Before the Indian film fraternity started liberally using the term ‘pan-India’, Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK’s series for Amazon Prime, Family Man, had characters and actors from different parts of the country, hailing from diverse cultures, speaking various languages. The show’s first season, for instance, opens with Malayalam. And, the second one with a Tamil conversation. “People were checking their language settings because it was supposed to be a Hindi show,” says Raj.
The duo’s new series for Prime, Farzi, also has a stellar cast — Shahid Kapoor, Vijay Sethupathi, Raashi Khanna, and others. The cast and the creator duo of the show speak about its writing, multi-starrer films, the term ‘pan-India’ and more.
Raj and DK, how has your writing process changed since the time you started making films?
Raj Nidimoru: We still fight and do the same things we did when we started. The only difference is we have good writing companions like Sita Menon and Suman Kumar — the four of us co-wrote Farzi. We have good camaraderie and know each other’s styles. We are able to write a lot more because of that.
Krishna DK: It’s become a more collaborative, inclusive process. It’s important especially when you make a series. You need more people. You need what they call a writers’ room. There are four of us, who are the lead writers. Then, there are assistant writers who are also part of the writers’ room. It’s a good setup.
Vijay Sethupathi: I have a question. Sometimes when we are in a profession for a long time, we feel like we are doing the same thing again and again. So, how you see a scene or a story must have changed over the years. How has it changed?
Raj: You learn from your experiences. You know what’s working and what’s not. You’ll get to know how easy it is to write certain things. You know how easy it is for you to write certain things. You don’t fall into the same easy scenes again. You know there’s an easy way to do a scene, which will work. But you will challenge yourself to do it in a different way.
Vijay: Yeah, you form a pattern sometimes…
Raj: Yes, you consciously break that pattern. It’s like how you or Shahid act. When you are acting out a scene, I am sure you don’t want to repeat yourself. It’s a similar process for us. People say that Raj and DK have a signature style. I get that. But we also keep asking ourselves, ‘Are we becoming predictable?’
Shahid and Vijay, you are doing a series for the first time. Was it any different from acting in a film? Because the audience for commercial cinema and for an OTT series could be different.
Vijay: I don’t find it any different. Be it a short film or a film or a series, the approach is the same. We are just telling a story. We need to make it more interesting for the audience. So, we add whatever is required to make it interesting. The show comes with some expectations because of the names Raj and DK, Shahid, Raashi, me... So, we need to fulfil that expectation. All of us have to work hard to make every scene to find out something that will make the scene better. Because every scene is a film in itself. Every scene has a head, body, and tail.
Shahid Kapoor: The performance comes from the material. For us as actors, every shot, every scene, and every character will be new. Writers and filmmakers help us delve deeper into the character. Also, you mentioned commercial cinema. What is commercial cinema? These labels get slapped around — commercial, pan-Indian, international... Ultimately, the content finds its audience. As an actor, I just need to be authentic to the content. And, if I am in good form, I’ll be able to add some value to it. That’s what the filmmakers are also looking for.
Both of you are working together for the first time. What did you learn from each other?
Shahid: Our tracks run parallel to each other. The audience get to see us constantly. But we didn’t get to cross paths too many times. I would love to work more with [Vijay]. I love him as an actor. I come from a background where acting comes before stardom. I can see that it’s the same for him. Where he goes, stardom follows. But his heart is in the acting. He always looks to do different roles. That comes from the hunger of an artist.
Raashi, you are new to the web series as well. Does it give more space for a female lead compared to a commercial entertainer?
Raashi: You are absolutely right. The characters in a series are more fleshed out and there are more layers to it. You don’t necessarily get that in a film though things are changing now. My first well fleshed-out character is in Farzi. I was very happy with how real and relatable it was. Films can be a little glossier in their approach. So, for female actors like me it is an amazing territory to explore and grow as an actor. And, I grew as one with Farzi.
Raj and DK, your casting choices are really interesting. Even the secondary characters in Family Man were memorable. Chellam Sir, for instance, was a sensation. How do you go about your casting?
Raj: With respect to OTT, a lot of people were excited about the freedom to express — to use a lot of cuss words and show nudity. But our biggest excitement came from the freedom to cast whoever we want. We knew a lot of great actors from across the country... We were pan-India even then (laughs). OTT broke boundaries for us. Regardless of where they were from, if we wanted them, we could approach them.
DK: The credit goes to the casting team as well. We would give the character brief to the casting team and they would find all these actors after dozens of auditions. Except for the star cast of Samantha in season 2, all the characters came through auditions. We went for real, natural actors who were fitting the role. And, it worked out very well for us.
There have been multi-starrers within an industry. A Rajini-Kamal film in Tamil or a Mohanlal-Mammootty film in Malayalam. But now are we entering an era where we will witness more cross-border multi-starrers?
Shahid: I know a lot of actors from Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, or Kannada have penetrated to the North. I don’t know how many from the North have penetrated to those states. Right now, it’s one way. We need to wait and watch if those audiences are accepting of actors from the North. Regardless of that, actors working across borders will help cinema grow.
Vijay: I think it’s already happening. Raashi [who stars in Tamil and Telugu films] is from Delhi.
Shahid: But we need heroes also, sir. You take me there; I’ll hold your hand (Vijay and Shahid laugh).
DK: Linguistic boundaries have started vanishing. Like you mentioned, this used to happen a few decades ago. Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth were already stars when they came to Hindi cinema. Suddenly, that stopped happening. But now you see it again. Hindi actors used to be more popular in the South and southern actors were not so much in the North. But now, everybody knows everybody.
What according to you is ‘pan-India’?
Shahid: After something works out, people might say ‘I knew this was going to work pan-India.’ But the candid answer would be that they themselves wouldn’t know how well it would do everywhere. No one knows what would work pan-India. But now people aspire to do that. They have a wider dream.
DK: At our level, the pan-India thing we do is to get actors from different regions and industries in one show. That in itself may not encapsulate pan-India. Because to be truly pan-India, you have to look at different kinds of audiences as well — South, East, North, city, rural... they all like a certain kind of cinema. That way, I don’t know if there is a pan-India film that appeals to everyone.
Farzi will stream on Amazon Prime from February 10