Shahid Kapoor in his streaming debut! Vijay Sethupathi in his streaming debut, speaking Hindi! The return of The Family Man creators Raj & DK! Farzi has enough going for it – and then some – to dispel the escalating feeling that we have seen it all before.
The handsomely produced Amazon Prime Video series revolves around a painter who leverages his talent for copying masterworks into counterfeiting money. Unable to succeed as an artist – and unwilling to ask himself if he has the talent to succeed as one – Sunny (Kapoor) decides to get very rich very quick by strolling down the well-trodden path of crime.
Sunny is a gentleman crook, of course. His grandfather Madhav (Amol Palekar) publishes the independent magazine Kranti. Although the exact nature of the revolution Madhav wants isn’t clear, what is known is that the publication is steeped in debt.
Sunny and his childhood friend Firoz (Bhuvan Arora) team up to print fake currency notes so convincing that they catch the eye of both counterfeit king Mansoor (Kay Kay Menon) in Dubai and the messianic government officer Michael in Mumbai.
Michael (Sethupathi) is among the show’s obsessives. If Sunny is fixated on wealth accumulation, Michael is wedded to his job even if it means imperilling his marriage with Rekha (Regina Cassandra). Michael has a sub-obsession: nabbing Mansoor. Also intensely focused on exposing wrongdoing is Reserve Bank of India security expert Megha (Raashii Khanna).
Raj & DK spice up a familiar narrative with their trademark skill for witty repartee, deft character sketches and high-octane action sequences. Apart from directing the eight-episode series, Raj & DK have written the screenplay along with long-time collaborators Sita R Menon and Suman Kumar.
The profanity-addled Hindi dialogue, by Hussain Dalal, ignores a character’s observation that there is much more to Hindi than cuss words. Pankaj Kumar has shot the episodes, which includes several continuous takes to create momentum and one bravura – and hilarious – chase sequence set in a crippling Mumbai traffic jam.
Farzi takes its time settling in. The first few episodes are devoted to setting up character graphs, exploring Sunny’s methods and revealing his sad-sack back story. In the bargain, a boatload of cliches sail into view – a promising young man forced by circumstance into crime, honest government officers who sacrifice their personal lives for a cause, a flamboyant villain, an ultra-loyal best friend.
It’s only in the fourth episode that Farzi layers a routine cat-and-mouse game with some degree of emotional complexity. This episode sensitively handles Sunny’s love for Madhav as well as Michael’s troubled marriage.
Raj & DK’s talent for creating two-handers serves them very well in Farzi. The connection between Sunny and Firoz ensures that Shahid Kapoor has a worthy sparring partner in Bhuvan Arora. This relationship rings more true than Sunny’s idealised bond with Madhav. Sunny even vibes well with Mansoor, who calls him “cute” and finds a similar get-rich-quick ambition in the younger man.
Michael has what can only be described as a bromance with the minister Pawan (Zakir Hussain). Their conversations, seething with love-hate energy, constitute the show’s funniest bits. It’s surprising perhaps only to Michael that his marriage has crumbled. A semi-disaster of a man, Michael is most attentive when Pawan is in the vicinity.
Farzi never lets slip the opportunity to slip winking asides into otherwise serious moments. The penchant for self-parody has the unfortunate consequence of weakening one of the show’s key characters.
Is Mansoor a criminal mastermind or a colour-coordinated peacock pirouetting in his desert outpost without an audience? Kay Kay Menon displays unerring judgement in playing the show’s real con – a facsimile of a villain.
Even as the theme of counterfeiting is juiced to the last drop, events inexorably build up to a second, unwarranted season. In its dying breaths, Farzi resembles every other overstretched crime series that’s having too much fun to shut out the lights on a party that has long ended.
The show’s strengths include a well-chosen cast, strong individual moments, and dialogue destined to endure as memes.
Shahid Kapoor is in fine form despite looking too old for the part. Kapoor reins in his tendency for self-pitying bombast to deliver a performance that complements Sunny’s vanity for equating counterfeiting with art. As Sunny’s moral counterpoint, Vijay Sethupathi takes some time getting into gear. Could it be the pressure of delivering dialogue – and swear words – in Hindi? Or could it just be that Michael is as predictable as they come?
Once Sethupathi does settle down, he rolls out the unpredictability and mischief that have made him one of Tamil cinema’s unlikeliest stars. Zakir Hussain, as the overwrought minister, Bhuvan Arora, as Sunny’s brother from another mother, and Chittaranjan Giri, as Madhav’s principled employee, are among the actors who infuse a slick show about fakery with real, palpable feeling.