Entertainment

‘Decoupled’ : The comedy of separation

Surveen Chawla and R. Madhavan   | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Both R Madhavan and Surveen Chawla are not new to streaming. Madhavan, 51, made his debut with Breathe in 2018 when streaming was considered, at best, peripheral. Chawla, 37, struck gold with the second season of Sacred Games in 2019. Having begun their respective journeys on television — Zee TV’s Banegi Apni Baat and Ghar Jamai for Madhavan or Ekta Kapoor’s Kahin To Hoga for Chawla — their careers touched films, both Hindi and Tamil, before it landed on streaming, first separately, and now together, with their Netflix show Decoupled.

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Created and written by author Manu Joseph (Serious Men), directed by Hardik Mehta (Kamyaab, Roohi), Decoupled uses the frame of comedy to look at a couple in Gurgaon navigating divorce. “I haven’t played a character like this before,” says Madhavan, who plays a writer in the show. He is known for having a good hold on screenplays and contributing to scripts, be it with his earlier hits Minnale (2001), 3 Idiots (2009), or the more recent Irudhi Suttru (2016).

In an interview with the two actors for The Hindu Weekend, edited for length and clarity, they speak of how the pandemic and streaming has shaped their craft, and Decoupled.

What drew you to these parts in Decoupled?

Madhavan: The show is in English, and we are not English-ising a Tamil or Hindi show. The character says things as he sees it, and sometimes he says the most obnoxious, offending lines. My challenge as an actor was to see that he doesn’t become a negative character. That he can say anything and still get away with it because of his innocent intent.

Madhavan

Madhavan  

Especially after the pandemic, being in front of the camera was a great relief. There was also a great synergy of people, and a fair amount of partying since we were all in the same hotel. I had more than one reason to accept the story.

Surveen: This is a Gurgaon-based couple with a young daughter. My character is that one person in the show who brings sanity back and normalises things in the midst of the sarcasm and the ego. But Hardik was very clear that we didn’t want to have a hate relationship between the people. [He wanted] to bring in animosity and yet have the audience feel that they have pieces of love left.

How involved are you now with the creation of your characters?

Madhavan: When I approve a script, I know what about it has touched me. Sometimes, I see that we are not touching those markers which excited me in the first place. That is when I step in and guide [the team] as to what we originally conceived, which happens often. Sometimes, with the lack of experience with young directors — they have passion, and they want to tell a story, but there is a method to it — I have to say that maybe we don’t want to indulge in something we didn’t explore in the pre-production. That apart, Surveen and I were open to improvisation. Ideally, we don’t want to do more than the actor’s job because that is what we are paid to do. I would love to go on a Mani Ratnam or a Rajkumar Hirani movie set and completely surrender as an actor and not worry about anything else. But these are luxuries that are few and far between.

Surveen: I’ve experienced collaboration at a far more detailed level on OTT, because it is a longer format and you are spending more time with your director.

Do you prepare differently for a performance on streaming?

Surveen: With Decoupled, and Sacred Games, the process of filming was months at a stretch. It is far easier to shoot every single day as opposed to shooting with breaks, but it is also difficult because you have to keep that rhythm going for the longest time. Decoupled, though, has been the quickest shoot, because due to the pandemic we were in a bio-bubble in Delhi for two months. We filmed continuously, and then went straight to Goa. So, to hang onto the character was easier.

Madhavan: The intensity, involvement, and commitment is the same. It is easier to be in character in films because there are fewer shooting days. It is easier to pick up from the last scene we shot. In films, however, you might have to be more careful with your looks, since the larger screen will capture all nuances of your preparation.

How do you gauge the success of a show on OTT?

Surveen: Decoupled is a modern story, and it will resonate with an urban elite, English speaking audience. Masses can’t be targeted with it. Social media, then, would be that marker of success for me, where people give us their reviews.

Madhavan: Tangible proof is the remuneration that is offered to me for the next series (laughs).

Madhavan, you have spoken about how the pandemic has made you reconsider the kinds of stories you want to pursue…

Madhavan: Post-pandemic, we have to cater to the emotional situation of the viewers, which has changed. I am looking for age-appropriate romantic stories to open up the screen, and show them the greenery, the snow, and make them feel that life isn’t as futile as it seemed during the pandemic.

Surveen Chawla

Surveen Chawla  

Surveen: I am also done with those dark and heavy roles. After a point, it gets to you. I was just not feeling the excitement of going on a set, doing something I hadn’t done before.

Madhavan, you are also gearing up for the release of Rocketry: The Nambi Effect, the biopic of Nambi Narayanan. You said you consider it “more of a national duty than a movie”.

Madhavan: It is a sad thing that we do not know anything about Nambi Narayanan. As a nation we do not have a road named after him, nor does he have the credit he richly deserves for making the only indigenously built rocket engine. I didn’t know him, never met him before this film. But when I did, I felt this overwhelming sense of angst and duty — how do we in this country not know about a patriot like him? So I put my money where my mouth is and funded the project.

Surveen, any future projects?

Surveen: There is something, but …

Oh no, the NDAs!

Madhavan: I miss the good old days where there were no contracts. When I first started, people did not have contracts. I used to be the one insisting on contracts and scripts in Tamil cinema. I am still hated for those two things. (laughs)

Watch | R. Madhavan and Surveen Chawla on ‘Decoupled’
 

Decoupled premieres on Netflix on December 17


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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 6:10:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/r-madhavan-surveen-chawla-netflix-show-decoupled-written-by-manu-joseph/article37861737.ece

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