Spoilers ahead about ‘The Family Man’.
The surprise package of Amazon Prime Video’s new Indian web series The Family Man is 29-year-old Malayalam actor Neeraj Madhav. His character Moosa is a Muslim man from Kerala who ends up joining the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to avenge the death of his family at the hands of Hindu fundamentalists.
For the first half of the 10-episode series, Moosa comes across as a harmless and gullible man who is in the wrong place at the wrong time and yearns to meet his mother. Moosa is later revealed to be the deadliest among the series’s assortment of enemies.
Madhav’s poker-faced portrayal is a highlight of the series by Raj and DK. “This is the best role I have done in my career so far,” Madhav told Scroll.in. He has starred in a series of Malayalam films since 2013, including Drishyam (2013) and Oru Mexican Aparatha (2017). The Family Man marks Madhav’s debut in a web series and is also his first Hindi-speaking role. Here are excerpts from an interview.
How do you feel receiving nation-wide attention?
I have never received this kind of response doing a Malayalam film. I had also never done a role like this. My roles were mostly romantic or fun-filled. I was only acknowledged by people I more or less knew because the Malayalam film industry isn’t big. But now people who don’t know me are congratulating me. They are messaging me on Instagram and Facebook, taking the effort to check my Wiki.
What’s the best compliment you have received so far?
Right now, I am scrolling messages. They usually come at 2am, 4am, when people are binge-watching. Someone writes that they stopped at episode six to Google me as I was so convincing as the innocent guy that they couldn’t believe the twist. Many people have written that they are sad I am not coming back in season two.
What surprises me is that even after playing the bad guy, people seemed to have developed an emotional bond with Moosa. This doesn’t happen with an antagonist of a two-hour movie. Someone wrote they had a crush on Moosa.
That’s because Moosa is humanised. He gets to have a romantic relationship, and loves his mother.
True. You don’t get a villain like that a lot, one with so many faces.
What do you make of the part where Moosa manages to seduce a nurse?
The good guys are only as good as the bad guys. If my character wasn’t built up to be super-evil, where’s the fun? So initially, the audience is sucked into believing that I am just a normal guy who wants a way out from his chosen life, and he is looking for things like love just like anyone else.
Meanwhile, the nurse is a rebel as well, kind of like him. A natural bond develops. Now when it’s shown that Moosa killed her as well to escape, that shows how brutal he is. But, yes, perhaps flings don’t happen that fast in real life.
How did you play the nice-guy side of Moosa despite knowing what he is capable of?
One of the challenges was that unlike my previous roles, for this I had no reference point. I don’t know any terrorist. And I don’t like doing a lot of homework as I am an instinctive actor. I did each scene according to the emotion required out of me in that moment, clearing my mind of where my character graph would be a few episodes later. That made me authentic from moment to moment.
‘The Family Man’ features a bunch of actors from the South film industries who are fluent in Hindi. With actors like you, Dulquer Salmaan or Prabhas finding acceptance among Hindi-speaking audiences, would you say actors are finally becoming pan-Indian?
Definitely. All the walls between not just North and South, but East and West are breaking down. Hollywood producers are now releasing their films in Indian languages and making box-office records. Hindi movie actors are acting in films from the South. That’s a good sign. Also, when this exchange of actors happen, new markets open up.
Earlier, in an Hindi film, if they wanted a character from the South, they’d get someone from Mumbai who was moderately dark-complexioned and get him to speak Hindi with a thick accent. But kudos to Raj and DK for getting a Tamil actor to play a Tamil character, a Malayali for a Malayali, and so on.
Actually, this isn’t the first time this happened to me. I was almost cast as Sexa in Chhichhore. I had the makeup and look test done, but unfortunately the shooting dates were clashing with that of The Family Man.
Which films of yours would you recommend to a non-Malayali film watcher who has just discovered you in ‘The Family Man’?
Oru Mexican Aparatha, Paipin Chuvattile Pranayam, Lavakusha which I have also written, and Sapthamashree Thaskaraha.