Caution: spoilers ahead.
The directorial duo Raj and DK first met as Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK more than 20 years ago at an engineering college in Tirupati. In 2003, they made Flavors, the first of many films together. Their rock-solid partnership has endured through hits and misses and led them to the point where they have created the Amazon Prime Video web series The Family Man and set up their own company, D2R Films.
D2R Films recently produced the Telugu comedy Cinema Bandi, proof that the filmmakers are committed to backing independent-spirited projects. “We had been working with young writers and directors, helping them make their scripts better, mentoring them if they had a great idea,” Raj said. “D2R was a way of formalising what we had been doing for a long time. We invest our own money with the thought of making a film that will break some ground and hopefully find viewers, while taking into account that we may not make a single penny.”
The Family Man has transformed the fortunes of the filmmaking duo, who say they wrote the screenplay for Amar Kaushik’s box office hit Stree in a cafe. The second season pits Manoj Bajpayee’s intelligence agent Srikant Tiwari against three adversaries: holdover Islamic State terrorists from the first season, Sri Lankan Tamil militants, and the dubious boyfriend of Srikant’s daughter.
New characters range from the major – Samantha Akkineni as the Tamil revolutionary Raji – to the minor – Udhayabanu Maheshwaran as Chellam, a hyper-cautious former operative who advises Srikant. Returning actors include Priya Mani as Srikant’s estranged wife Suchitra.
The fan favourite Chellam is “people’s idea of a spy”, the duo told Scroll.in. Some viewers haven’t been as convinced with Raji, in particular the light-skinned Samantha Akkineni’s brownface make-up.
“Firstly we would not use the term brownface at all,” DK countered. “That is a derogatory term, which is used in the context of race and beauty, neither of which applies here. We prefer to choose actors who can do justice to the role beyond just physical appearance, and then shape this actor physically to suit the role.”
Raji was meant to be a “warrior with a weather-beaten and sunburned look, whose entire look, getup, and attire, is only concerned with fighting and surviving”, Raj added. “Samantha was chosen for this role not only for her Tamil background, but because she is an accomplished actor who believes in doing justice with her craft and the characters she portrays on screen. More importantly we needed someone who could pull off this crazy hand-to-hand action convincingly. If you suggest an actor who happens to be just darker, that’s discrimination in a strange way.”
Criticism of the Sri Lankan Tamils, who are modelled on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam soldiers, as hugely gullible is similarly misplaced, asserted the filmmakers. They wrote the screenplay with Suman Kumar and co-directed the show with Suparn Verma.
“We wanted to create three-dimensional characters,” Raj said. “There’s no agenda, because when you write with an agenda, it shows.”
It’s a coincidence that the fictional Bengali prime minister reminded some viewers of Mamata Banerjee. “A female prime minister was written in the script long before season one was even shot,’ Raj explained. “The idea was to avoid having a prime minister close to reality, as that would take the viewer away from the narrative. We cast Seema Biswas for her acting, and asked her to put her spin to it.”
Among the show’s most appreciated scenes is the one in which Srikant’s colleague argues with his Chennai counterpart over the choice of film music. The bridge between North and South is provided by SP Balasubrahmanyam singing Sach Mere Yaar Hai from Saagar – an unconscious hat-tip to a similar scene in Steven Spielberg’s Munich, the duo acknowledged.
“Sometimes, a scene can be a deliberate hat-tip, like it was with The Wolf of Wall Street-inspired chest-thumping early on,” Raj said. “But in this case, perhaps the scene was lodged somewhere in our minds. It’s not a straight copy. We wanted to show that both the North and South Indian settle on a SPB song. It was our tribute to the singer.”
Followers of the fragile state of Srikant and Suchitra’s marriage will be pleased to know that the directors have a back story that explains how they got together. “We haven’t found a reason yet to put that into the series, but we know what happened in which year during their marriage,” DK said.
Raj added, “They share no physical touching throughout two seasons. They only hug when their daughter is in trouble. The inspiration was our own families growing up in Andhra, where we never saw fathers touching or hugging mothers. There would be affection, care, and protective feeling, but no intimacy.”
Unlike the chasm between Srikant and Suchitra, Raj and DK have a collaborative process that has been smoothened and perfect over time. “Ideas marinate over a long time until one day we decide to go to our office and start talking about any particular one,” Raj said. “What we do is we put a lot of data, and all our notes on characters, visuals, thoughts, themes, categorise them nicely in a software called Scrivener, which we have been using for five to six years. Once the ideas are in place, we move to creating the structure.”
The Family Man has close to 70 characters and several subplots, making an organised principle imperative. “Once we have figured out the structure, which is breaking the whole show down to the most minute beats, we and our co-writers pick an episode each to write,” DK added. “Then we swap the episodes around.”
The professional partners often communicate in Telugu, especially when they need to consult each other during shoots. “Also, while we write our scripts in English, certain key dialogue is in Telugu, which we then get our Hindi co-writer to reinterpret, because Telugu-to-Hindi is a better translation than English to Hindi via Telugu,” Raj revealed.
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