Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK describe the protagonist of their Amazon Prime Video series The Family Man as a “middle-class guy and a world-class spy”. Mumbai resident Srikant Tiwari takes his children to school, avoids road rage at all costs, tries to get a loan for a bigger apartment and yearns for a better car.
Srikant, played by Manoj Bajpayee, is actually an undercover agent at the fictional Threat Analysis and Surveillance Cell of the National Investigative Agency. The trailer follows Srikant’s efforts to do his job while hiding its true nature from his family, particularly his wife Suchitra (Priyamani).
Nidimoru and DK, known professionally as Raj & DK (Shor in the City, Go Goa Gone), have also written The Family Man along with novelist Suman Kumar. The dialogue is by Sumit Aroraa, who worked with Raj & DK on Amar Kaushik’s Stree (2018). Ahead of the show’s premiere on September 20, the filmmakers discussed the writing and making of The Family Man.
What are the origins of ‘The Family Man’?
Raj: One of my uncles was an intelligence officer. He never made a big deal of it, and it was funny how he made up stories when people asked him what he did for a living. He would say, I am a shoe salesman or, I am a garment exporter. It left an interesting impression on me. While travelling in trains, he would play games like asking me to tell how many men and women were in the bogey without looking back.
The series is, however, not based on my uncle. It’s just a parallel idea we had to another idea of writing about a common man with a government job and the usual middle-class problems. What if this relatable guy had an extraordinary job? In fact, the intelligence officers we spoke to for the series were hardly cool people jumping out of choppers in slow motion shooting two guns at a time.
DK: The idea is to not show a spy when he is on the job, but what he does when he is not working. What would James Bond be doing when he’s not saving the queen? If he was living in Chembur and riding a scooter, would he be as cool?
What kind of research went into ‘The Family Man’?
Raj: We met a lot of ex-RAW, ex-NIA guys. Actually Suman did. He had a lot of contacts. That, along with reading up on real incidents and cases, was one part.
The second level was to figure what could happen in plausible situations. Let’s say in a sensitive area, a militia uprising happens, and two terror groups join hands. What goes down? Or they capture a chemical engineer or a specialist in some dangerous technology. What happens then?
The third, and this was our favourite, involved sourcing from news stories like, say, brainwashed kids who went to join ISIS hailed from Kerala. Or reading that bomb disposal squads don’t have enough money to fix their suits, so these guys, doing one of the most dangerous jobs, have to patch up their suits with duct tape. Then, a story like a Pakistani spy pigeon getting arrested in India. We fictionalised all these, so that the story is fact-based but not factual, and at the same, could very well be facts.
Where is the series based and where has it been shot?
Raj: Mumbai, Kashmir, Kochi, Delhi and Balochistan, but we shot the Baloch parts in Ladakh.
Part of the series is based on the situation in Kashmir, according to our last interview.
Raj: The plot moves the story there.
DK: Kashmir is only a backdrop. We do not delve deep into it, but we are aware of it. Featured in the series are people working in Kashmiri institutes or the police of Jammu and Kashmir, who have a tough life, as others are always unclear about which side they are on. It’s stuck in the middle between the government thinking they are siding with the locals and the locals thinking they are with the government. We got to shoot in really sensitive locations in Kashmir, for which we are thankful to the locals and the state government.
Does the series comment on the contemporary political situation in Kashmir?
Raj: It was written a year-and-a-half ago, but it’s still relevant.
DK: More relevant than ever perhaps, since Kashmir has come to the foreground now. The current law and order and political situation aside, how the locals and the security establishment feel about each other never changed. More than comment, you can say we are observers of the Kashmir situation. We are not commenting on the morals, the rights and wrongs of things.
Tell us about the cast and the characters.
DK: Srikant Tiwari is from Uttar Pradesh. His wife is a Tamilian, so we got Priyamani. Sharib Hashmi plays another agent who’s a Maharashtrian. Throughout the show, we have actors from various states like Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra. So Malayali actors playing Malayali characters speak Malayali. Kashmirirs speak in Kashmiri. The Baloch characters speak Pashto.
Raj: Dalip Tahil is the chief of the National Investigative Agency. Priyamani and Sharad Kelkar are associate professors in the psychology department, and Kelkar’s character is trying to become an entrepreneur. Mir Sarwar plays a terrorist handler based in Syria. The story moves from Kerala to Syria to Balochistan to Kashmir.
What freedom did you enjoy as the writers and creators of a 10-episode series?
DK: The toughest part is writing characters and creating a world that can be sustained over many, many years.
Raj: Yes, we are doing a series for the first time in our career. We tried to do one for the last four-five years, but we didn’t want to make it in a way where our freedom would be curbed – not the freedom to show nudity or explicit violence, but freedom to explore geopolitics the way we want.
We also didn’t want to do a derivative series or be bound to a memo saying, let’s do a comedy drama or let’s do a thriller. As writers, it’s an exciting challenge to reinvent the wheel as well, while addressing a lot of things in reality but binding them in a plot that’s spread over 10 episodes, multiple seasons, and character arcs set to evolve over time.
Is your long-gestating project ‘Farzi’ happening?
Raj: It’s one of our favourite scripts. We have found a new form for it. But we will get to it after we’ve finished work on two other series and two other films.
We really, really write a lot. It’s a good time to put our best efforts and crazy ideas out. The one after all that is going to be Farzi.