‘Srikant Tiwari is like RK Laxman’s Common Man’: Manoj Bajpayee on his role in ‘The Family Man 2’

Manoj Bajpayee in a still from ‘The Family Man 2’   | Photo Credit: Amazon Prime Video

Manoj Bajpayee is shooting for a new project atop a hill in Uttarakhand. The internet connection is inconsistent. “I miss the personal touch,” he says, slightly vexed that all interactions have gone online since the pandemic. But even on a patchy Zoom call, his excitement is apparent. The second season of The Family Man, in which he reprises the role of Srikant Tiwari, the middle-aged spy dealing with middle-class problems and midlife crisis, released on June 4. And there has been a torrent of feedback.

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“It is quite overwhelming,” he says. “Though the first season was well received, it took time for people to watch the series and for it to spread through word of mouth. The second one just took off from the first hour of its release. People are binge-watching it; hundreds of people I know are watching it for the second or even third time.”

Read: ‘The Family Man 2’ review

The anticipation, after all, was enormous. Season one had ended on a cliffhanger. But there was the question of whether the second season would match or surpass the storytelling of the first.

A still from ‘The Family Man 2’

A still from ‘The Family Man 2’   | Photo Credit: Amazon Prime Video

The reviews have been largely positive. There’s been no dearth of Twitter memes and theories. Even some of the cameo roles have garnered a following (Google ‘Chellam Sir Family Man memes’). Most recently, the banter between Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, about Bajpayee’s new drama, Ray (releasing June 25 on Netflix), caught everyone’s attention. “Every day, there is a lot of love pouring in through social media, personal messages. It’s quite unprecedented for me,” says the actor, 52, adding, “This kind of success, one cannot expect.”

There have been controversies too, since the trailer dropped. The show narrates the story of a rebellious army of Tamils in Sri Lanka closely resembling the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). And a few political leaders from Tamil Nadu have called for The Family Man 2’s ban, accusing the makers of negatively portraying the Tamil Eelam. “The objections started before the show started streaming,” Bajpayee says. “But the apprehensions slowly started getting answered once it released. So many people from Tamil Nadu are loving the show. So, that takes care of the other negative voices. Let the product talk for itself.”

Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK

Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK   | Photo Credit: Amazon Prime Video

The National Award-winning actor believes the writers and directors — Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK (known as Raj and DK), Suman Kumar and Suparn S Verma — have created “a show that is sensitive to the emotions of people in this country”. In an interview with The Hindu Weekend, he talks about his character, the pan-Indianness of the show, collaborating with South Indian actors, and more. Edited excerpts:

Was there any pressure going into the second season?

We were already shooting in Chennai for season two when the first started streaming. The script was ready, and all the major portions of the schedule was done. So the reception of season one didn’t impact season two.

Priyamani in a still from ‘The Family Man 2’

Priyamani in a still from ‘The Family Man 2’   | Photo Credit: Amazon Prime Video

In your career, you haven’t stayed with any other role as much as you have with Srikant Tiwari. Does that make him one of your favourite characters?

A character always leaves a residue in the actor’s mind regardless of how well you move on from it. I give all of myself to each and every character I do. So, it’s hard to pick a favourite. For a film, you shoot for 45-50 days and you are out of it. With The Family Man, if you include the days of shooting and preparation, it is over 150 to 200 days. When the next season starts, you have to relive the character. That’s tiring and tedious to do. You need the ability to return to the character after being a part of other projects. It’s a different ballgame.

Were there any apprehensions before signing The Family Man?

I got offers for a few other series on OTT platforms, but I didn’t want to be a part of them. I wanted to do something where I could make a difference as an actor. When Raj and DK narrated the synopsis, I was sold on the idea of an intelligence guy with the problems of a middle-class person. I can see bits of Srikant Tiwari in the people around me. He is kind of like RK Laxman’s Common Man. He is a part of the play and also a witness to the play.

A still from ‘The Family Man 2’

A still from ‘The Family Man 2’   | Photo Credit: Amazon Prime Video

You have starred in a few comedies. But your most acclaimed roles have been ones with darker shades. Do you have a preference for the latter?

Not really. No matter how dark my characters are — even if they are gangsters or policemen or an intelligence guy — I like to make them relatable. I draw examples from the lives of regular people. Each and every person who watches my films or shows should feel that these are their stories. That’s my endeavour when I prepare for a role.

The Family Man deals with volatile topics — Kashmir in the first season, Sri Lankan Tamils in the second. When you enter such politics-heavy projects, are you more careful than usual?

You go by the character or the story that you are given. Your job is to go with conviction and give your 200% to your role. But every actor or creative person should have an understanding of the politics in their country. The writers of The Family Man are well-read. All the characters in the show are heroes in their own stories. We humanise them. We are not here to take sides. We put forth arguments from both sides and let people decide for themselves.

Samantha Akkineni in a still from ‘The Family Man 2’

Samantha Akkineni in a still from ‘The Family Man 2’   | Photo Credit: Amazon Prime Video

There are quite a few Tamil-speaking actors in the show.

I have done two commercial films in Tamil [Samar and Anjaan], and my experience with my co-stars and directors has been amazing. It’s the same when you are working with fantastic talents like Priyamani and Samantha Akkineni [who play Tiwari’s wife and a Sri Lankan Tamil respectively]. You are observing their work ethics and their methods. It was such an eye-opener for me. I have admired Priyamani from season one. This time, I was amazed how Samantha ferociously went into preparing for the project, be it the dialogues or the martial arts training.

How are the developments in OTT impacting the mainstream film space?

Filmmakers who entered the industry after the 90s were open to experimenting but couldn’t because of the limitations in the commercial space. But now, because of OTTs, they are translating their vision on to the screen. And, most importantly, they are being received well by the audiences. Another project I am doing [which I can’t divulge much of] also has a pan-India feel.

The Family Man 2 is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.

Manoj Bajpayee in a still from ‘Ray’

Manoj Bajpayee in a still from ‘Ray’   | Photo Credit: Netflix

Raising a toast to Ray

Bajpayee’s upcoming release is a Netflix anthology, Ray, which is inspired by the works of the late filmmaker-scriptwriter Satyajit Ray. He plays Musafir Ali, a ghazal singer in pursuit of lost fame. “Ray was all about painting a huge canvas with limited strokes and shades of colours,” he says, sharing that the role is the closest he could come to fulfilling his dream of being in a Satyajit Ray film. “Students of cinema should look closely at his use of music; Ray himself was a musician. And the most beautiful thing about his movies is that the characters’ movements, behaviour, everything about them, is so precise. He never lets even a beat go amiss!”

Chennai check-in

Bajpayee had a list of places to visit and people to meet when he landed in Chennai in 2019, where a major part of season two was shot. While he doesn’t recall the names of the narrow lanes and small eateries he visited, the people he met are noteworthy.

A still from ‘The Family Man 2’

A still from ‘The Family Man 2’   | Photo Credit: Amazon Prime Video

“[When I called] Vijay Sethupathi came to my shooting spot at 12 am. I had dinner with Thiagarajan Kumararaja, who made Super Deluxe, and we spoke about cinema and performances. I met Vetrimaaran in his editing room when he was working on Asuran. I also met Vikram Vedha’s directors, Pushkar and Gayathri. We had a small party in my room,” he name-drops before adding, rather modestly, “I know I won’t be a part of their films because I don’t know Tamil, but I wanted to speak to them.” He, however, regrets not being able to meet Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. “They are my heroes. I wanted to spend some time with them, having a cup of tea.”

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 12:24:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/srikant-tiwari-is-like-rk-laxmans-common-man-manoj-bajpayee-on-his-role-in-the-family-man-2/article34771185.ece

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