If you have seen Mike Myers’s latest film, “The Love Guru” you might have been curious to know a little bit more about the South Asian face opposite Mike Myers. Manu Narayan plays Rajneesh, the young apprentice to Guru Maurice Pitka (Mike Myers). Manu may look like he is a student straight from the land of India but he is truly Asian American having been born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA.
Besides acting, Manu’s talents range from classical saxophonist, lead singer of a band to engineer, having graduated from the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University.
Interesting little tidbit: About three years ago, as a friend and I were having dinner at Republic in Union Square, we started chatting to a very attractive South Asian man next to us. We both said that he looked familiar but we could not place him. Eventually he told us that he starred in Bombay Dreams on Broadway. Seeing that both of us never saw the play, we were not too impressed and assumed we had seen him in an advertisement for the musical. Fast forward 3 years later and we’re interviewing him on a press tour for a major motion picture featuring heavyweights Ben Kingsley, Mike Myers and Jessica Alba… Not your typical success story. We should have kept in touch…
Regardless, we were able to find out more detailed information on Manu including what he thinks about Hollywood’s new acceptance of South Asian culture.
ASIANCE: How did you get the script?
Manu: I auditioned like every other actor in the United States. They liked me and I got called back by Director Marco Schnabel. I got called back again to do a private reading for an audience with Mike Myers. At that reading we sort of read that script with other actors for the audience and there was a chemistry and they liked me. Luckily I’m here.
I’m proud of that. That somehow my history brought a little something extra to Rajneesh.
ASIANCE: Is this your first feature film?
Manu: This is my first major feature film. I have done a couple independent small things that haven’t been released. This is my first big one
ASIANCE: What was it like to work with such a great cast?
Manu: It was amazing. I have learned so much actually doing it. Mike Myers is wonderful. He’s someone I have looked up to for years and now being able to work from him and learn from the way he does stuff. It was really a great extension of the character and myself melding together. For example, the character Rajneesh being the apprentice to the Guru and the assistant to the Guru similar to Manu learning from Mike Myers.
ASIANCE: Were you surprised at how serious Mike Myers is in person?
Manu: If I was I don’t remember. I don’t remember what my impression was of him before but meeting him seemed very natural and definitely a chemistry between us. So that was great! And I just tried to work with that and work with him. I am so thankful to be working with him and I think he is a wonderful person. I’m glad that he is supremely talented and hired me.
ASIANCE: Was it easy for you to adapt to the subject of the film?
Manu: I am a big fan of Deepak Chopra. He’s actually influenced me. Also I have lived and studied saxophone in India… So that whole Guru, apprentice thing, I’m very familiar with and that’s what I tried to bring to Rajneesh. I studied saxophone in India and there you don’t learn the way you do here. You don’t go to a teacher’s house once a week for 1 hour and go home. In India, you actually go and live with your teacher, sleep on the floor and study with him 14-15 hours a day… Studying might be just watching how he deals with business things and you do that over 14 years. In that way, I felt I was very familiar with that and that is what I could bring to the role of Rajneesh. I’m proud of that. That somehow my history brought a little something extra to Rajneesh.
Watch Mike Myers and Manu sing “More than Words”
ASIANCE: Did you take offense to any of the references of Indian culture in the film?
Manu: I don’t think so. I don’t feel like it’s stereotypical at all to me. What’s great is that somehow Mike Myer’s creativity and his comedy is coming through in a deep way. What drew me to the script and what I loved about the script besides it being Mike Myers were these gems of spirituality that come through in a very easy way. But when you go home you are going to think of it, “wow intimacy!” oh now I see it. That is deep. You can’t love someone until you love yourself. Here you are laughing at it but it’s something we should listen to. And The Guru – “ Student relationship, I think that is very deep too… the kind of devotion that is given from their students to teachers in India. That’s the same devotion Guru Pitka gives to Sir Ben’s (Kingsley) character and Rajneesh in turn gives to the Guru’s character. How in the end when people loose their path in life and here someone believes so much in that and this person steers them back on course. It’s all done in a very fun way. It’s a Hollywood movie but I felt that was really deep about the movie.
ASIANCE: Do you think this will open up more opportunities for you?
Manu: Well I hope so. The part I loved about this movie was in front of the camera. I love the medium. What was great with Mike too was that he was one of the producers so he would go back and watch playback after every scene. I could go three steps behind him and watch since I was in so many scenes with him and learn more about the camera and more about the filming of doing a big picture.
I would love to do more stuff whether it’s in Hollywood… And I would love to do a Bollywood film actually.
I’ve been asked a couple of times but the scheduling wasn’t right. Well Oscar Ravichandran approached me to do Dasavatharam which is a South India movie which is out right now.
ASIANCE: That is huge!
Manu: It stars Jackie Chan. Yeah I’m kicking myself now. I couldn’t do it at the time. My mom and dad still have not forgiving me. They’re favorite actor Kamal Haasan is in it. He is one of tow biggest actors in South India.
ASIANCE: Hollywood took on a new direction in this film by making it a South Asian influenced film.
Manu: I was hired to play Rajneesh. Mike had researched South Asia and has been meticulous about his research and the different cultures, whether it’s spirituality, Bollywood, whether it’s things that have nothing to do with South Asia. I just figured I should play my role as Rajneesh and that is what I was there to do. I was very happy with everything that was there with the filming.
ASIANCE: What are the biggest differences in doing film and not having the audience feedback?
Manu: I had to remember and what was great about doing those live readings was that I tried to remember the time in the reading which got the laugh. I don’t know if that is a good technique or not but I would remember what was good comedic timing. There is definitely a difference and that is why it is great to have the directors, producers and staff who are laughing. Then you know that it worked.
ASIANCE: Who would you like to work with in the future?
Manu: I would love to work with Kamal Hassan, Sir Ben some more and any of the great directors in Hollywood: Spielberg, Scorsese or Coppola. But really just anyone. This door has just opened for me and the bug has just bit me and I love films. Whatever way I can get stretched as an artist.
ASIANCE: Are you open to dramatic roles?
Manu: Yes definitely dramatic roles. I’ve played Romeo before in Romeo and Juliet. I’ve done definitely dramas. I have a rock band called Darunam at Darunam.com. We have an album coming out in July. We had our first EP out last year called “All Things Beautiful Must Die”. I have a lot of irons in the fire. I love that about New York. As much as you want to be creative all the time, life doesn’t give you the opportunities to always be an actor. I can go into the studio now and work on an album with my partner or do an Off-Broadway play.
ASIANCE: You are lead acting material. Do you feel Hollywood will give you that break?
Manu: Talent is talent. So if someone perceives my talent to be good then they will hire me. I think opportunities are opening up but I think what people need to know in our community (South Asian) like Spike Lee has created for himself. He’s created projects for that community and those stories are coming out. Our writers, our directors need to do that so that those stories can come out.
ASIANCE: Does comedic instinct come natural?
Manu: It’s weird because I would never say that I could do stand-up comedy. I’ve never tried but that is scary to me. That being said, I’ve always loved to be the straight guy to someone like Mike Myers because I felt my rhythm is good and my listening skills are good and I like to be improvisational. I think I’m built for something like that.
ASIANCE: Tell us more about your band.
Manu: I’m the lead singer of Darunam. For the soundtrack, that is actually me singing on “More than Words”. I’m also singing in the background in “The Joker” for the movie.
I’m my parents’ culture and my culture (being American) melding within me. I was born in Pittsburgh, PA.
Our band brings Eastern melody and Indian melody. My partner is a Serbian rockstar from the group Zana. They went all over Eastern Europe. He moved here because of the war. We have this Balkan gypsy rhythm and gypsy melody, Indian South Asian melody and Western sort of beats. It’s really like a soundtrack to our life.
We haven’t played in New York yet because my time hasn’t allowed it.
ASIANCE: What is coming up next for you!
Manu: We have an album coming out called Last Angel on Earth. We’re producing the album. I write the lyrics. Lots of things in the works!