior designing for friends and in my own home.


Image: A poster of Mr Singh Mrs Mehta

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'I don't think we ever socialised after pack-up'

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Both your co-stars Aruna Shields and Lucy Hassan are Brit-Asian actors who don't know Hindi. How was it working with them?

 

It was strange to hear the kind of Hindi that Aruna and Lucy spoke. 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 the nuances of a 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.

 

A lot hard work went into their training and, though you might find the way they speak Hindi funny -- they were at it all the time. That dedication was impressive. I don't think we ever socialised after pack up, because Aruna would start practicing her dialogues.

 

Were there any apprehensions or nervousness on the sets while shooting the nude scenes?

 

Pravesh made sure that there were very minimal crew members on the sets while shooting the nude scenes. More than anything, being uncomfortable for us, I wonder how Aruna felt stripping in front of people. But she was very professional and did a wonderful job. The movie is not meant to titillate anyone so there were no vulgar scenes. It's been very aesthetically shot.


Image: A scene from Mr Singh Mrs Mehta

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'You will see a lot of me this year'

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Tell us about the music of the film.

 

Renowned sitarist and Grammy nominated artist Shujaat Husain Khan has composed the music -- six songs which are a mix of ballads, ghazals and sufi songs,

 

I think Shujaat's music has done a remarkable job in setting up the entire tone of the film, and of course Amitabh Varma's lyrics are outstanding. It is an emotional film and the songs set the right mood.

 

Any on-the-sets experiences you could share?

 

In fact, about the music of the film, I was not very happy when Pravesh played some of the songs, probably because he used to sing them himself. And he is a very bad singer

 

He used to threaten everybody who took too much time on the sets that if they didn't get going quickly he would start singing. Work used to move much faster after that gentle threat.

 

We were shooting in one of the most gorgeous locations in the world, in Wales. Just the fact that I was there for 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 there I was shooting with Pravesh, a friend.

 

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

 

What are your future projects?

 

Bombil and Beatrice -- a love story in 1905 that gets its redemption in 2005, White Elephant -- its like the Malgudi Days where a village boy's life is transformed because of an elephant, Peter Gaya Kaam Se -- where I play a druglord of Goa, Bhindi Bazaar Inc. -- a full on action film, Waah! Rasgulla, Dilli Darbar, Rang Rasiya and of course Showers of Time. You will see a lot of me this year. 


Image: A scene from Mr Singh Mrs Mehta

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