Last week, the duo—better known as Raj and DK—made their digital debut with the streaming series The Family Man on Amazon Prime Video, in which Manoj Bajpayee plays Srikant Tiwari, an Everyman who lives a double life: as a regular father and husband on the one hand, and as a government agent on the other. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Why did you want to make a series about this character?
Raj: We were looking for a common man—a de-glam version of an agent, a middle-class guy who has no perks, no swag. Who is that guy when you remove all the coolness, in terms of high-speed shots and the larger-than-life image, and make an interesting series that has geopolitics as the background?
DK: We have mapped three seasons of the show. We could have written it as a mission in the Kashmir valley. A story about a terrorist plot can be a 2-hour story. But we envisaged it as a show juxtaposing the mundane life of a middle-class man balancing his home, wife, kids and modest income with his job as a spy. The story of this character, whose job is to fight terrorism, lends itself to many plots and layers.
We have seen so many spins on the spy genre. Were you conscious of avoiding stereotypes?
Raj: We were. The starting point was that this guy has a kind of boring, thankless and underpaid job. He treats it like any 9-5 kind of job. Once we had this take, we were very careful not to be derivative. We were cautious to take the genre tropes and localize them.
DK: We also didn’t make the central character heroic, or the only one who can save the day. The other actors have crucial action scenes too.
You both seem very drawn to genre films.
Raj: Yes, we do get drawn to genres, and our feature work does reflect that. But since we are doing long format for the first time, we wanted to take a subject that we could delve into deeper and wider and thus explore several ideas and concepts. We do make genre-leaning films, or we try to change the canvas. So if it was the city in Shor In The City, it is geopolitics in The Family Man. We try to do something with that genre, and, in this case, we have an earthy, indigenous spy series laced with the kind of humour you do not often associate with an agent/spy show.
Where does the humour come from? For instance, the son is a pivot for irreverent gags.
DK: Yes, the boy is a brat. But the satire can also be found in the workplace and in Srikant’s colleagues. For example, his colleague and friend JK says, “Privacy is a myth, just like democracy." That line comes and goes in passing. You see satire in scenes such as the one in which the bomb disposal squad is called in and the guy’s suit is torn. We are a country that is always seeking a quick-fix solution—jugaad—so they use duct tape to repair the rips.
Raj: This stuff is part of the system; we are not building a gag. But when you are writing that bit, you have all these news reports to pick up from.
What were some of the challenges you faced while shooting this? How is it different from a feature film?
Raj: Like always, we shared the film-making process but this time we wrote a lot more before. We were used to handling 2-hour formats where you know the graph and the story, but with a series there are so many sub-plots and characters, and they all have to make sense. It is an awesome yet exhausting process.
DK: The biggest challenge was the writing—that is always true for a series, because the volume is that much more than a film. We had to write more and shoot more, so you shoot differently, choreograph scenes differently. The actors are also better prepared after extensive workshops. A major chunk of the show is set in Kashmir. We had boldly written all kinds of sensitive locations into the script because writing does not cost anything but we had doubts about shooting in Kashmir. One scene was set in Lal Chowk in Srinagar during a curfew. But actually the administration was very welcoming.
Raj: We shot many live action sequences and chases. We had a lot more freedom shooting outdoor locations than we would have had shooting in Mumbai. Mumbai is really tough to shoot in.
There is chatter about a sequel to ‘Go Goa Gone’ and ‘Stree’.
Raj: We do not want to be known as the sequel people, we don’t like sequels. But Go Goa Gone, for example, has such a cult following that even I want to see where those characters are now. We are not the kind of people who mint off a success. But “seasons" are different from “sequels". With the former, you are creating a world. Globally, we have bought into the show format where one decides to be in that world for a while. So we are working on two other shows—one is a wacky, satirical, hilarious show and the other is a high-octane action series. This time, though, we are going to have to split tasks because we also have a film coming up early next year which we are going to direct.
How do you feel about where you are today—10 years after ‘99’?
Raj: We made some nice things and now we can also openly talk about our failures. I am very fond of A Gentleman. Some people liked it and some didn’t. But we wanted to do a Die Hard meets Judwaa. We wanted to make a meta romcom, which we did with Happy Ending. What we make does not have to be driven by the current climate of what kind of films are working.
DK: We have never been good at following trends. We have either tried to break the trend or go against it. We made a zombie comedy when there was no other and a horror comedy when they weren’t otherwise working.
Raj: There were flaws in both A Gentleman and Stree but luckily not many people saw the flaws in the latter. However, we know what they are. We had been subtle about messaging earlier. Someone said Go Goa Gone is the best anti-drug public service announcement. Even Stree was subversive. We were not telling people how to be with women.
DK: In fact, it was saying the opposite. It was telling women how not to be with men. Throughout, across films, the key for us was experimentation, whatever the genre.
Udita Jhunjhunwala is a Mumbai-based writer, film critic and festival programmer.