Singer and actor Manu Narayan made his big break playing the lead role in the A.R. Rahman scored Broadway musical Bombay Dreams. Since then, Narayan has played character roles in popular television shows including Law & Order, The Sopranos, and Lipstick Jungle. Narayan will be seen in this summer’s blockbuster The Love Guru, starring Mike Meyers, Jessica Alba, and Justin Timberlake.
Tell us a little about The Love Guru, and your role in it.
The Love Guru is a really funny comedy, in the iconic Mike Myers’ style. Mike plays the Guru Pitka—a quirky new age, self help spiritualist who is hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs’ hockey team to refocus their star player from losing his edge while dwelling on his marriage troubles during the Stanley Cup finals. I play Rajneesh, the Guru’s trusted apprentice, assistant, and “moral compass,” who keeps the Guru on a spiritual path, and not the commercial one.
What are your thoughts about the self-proclaimed Hindu activists who object to the film’s content and depiction of Hinduism? Do you think they have missed the point of the film?
Yes, they have missed the point and are acting like the fundamentalists who stifle creativity and art in the worst way. Artists should be allowed to create. Once the finished product is viewed in its entirety, then let the critics go at it. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinions and feelings, but see the entire film first. The film is a hilarious comedy, and Bollywood lovers are going to enjoy it as much or more than their favorite Bollywood films. There is a common thing in Mike’s films where he takes a popular stereotype that may or may not be overtly spoken about, and he puts it out there in a funny way so that people can laugh about it. But by doing that, the audiences realizes how silly, dumb and ridiculous the stereotype is. In that way, Mike’s films allow us to collectively grow beyond our stereotypes. I think that many South Asian themes are being brought by The Love Guru to western audiences in ways that have not been seen in Hollywood before.
How was it working on a major studio feature film, in comparison to a Broadway play?
Being the lead in a Broadway musical is like running the same marathon eight times a week: you have to be in top shape, constantly keep your energy up, and keep your voice under constant protection from talking too much off stage. Therefore your life is just about doing the show and collapsing to rest between shows. That being said, you are thoroughly prepared as to what you are doing.
The big difference with the film was shooting certain scenes each day, out of order of the script; doing that required a lot of concentration. This was akin to being a sprinter, where the hours are long, but you shoot the scenes in takes, where the concentration is intense for two to three minutes at a time over the course of 12-15 hours. Also, there is minimal rehearsal time so you have to keep your eyes and ears open for the director’s direction.
Are South Asians breaking into the mainstream, or are they still cast only when the character is required to be Indian?
Yes, South Asians have definitely broken into the mainstream. But South Asian themes, idea, and stories are in the mainstream consciousness as well. It is great to see that stereotypical representations of South Asians in this country are constantly being broadened and redefined.
The Love Guru opens June 20 in theaters nationwide.
|Antara Bhardwaj is an independent filmmaker based in San Francisco.|