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Manu Narayan on The Love Guru and acting

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June 2008
Manu Narayan on The Love Guru and acting

By Maria Giovanna

Manu Narayan, the actor/singer/dancer/saxophonist who came to worldwide attention in 2004 when he secured the lead role of Akaash in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams on Broadway, is poised for another big career break when the summer comedy The Love Guru hits screens nationwide in June. The native son of Delmont, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Pittsburgh) took some time out recently to catch up with Khabar.

The Love Guru is the latest movie by Saturday Night Live’s Canadian alum and creator of the Shrek franchise and the Austin Powers spy spoofs, Mike Myers. Myers plays a man who, as an infant, was left by his parents at the gates of an ashram in India, and who grows up to become self-help counselor Guru Pitka. He’s hired to help a star hockey player on the Toronto Maple Leafs patch up his marital difficulties, because they’re affecting his performance on the ice. (Myers is a well-known ice hockey fan and player.)

The thirty-something Narayan plays Rajneesh, whom he describes as “The Guru Pitka’s trusted Assistant/Apprentice/Sidekick and what the Guru Pitka affectionately calls his moral compass.” He and the rest of the cast set down in Toronto for the bulk of the film shoot, with a little bit of postproduction shooting in New York and Los Angeles.

Narayan is enthusiastic about the film’s star and creator, saying: “I have always been a fan of Mike’s work since I was little. Working with him was a dream come true. But what was incredible for me to witness was the depth of Mike’s talent, his hard work ethic, and his generosity. I grew as an artist working with Mike. He was always helpful on set and off, answering my questions, leading by example, and when I was acting with him he was the Guru Pitka, which made my job so much easier.”

When asked about the minor rumblings from a few groups who say the film is insensitive to Hindus, Narayan does not appear worried: “I am not concerned, and yet it doesn’t surprise me. I wish that people would see the film before judging it. The Love Guru is hilarious in that Mike Myers way. Like our Bollywood films, it is colorful, pokes fun at many things, mostly hockey, and will give people an escape for a couple of hours with a bunch of smiles and laughs.”

The multi-faceted actor has praise for his co-star’s sensitivity, saying, “Mike already knows so much about various cultures in South Asia. That being said, I never felt that Mike had respect for me because I was Indian—I feel that he respects me as an actor.”

Manu Narayan and other desi actors of his generation (Aasif Mandvi, Kal Penn, Sheetal Sheth) have blazed the way for desi kids to take up acting. This is his advice to desi kids considering the same path: “Being an actor or artist is not an easy path, but my teachers always say this, and I think that it is true: ‘If you cannot do anything else as a career that will make you happy, then pursue it as a career. If you can do something that you enjoy and will bring a steady income, then pursue it as a hobby.’ What is different in this day and age, than maybe twenty years ago, is that so many people are having two or three careers in their lifetimes. So the emphasis on choosing what you want to do for your undergraduate major can be less stressful on the effect for the rest of your life. So many actors are choosing to go to grad school for acting after having a standard undergraduate degree.”

He goes on to emphasize the importance of education: “I would say to young actors growing up that if you want to do this as a career, most of us have really educated ourselves either through university programs or through classes in New York or LA. The successful actors have a respect for the art of acting and have worked hard on a lot of non-glamorous things before you see them on TV or film. That idea of being discovered is a fantasy that seems to happen, but the reality is that all the desi guys and girls that are consistently on TV and film today have put in their dues.”

Unlike many young actors who dream of escaping to Los Angeles or New York, Manu Narayan—who still returns every few months to see family and friends in Pittsburgh—says of his birthplace, “There are so many fine arts performance and educational opportunities. And there is a huge population of professional South Asians in and around the city. My parents highly encouraged all of my music and drama interests. And because of the Sri Venkateshwara Temple we were able to make lifelong friendships with the other Indian families that we saw every weekend.”

Manu Narayan has several other projects in the pipeline, including recently shooting an ABC TV pilot starring Geena Davis, a theater project he is working on in New York, and sifting through offers for his next film project. Beyond acting, Narayan and Radovan Jovicevic have a band, Darunam, and their EP “All That’s Beautiful Must Die” is now available on iTunes. For the longer term, he says, “As an actor I would like to do more great films with iconic actors like Mike and maybe get into producing.”

Maria Giovanna, a New York-based freelance journalist, writes about Indian movies and more at Filmiholic.com.


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