There is a sublime comedy masterclass five episodes into The Family Man season 2. It takes place inside a Chennai police station, where superspy Srikant (Manoj Bajpayee) is locked up with his partner JK (Sharib Hashmi). It’s a serious misunderstanding they are being held for murder but the scene is blithely hilarious.
Working with co-star Devadarshini Chetan, who plays the interrogating officer, the actors raise a riot transiting superbly from verbal comedy to a shot of them doing yoga in adjoining cells. The whole thing just builds and builds, in a way we rarely get to witness these days.
Manoj is privy to the comic aspects of his character’s fame. But he also insists he’s never really trying to work the crowd.
“I go by the scene and the state of mind and try to catch Srikant in those circumstances,” he elaborates. “There is never an effort from my side to make people laugh. It’s never about playing to the gallery.”
Manoj sounds delighted. The second season, which premiered last week, has become a unanimous hit with fans and critics. It’s being touted as one of the best Indian web shows of all time. The experience reminds him of his Satya days, Manoj says.
“I feel thankful for the kind of unprecedented response we are getting. There are people who are watching the show all over again. The frenzy, the reactions…these are not things one experiences too often. I feel really lucky, blessed and grateful.”
In all likelihood, the raves will keep coming. But the show has also been a major test of faith for the makers. Its trailer touched off a heated controversy over its depiction of its subject matter.
The antagonist, Raji (Samantha Akkineni), is a former Sri Lankan Tamil rebel in exile. Many felt the series would be insensitive to Eelam Tamils and the historical oppression they have faced. There were calls for a boycott and a former request for a ban.
‘I AM A BIG FAN OF RAJINIKANTH AND KAMAL HAASAN’
Manoj is relieved the series has cleared up many of those doubts. “We have been saying that all the apprehensions and questions will be answered once they watch the show. The Family Man as a series believes in the diversity of this country. We respect each and every culture that this amazing country has. I am happy that the reception from Tamil Nadu has been quite overwhelming and I thank all of them.”
Shooting in Chennai, Manoj happily adds, was a blast. One of the first things he wanted to do was stand outside Rajinikanth’s house like a ‘true fan’.
“My only regret is that I couldn’t meet him or Kamal Haasan ji. I am a big fan of both of them – Rajinikanth for the person he is and Kamal Haasan for all the inspiration I have derived from his work.”
But he did get to meet the others: Vijay Sethupathi, Vetrimaaran, Thiagarajan Kumararaja, Pushkar-Gayatri. “I had gone with a prepared list in my mind,” Manoj shares. “It was really remarkable the time I got to spend in Chennai.”
Though an episode shorter, The Family Man season 2 is a significant scale-up from its predecessor. There are two massive set pieces: a shootout at a police station in Episode 6, and the climax. Both put Manoj at the centre of all the action.
“I’ll probably have to write a book about how we shot the two sequences, and how demanding it was physically and mentally,” he says.
The one-shot gunfight, with the camera roving from inside the building to out and then back again, took hours and hours of planning. Manoj would return to his hotel room each day with sore feet and aches.
Yet, he’d be back again for the next take. “It all comes down to the fitness and lifestyle you’ve been maintaining,” he explains, suddenly sounding like a true-blue action star. “Then there are the emotions…”