Raj And DK interview the family man spoiler filled discussion

Raj Nidimoru, one half of the popular director duo known as Raj and D.K, is overwhelmed with messages. The pair’s first web series The Family Man released less than a week ago on Amazon Prime and has already opened to a strong response.

The show follows Srikant Tiwari (Manoj Bajpayee), an ordinary middle-class man who’s an intelligence agent at TASC, a secretive special cell of the National Intelligence Agency. The show follows his various missions tracking down a terrorist cell, all the while trying to balance his responsibilities as a father and husband. His family believes Srikant has an ordinary desk job.

Raj and D.K are among Hindi cinema’s most distinct voices and while the pair have made films in the action-comedy space before, none have been quite like this. The show (which the pair produced, directed and wrote alongside co-writer Suman Kumar) is a strange one to describe. It’s as much about intimate moments of marriage and family dynamics as it is about thwarting global threats with street chases and gunfights.

Co-creator Nidimoru feels its reminiscent of their film Shor In The City which was similarly gritty and grounded with spots of dark humour and satire. In a spoiler-filled discussion, he spoke to me about the burning questions that remain after season 1, that ending cliff-hanger and what to expect from season 2 and 3.

It’s not easy to put The Family Man in a specific box because you’re equally invested in both the high stakes action and the family drama. Where did the idea come from?

The idea was that we wanted to have a middle-class guy who is a typical government employee who treats it like a government job because that’s what I got from the people I met. Nobody has that kind of movie spy swagger. They’re just everyday guys who talk very normally and everything about them is almost ordinary. They just happen to be doing this kind of job.

When we cracked that, all the other aspects started pouring in, like what his life would be like, and Suchi’s character who’s got her own life, and their kids. Suddenly there was this big nice milieu which was in complete contrast with the action bit. When that world collided with this world, we thought it was a great idea. There hasn’t been anything like this before. That kind of humour in a spy show doesn’t exist unless you mean it in a slapstick way.

Also Read: Rahul Desai’s Review Of The Family Man  

I imagine it took a lot of research to write a project like this.

We met a lot of intelligence officers to learn about them. More than their missions, I was really trying to learn more about them as people. Do they like to eat vada pav? When do they go home? Do they get time to spend with their families? When they’re out on surveillance, how bored do they get? What do they do to keep entertained? Do they have a laptop where you can press a few buttons and all the traffic lights in the city change? We were really into the people, that was the exciting part for us.

The plot was built on more research. It’s a predictive idea of what could happen if a series of events come together or what happens when you take over a chemical factory that’s just sitting there. And some of the things did happen as we were shooting. We’d read things in the papers which were like scenes we’d written. For the second season the idea we have is even more predictive. We try and look at where things are headed. That’s why we said that when we write season three, we’ll write about world peace (laughs).

Did you always know you were going to end on a cliff-hanger?

We do that with our movies to an extent. Even in Go Goa Gone, there is a certain open ended-ness. For this, we did have another ending which would have given it a little more closure. There was a beautiful scene where these 3-4 TASC guys are just exhausted after saving the day and go sit somewhere and somebody comes to offer them chai and behind them, because its Delhi, you see a flag at the back. The idea wasn’t to milk it or for anyone to get up and salute, but just to give them a moment to look back and reflect on what they’ve done and their massive victory.

But then these actors who played Zoya (Shreya Dhanwanthary) and Milind (Sunny Hinduja) did so well when they were trapped in the chemical factory. Shreya really broke down and she was really feeling it. If you notice we haven’t used slow motion in the whole show, but in that moment, I felt we needed it. And due credit to the editor, when he showed me that lid blow off in the factory, it worked so well as an ending.

manoj bajpayee the family man interview

One of Manoj Bajpayee’s best scenes is when he’s in the hospital and Moosa asks him about his mother’s death and he has to suddenly recall his made-up story. It’s hilarious and tense all at once.  

I still crack up when I see that, even after all the times I’ve seen it at screenings. He (Moosa) is like ‘do you still miss your mother’ and Srikant is like ‘kya?’ And then he thinks ‘What do I do now?’ Do I overreact? Do I keep it subtle? And he comes back and says ‘Haan, hota hai.’ When we were shooting it, I thought Manoj had forgotten his line because he was taking so long. I was going to cut but it was so funny we let the scene run. You realise he was just building up to it. Even in the edit, it’s one of the longest reaction shots we have and it’s hilarious. 

What went into planning that phenomenal 13-minute long take in the hospital?

That credit goes to DK. He was adamant he wanted it like that. Then we thought how the hell are we going to pull it off? Where would we get a place with that level of access because normally you hear ‘lobby milega’ or just certain corridors. For this, we needed a whole damn place.

Full marks to production. I don’t know how they convinced a proper working hospital in Mumbai to give us the whole place. We sort of bribed our way in to accessing it. The bribe was Manoj will go and open their new ward! He did that and we got it for two full nights. The crazy part was that entire ward was heart patients, and it was two-thirds occupied and this is a big gunfight. So at the last minute they said we couldn’t make noise and we were like ‘fuck what do we do because it’s a set. It’s the noisiest thing ever’. We had to figure out various ways to pull it off. We were constantly signalling with signs and whispering during a very complicated sequence.

There were a lot of logistics, like in the bathroom fight where he’s being killed, you actually shoot into the mirror. How do you do that without seeing the camera? How will the blood flow out fast enough? And if you mess up one beat and someone punches someone wrongly, then you have to reset which takes an hour because the blood drained shirts change, and the place gets cleaned up again. I don’t remember how many takes it took but we rehearsed for two whole nights. A lot of people have tweeted at us saying it raises the bar for action and we were like ‘wow we didn’t even think that’.

We had another one-take which we had to cut. It was so heart-breaking. It was the initial Moosa chase sequence in the first episode. You follow all Pasha, JK, Zoya and the commandos and crisscross between them as they chase the terrorists. It was a crazily done sequence but I had to cut it because it was too long and just wasn’t fitting in the first episode where we wanted people to focus on the characters and not that shot.

With the car chase leading to Kareem’s death, shooting it from inside the car added so much to the panic of the moment. Was that always the plan?

Not when we wrote it. When we were getting ready to shoot it, DK and I thought ‘what if we stay with Kareem throughout and what if we don’t cut it and just focus on the panic of the situation?’ Soon we come to know these guys are not terrorists so at this point let us stay with them while they’re being caged and cornered and panicking, not knowing what to do.

Was part of your intention with Kareem’s track of being wrongfully labelled as a terrorist to have the audience self-reflect?

Kareem was a new idea. It wasn’t part of the old structure. You start building an idea around Kareem and then you start exploring his life. What if people judged him wrongly? What’s the easiest thing to judge wrongly? Then we said we won’t have him stand for the National Anthem, let people judge him there. I wanted to see how far you think he should be hunted down. The idea is to give you less and less to hold onto to like the guy. But you also see him with his girlfriend, and you see his human side. We wanted to deliberately take you to the other side.

Was there a character you enjoyed writing the most?

Aside from Srikant, who’s hands down the most fun and entertaining, Moosa was the most exciting character for the arc he goes through. Nobody cracked it or guessed the twist. We tested it with the most wise-ass people I knew.

That was the toughest character to handle because how should he react in the hospital? We used to cut in the middle of the scene when we were in the hospital and Neeraj Madhav (who played Moosa) used to ask ‘what do you want me to do here? How big do I go? Do I give something away?’ Because he’s not an expert liar, that’s not his expertise. He was definitely the coolest character to pull off as a director.

When making a show centred around terrorists like this, were you ever worried about the depiction of your Muslim characters or how you depicted Pakistan?

The bigger worry for us was the authenticity and I feel we could have done better in those areas. Mainly because we shot in Ladakh and we had to build Balochistan there. So it’s also about the constraints and getting actors. We had to pick people based on their look but then some lines weren’t good enough because they just couldn’t get the Urdu diction, so we tried to cut around it and I still see some words and lines that have slipped through that don’t feel right.

In terms of the plot, it was one faction trying to destabilize a region. It was never like ‘Pakistan bad, India good’. In fact, in the end, both governments get together to stop Major Sameer. I’m not saying who’s good who’s bad, it’s just politics.

We actually had a scene in the 10th episode when he comes back from Balochistan after thwarting the whole truck thing and they (Srikant and his wife) have a little fight. Suchi puts down a plate and starts serving him food and he sits down in silence and says ‘Suchi, I’m a spy. Can I get a hug?’. I was a sort of inside joke between the three of us (writers).

You shot a fair bit on the open roads and interiors of Mumbai. How tough was that?

Yeah, it wasn’t easy. That scooter scene (where Srikant is chasing one of the three IT employees and jumps on a woman’s scooter saying his mangalsutra was stolen) was crazy because how much can you control that area? The crowds helped the scene but sometimes someone would come look at the camera and you’re done. It was also really hot and you had actual scooters blazing by. But as soon as Manoj was acting, it was much funnier than we thought, and that woman also was so cool. I think he even tried to stop a real guy also! (laughs).

One of the most tense moments is the one where Srikant is undercover in Pakistan. But the focus is equally on Atharv playing with the gun, Suchi on the verge of infidelity and Dhriti sneaking out to a party. Did you ever feel it was a risk cutting away from the action and focusing on the family?

There was a risk of the levels not matching and people thinking one thing is more important and wondering ‘why are you cutting to this party?’ Because you’re at high stakes outside the country, and then this daughter is at some party. That disparity of stakes we were conscious of. That was one of the episodes we edited a lot and tried various ideas. It also comes at a very strange time. It’s not your typical time to go into these matters in the 8th episode so it was a little risky.

You also never showed us what happened in the hotel between Suchi and Arvind.

Correct. We just showed them being free with each other, like in the bathroom changing in front of each other. I wanted to show that that the sense of comfort Suchi has with him she doesn’t have with Srikant. Theirs is a typical Indian marriage where two people are brought together and have made a marriage out of it. If you think about it, Suchi and Srikant don’t touch each other even once throughout the show.

As an audience, there are many times you wish he would just tell his family what he does rather than him having to endure so much at home.

We actually had a scene in the 10th episode when he comes back from Balochistan after thwarting the whole truck thing and they (Srikant and his wife) have a little fight. Suchi puts down a plate and starts serving him food and he sits down in silence and says ‘Suchi, I’m a spy. Can I get a hug?’. I was a sort of inside joke between the three of us (writers).

It’s not like he can’t tell her, it’s his choice. She knows he’s an intelligence officer, she just thinks he does paperwork. The idea isn’t that no one knows. They all know, they just don’t understand the specifics and that he just ran on the streets of Bombay while being shot at. He doesn’t want that because he knows she’s also doing a tough a job. He says in the first episode ‘I don’t even know how to do what she does’ and he doesn’t want to put that emotional blackmail on her.

Do you have a favourite scene?

Emotionally it’s that fight between Suchi and Srikant at 4 AM when he comes home drunk. That came out very well. It’s the longest scene, the only one that ran for 6 pages and we were nervous it was way too long. But it came out brilliantly. And if you see Dhriti in that scene, it’s the first time she’s protecting her brother, telling him to go inside when the parents are fighting.

Where did the idea of a different song with the end credits of each episode come from?

I’ve always loved indie music. Initially when we were making shorts, we used to source indie singers and musicians and suddenly after all these years I thought what if we get songs across languages? So it was basically us being like ‘fuck I love that band, let’s try and get that song.’ Some were made for us some already existed.

There was some resistance where people said ‘audiences will just skip it in 4 seconds and jump to the next episode’ and I said I want it for those who won’t skip it. We didn’t even have time to put subtitles. I said even if one is in Malayalam, I think they will feel it.

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