Hollywood actor Roger Narayan literally makes a U-Turn to his homeland, starring in the Kannada film U-Turn , to be released soon. Directed by Pawan Kumar, who earlier made Lucia , the film has Roger playing Sub Inspector Nayak.
“I’ve grown up on films of Annavru (Raj Kumar) and Vishnuvardhan. I’ve always wanted to work in Kannada films, because you do feel pride in working in your own language,” says the actor, who’s wound up the day’s shoot in Los Angeles.
“Pawan writes interesting, modern and topical films for this generation. I had met him a couple of times, and when he mentioned he was doing this project, it worked out.” The film was shot in houses, apartments and studios in Bengaluru, and spanned locations ranging from Banashankari to Byappanahalli. Roger has also just wound up a shoot for 417 Miles , a mumblecore road film directed by former Prakash Jha assistant Mainak Dhar. Made in English, Hindi and Tamil, the film will soon hit the festival circuit, he says. After studying to be an engineer, this BITS (Pilani) graduate decided his heart was really in acting (see box). So he trained at the reputed American Conservatory Theatre (ACT), the American Film Institute (AFI) SAG Conservatory, Footsbarn Theatre Company (France), and San Jose Repertory Theatre. “As a kid I had only learnt from observation. I wanted to learn the tools and techniques. As a youngster, I also studied Sanskrit, where my influences were Abhigyana Shakuntala, Kalidasa and Ritusamhara . It was good to come to the West and read Arthur Miller and Beckett, and their psychological journeys and Freudian explorations.” Roger has incidentally voiced the role of Kalinga the snake in Punyakoti the first crowdfunded and crowdsourced Sanskrit animated feature film scheduled for release this year.
Roger’s feature film with Sundance alum, the Polish Brothers (of Twin Falls Idaho, For Lovers Only fame) Hot Bot is due this year — a busy year 2016 is going to be.
ACT being in San Francisco, and SF being the hub of independent filmmaking and close to Hollywood, Robert started doing indie films in 2005.
“In 2008 I moved to LA to explore working in Hollywood,” he recounts. Roger has had guest appearances in TV shows like Weeds , Castle opposite Stana Katic (of Quantum of Solace fame), The Bold and the Beautiful , and How I Met your Mother .
It was his lead role in the Hindi-English-Spanish feature film Hola Venky! that brought in a whole lot of interest when it had a six-week theatrical run in the US, and over 100 screenings in numerous cities in India, the US and Singapore. Roger also workshopped the script of The Man Who Knew Infinity with director Matthew Brown.
“I was with him while he was writing the script and when we say ‘workshopped it’ I mean I used to act out and speak out Srinivasa Ramanujan’s role so he could see his character in flesh and blood, and then go about re-writing.” Roger also played Mr. Iyengar in the film.
“It was more I guess about where I was. SF is a vibrant hub for films, and technology around filmmaking was gaining traction.
I still love and do theatre. But films have a deeper reach — you can watch it in a theatre or in your living room. And it’s all in close-up — where an actor needs to get into the flesh of the character in a deep way — unlike in theatre, where everything on stage is larger than life.”
He loves to research his roles, but in the end, believes in letting go of himself. Roger hopes to be in Bengaluru again when the film U-Turn releases later in April this year.
A product of A.V. Education in J.P.Nagar and then Vijaya College, Roger went on to join BITS Pilani. “I used to do a lot of theatre when I was younger. I’ve performed at Ravindra Kalakshetra, H. Narsimhaiah Hall, R.V. College, Ranga Shankara. I grew up doing Kannada plays, and I studied Kannada. I’m fluent in reading and writing Kannada,” he says in chaste accent-less Kannada to make his point. On the vibrant Pilani campus he further got involved in creative ventures and that’s when he decided he needed to pursue this seriously.
What’s in a name? Ask Roger…
Raj Narayan turned Roger Narayan in Hollywood on the recommendation of his agent and publicist. While being promoted as ‘Raj’, his Indian name meant he got stereotyped into the “educated” Indian role. “But in projects where I started using ‘Roger’, I got to play other ethnicities — Iraqi, Afghani, Middle-Eastern and even British! By being ‘Roger’ it opened up a space for other roles. I had to keep the name neutral! Even some of the directors who gave me these roles didn’t realise I was Indian till I told them.” He observes that while Hollywood is international in its approach to storytelling, it’s only now that there’s more diversity and South Asians are getting key roles.