Priyamani as Suchitra and Manoj Bajpayee as Srikant Tiwari in 'The Family Man 2' (screen grab).
Manoj Bajpayee is shooting a new film in Uttarakhand. In-between shots and scenes, he’s catching up on the praise and love for the second season of The Family Man. Bajpayee leads the cast of the nine-episode series, returning in his role as Srikant Tiwari, the family man living a dual life—as a father of two and a secret agent with a government agency. Created by Raj and DK, the show has won several awards and a huge fan base.
In his rich and varied career of over three decades, the three-time National Award-winning actor (Satya, Pinjar, Bhonsle) has switched between commercial and art-house content on television, film and OTT. During the lunch break, over a phone call, the 52-year-old actor talks about The Family Man, and his future as well as Srikant Tiwari's.
As an actor, you finish shooting, leave a character behind, and move on to other projects. Then two years later, you have to revisit Srikant Tiwari and his relationships. What is your process for achieving that?
For all actors doing ongoing seasons, this is not an easy thing—especially in India, where you are done with two to three other projects before getting back to the same character and scenario. Getting back demands that one goes through the last season and makes notes—on paper and in your mind. You also revisit all your notes from the last time and resume working on it. While watching a few other Indian and American shows, I have observed a shift in performances, and after a few episodes you see them coming back.
For you, what was the difference between Srikant then, and Srikant now?
He is going through a very troubled time. He’s not in a good space mentally, trying to hold sand in his fist, which is slipping away, vis-à-vis his own marriage. His job does not engage him in the same way. When he re-joins, he does so with a lot of baggage. He feels like a failure, both as a family man and a professional. So he’s not in his complete element. I wanted to carry that throughout the season, which was a tough job. I knew that Srikant not being in his element was a risk but I told myself that if this is the way it is, then go ahead and do it. I don’t show it on set, but it was not an easy journey. I try to be discreet about my preparation and thoughts and try to keep it light because, after all, the directors are most concerned about the outcome in front of the camera.
How much did you enjoy the scene where Srikant beats up his pesky boss, Tanmay?
Actually I was falling short of ideas on how to tackle that scene, so it was Raj (director) who prompted me with some ideas. Later on, when I thought about it, I felt maybe I should have done it more.
How do you stay interested in a character year after year, season after season?
Once I have said yes, I am invested in the character and I have to be interested and invested in him until we think of wrapping up the series. If I can imagine that, only then will I touch the show. As an actor, I am very interested in that character’s evolution. It is very tough, demanding and so challenging. As a performer, the show is a huge opportunity to grow as an actor.
There was not a moment during the shoot of The Family Man when we were not creating, rehearsing, shooting, thinking of different dimensions of the character and executing. I love the script and character that gave me space to explore and experiment. This is not something you get to do so easily in film. This triggers excitement to get back to it.
This season ends with a hint of a potential third season of The Family Man.
I don’t know about season three. It has not been discussed with me. I have only been reading about it in the media and audience posts on social media. After more than 26 years in this business, I know one thing—I will only believe it when I have the script in my hands. But what I can say is that the response to this show and character is similar to what I have seen only during Satya (Bhiku Mhatre) and Gangs of Wasseypur (Sardar Khan).
What is it like working with this team of 'The Family Man' including directors Raj and DK and your co-stars?
Raj and DK are the coolest guys, and so in sync with each other. They are directors of now. If everything falls right, their projects can be remarkable for cinefiles and for the masses. I enjoy that. Ram Gopal Varma achieved the same reach and Anurag Kashyap did so to some extent. The difference is that Raj and DK believed in it and nailed it with The Family Man. Our relationship has gone beyond actor and directors. We share an understanding and trust. When they say lets do it the way we are seeing it, they must be right, else they have the trust in me that if I have done something then maybe I am right.
Sharib Hashmi (J.K. Talpade) is one of the nicest souls I have met. I enjoy talking to him, having lunch with him and gossiping. Priyamani (Suchi) is always open to suggestions and to trying things out. I love working with the kids. I feel they are mine. I don’t feel like they will be going back to their own homes. Vedant Sinha (Atharv) is always chirpy and active and showing off his dancing skills on set. Ashlesha Thaukur (Dhriti) is very mature and quiet. In three and a half years, they have grown so much.
Of the new faces, Samantha Akkineni has hit it out of the park as Raji.
Her contribution to season two is unparalleled, in terms of her talent, professionalism and preparedness. She also enjoys tremendous stardom. That has opened the show up to a whole new audience. This is truly a pan-India show in plot and storytelling, and also in terms of (what) the vast audience across this country enjoy. The casting is unique and has such variety.
Season one had wonderful actors from the Malayalam industry, and now this season has actors from the Tamil industry. But when viewers say there is too much Tamil in the show, how do you explain that these characters are speaking in their native language. I think it's time that as an audience we change the way we watch shows and get used to reading subtitles.
You recently got your third National Film Award for playing a retired Mumbai cop in Devashish Makhija’s film 'Bhonsle'. Did this film get a viewership boost after it went onto an OTT platform?
Definitely. Bhonsle enjoyed an audience it would not have reached if it had been released in the theatre. In theatres, we are told to feel obliged if the film gets even one show, and that is limited to cinefiles and a few viewers. On OTT, the manner in which the film generated curiosity and the tributes to Bhonsle were overwhelming. Independent films do enjoy a much larger audience base than one could have imagined, thanks to OTT.
What influences your decision-making when you choose a film—be it ‘Aligarh’ or ‘Satyamev Jayate', ‘Sonchiriya’ or ‘Mrs Serial Killer’?
I believe cinema is a medium of art and then I think of balancing that with commerce. Some think it is only a commercial medium, which I don’t argue with. I enjoy the reach, the box office, the audience but I enjoy the art the most. The goal was never to do roles too glam for me. This reflects in my filmography. I always wanted to do great roles and reach a larger audience base through my performances. And I have touched every genre, besides an Avengers-type, VFX-heavy film. An actor should not make the mistake of judging genres. My craft should be completely ready to satisfy the needs of my director, from Hansal Mehta or Milap Zaveri, Prakash Jha or Kanu Behl, Abhishek Chaubey or Neeraj Pandey.
What are we going to see you in next?Dial 100
is an emotional thriller by Rensil D’Silva with Sakshi Tanwar and Neena Gupta. Before that Abhishek Chaubey’s interpretation of Satyajit Ray’s story will come out as part of Ray
, an anthology coming out on June 25. It has Gajraj Rao and me, and we had such a ball doing that story. I am shooting for two films including one by Kanu Behl and this one by Raam Reddy, which I am shooting in Uttarakhand. After that I will get into Chaubey’s next project. And then hopefully they will come to me for dates for season 3. I am curious to see how far The Family Man
goes, and to see if it succeeds in crossing over. When work is available forever, you know somewhere or other it will create a new audience base.