The actor who almost didn't work in Chhal
For Prashant Narayanan, working on the big screen was an achievement
Did you know that Prashant Narayanan was not the first choice for the role of Girish in Hansal Mehta's Chhal? In fact, Mehta had approached Uday Chopra, Atul Kulkarni and Aditya Shrivastav.
All of them declined for various reasons.
Prashant explains how he got the role. "On March 3, 2001, I had taken a friend out to dinner. I was very tired --- I had been shooting non-stop for three nights. I met Hansal at the restaurant. We spoke and parted ways. The next day, he called and asked me whether I wanted to hear his script. After he narrated the script, I agreed immediately. For me, after eight years of television work, Chhal was an achievement."
A Keralite, Prashant spent his growing years in Delhi. As a state badminton champion, he was admitted to one of the better colleges in the city, Kirori Mal College. He also joined a theatre group called Act 1, which included talented actors like Ashish Vidhaythi, Manoj Bajpai, Gajraj Rao and Girish Mishra.
"Though I did some good plays there, I was not serious about acting then," says Prashant. "Believe it or not, I got a job in a government office, as a lower division clerk in the Food and Civil supplies department. At that point, I could not see a bright future. But I could not see myself in this job either."
Fortunately, friend and production director Sameer Chadha offered Prashant a job in films. He shifted to Mumbai in 1992 and worked as an art director in Govind Nihalani's Roopmavati Ki Haveli, Subhash Ghai's Saudagar and Ketan Mehta's Sardari Begam. He also worked as a costume director in Chanakya.
Prashant came to Mumbai to start his own production company. He worked with established directors to gain practical knowledge. "But I made the mistake of telling everyone that I would be with them for two years only and then shift to my own production house. After that, no one gave me work. I learnt the hard way that honesty is not always the best policy. But they were right too --- they thought training me was of no use to them."
With no job in hand, Prashant went back to theatre. At nights, he worked as a waiter-cum-manager and also taught English. "Life was very bad then. But now, I feel so happy seeing my [Chhal] billboard there!"
Through theatre, Prashant got hold of television shows. He did Parivartan (a hit), Farz, Gatha, Kabhie Kabhie, Jaane Kaha Jigar Gaya Ji and Shagun. That was when he put his dream of starting his production house behind him, and focussed on his career as an actor.
"I will never forget my first shot in Chhal. Though I was called at 9 am, my shot was taken at 7 pm. The wait was so unnerving. This is the scene when my sister Padmini (Jaya Seal) tells me that she is in love with Karan (Kay Kay). After this, I meet Karan and hit him, finally accepting him as my brother-in-law to be. I remember I did not have a real gun then. The entire sequence was done with a plastic gun! That was also the first day of shooting. That night I slept peacefully, as I had shot for my first film. But now, I feel I could have done this shot better."
The shooting had its good moments and bad ones. Prashant personally loves the scene when he finds out that Karan is a traitor. "That is the best sequence of the film.
"There is another scene --- Kay Kay and I had to kill the Sarpordars. He was in a car, I was on a bike and the Sarpordars were in another car. It was chaotic because there were 3,000 people on the sets. The two cars driving towards each other, were supposed to stop facing each other. But there was no coordination and the cars banged headlong. I flew headlong on to the cars from the bike. My knees were badly scraped. The public went berserk and all 3,000 of them converged on me," says Prashant.
Luckily for Prashant, the scenes he hated were deleted at the editing table. "There was a scene when I tell Raja (Sanjay Mishra) that Karan will be my brother-in-law. That was a very bad scene, as it was unnecessarily emotional. Then there was a song Gum sum, which showed Jaya and me having fun in the house. Thankfully, they removed the song and only played a bit of it in the background."
Prashant claims that the shootings were very relaxed with Mehta. "Hansal lets you be. We would first discuss the scenes for the day and then shoot. After a day's work, we would go out for a drink. We never had any conflict regarding the role --- Hansal was very clear from the beginning about what he wanted."
Prashant also enjoyed shooting with Kay Kay (one of his oldest friends in Mumbai) and Jaya (whom he met for the first time on the sets). "Kay Kay and I get along very well," says Prashant. "I met him before both of us had started acting. We were not sure about what we wanted to do. I guess two unfocused people clicked. Besides, we have a mutual admiration society for each other."
After watching himself as the stylish gangster in Chhal, Prashant is elated. "My sister and my mother cried when they saw the film. So you can imagine how I felt!"
Life has changed after Chhal. "It has become easier for me to interact with people as some people are in awe of my performance. Besides, I will buy a car one of these days."
The actor has his hands full with Shashank Ghosh's Vaisa Bhi Hota Hai, Saurabh Shukla's Mudda, Hansal Mehta's Udaan, Kamal Monga's film with Ajay Devgan and a Nitin Patil (producer of Chhal) film.
Though his roles are diverse --- a collegian in Mudda, industrialist in Udaan and a Brahmin in Monga's film --- his next release, Vaisa Bhi Hota Hai, sees him as a gangster again. Not that he minds it. Besides, none of these films see him in the leading role. "These are script-oriented films. I don't care to be the hero. I am more interested in playing the protagonist."
Prashant springs another surprise. He plans to cut an album with guitarist Arijeet Dutta. "We have 45 songs already. By January 2003, I would like to release my Indipop album." Incidentally, the name of his band is PCO (short for Public Call Office) so that 'every time you look at a PCO, you should think of us!'