What happens when an artist crosses the lines of law? What happens when he starts seeing a humble currency note as a challenging work of art? Writer-director duo Raj and D.K. have an uncanny knack for creating charismatic characters grappling with the socio-political realities of our times. Their canvas gets larger than life, but they negotiate it with the detailing of master craftsmen keen on making sense of the zardozi of emotions and ideas with a thread spiked with sharp humour. With Farzi, they expand the everyman secret agent universe that they created with The Family Man. The possibilities are delicious... but after eight episodes that provide plenty of goosebumps moments and a lot to chuckle about, the series leaves one with the feeling of being sold a dummy.
Over the years, Shahid Kapoor excels in roles where the character’s self-esteem is under attack. Here, as the anti-hero Sunny, he remarkably blends brooding intensity with an impish smile in a role that has shades of his real life. Abandoned by his father in childhood, Sunny grows up under the shadow of his righteous maternal grandfather (Amol Palekar) who brings out a newspaper called Kranti Patrika and paints The Thinker with trembling hands. However, the young artist sees the world around him and pays more for the fakes than the original work. As he observes the tree gradually wilt under a loan and rampant corruption; revolution becomes a retired thought for Sunny. But to save Nanu and his crumbling ideas, the artist crosses over and sells his craft to the highest bidder. As his ego and ambition get the better of him, Sunny gets sucked into a black hole as we get an insight into how a man gets consumed by circumstances.
The narrative is dotted with moral dilemmas that are not easy to negotiate. The emotional track where Sunny fears that his Nanu — whose memory is fading by the day — would discover that he has violated his trust creates an uneasy feeling. The scene where Sunny embraces his Nanu from behind makes the eyes moist. It is the pristine presence of Palekar, who chooses his project with care, that makes us believe in the integrity of the ideological slugfest even when the writers lose track.
On one hand, there is Michael (Vijay Sethupathi), an unlikely efficient officer fighting personal battles, who is committed to curing the country of the scourge of counterfeit currency, and on the other, there is Mansoor (Kay Kay Menon chews up the scenery with his trademark flourish), a reptilian figure who gives wings to Sunny’s imagination and ambition for his purpose. Sethupathi is suitably understated and charming at the same time; there is a certain endearment in the way he delivers his dialogues in Hindi that even the expletives sound endearing. It creates an interesting contrast between his physical and vocal tonality, and reminds one of Mohanlal who also played a committed law enforcer in Company. His family story is not even half as riveting as that of Shrikant Tiwari, but Sethupathi ensures that it remains palatable till Michael shares notes with Tiwari in the next season.
With Shahid, it is the other way round. He comes across as an adorable rascal whose circumstances push him into a cesspool. It is a pity that we don’t get to see a face-off between the two in the first season as the streaming platforms plot to keep the pot burning for a second season, even if it means compromising on storytelling and stagnating the interest.
In between, there is a staple but well-written track where Sunny infiltrates into the crack team through Megha (Rashii Khanna), an expert on counterfeit currency, who could see through the sham, but fumbles when it comes to matters of the heart. The portion is written in a way that one doesn’t mind suspending disbelief for a while; Rashii is also impressive as a girl who doesn’t get too distracted from her goal by the magic of Sunny.
As always, the action Raj and D.K. universe is interspersed with current affairs and an electric background score. Minister Gahlot’s (Zakir Hussain) urge to link everything with electoral politics is relatable, and the way Michael sells him the idea of a big photo in the newspaper every time the minister drags his feet on issues of national security is risibly realistic.
However, for all the character-building and competent performances, the unpretentious perspective and immersive experience of The Family Man is missing here as the makers seem keen on underling that we are watching something intelligent and well-researched with a bleeding pen.
Farzi feels more like the work of a magician who repeats his trick on the market’s demand. The socio-political commentary that was seamless in The Family Man gets repetitive and even jarring at times here. The screenplay feels like that eye-catching coat with a lining that has not been properly stitched, and gives way during the rough and tumble of eight episodes. There are portions when it seems the writers’ research notes on counterfeit currency have slipped into the script and that we are watching an instruction manual on how to make fake bills unfold on-screen. Curiously, the writers have spent hours in explaining the business of counterfeit currency, but have left the nuts and bolts of the story loose. Some of the twists are too convenient to mass muster, the back stories are not compelling, and an important character is dispensed with without due diligence. This incongruous approach makes Farzi feel like Sunny’s super note; a sham beneath the shine.
Farzi is currently streaming on Amazon Prime