Manoj Bajpayees over two-decade-long career in Bollywood is peppered with many markers of significance, including a Padma Shri, two National awards and four Filmfare awards. But, as I chat with the star, I realise he is very grounded. He is even on a first name basis with his neighbourhood vegetable vendor. My wife and I buy from her every other morning after our walk, he tells me, matter-of-factly.
At 50, Bajpayee knows a thing or two about balancing the various aspects of his life, which makes him perfect to play the role of a man juggling his middle-class life with that of a spy, in Amazon Prime Videos new show, The Family Man. The trailer on the streaming site shows his character, Srikant Tiwari, timidly applying for a home loan and forgetting to pick up his kids from school, while, away from his family, he is chasing terrorists and working to thwart an attack on India. I found it quite relatable and, yet, unique. Srikant is an unassuming middle-class guy, striving to find a balance between a demanding family and an [equally] demanding job. It is a tribute to all the common people of this world, says the actor. Directed by the talented duo of Raj (Nidimoru) and (Krishna) DK, the series also stars Priyamani, Gul Panag, Sharib Hashmi and Sharad Kelkar, among others.
Action becomes him
This isnt Bajpayees first time playing an intelligence officer. Hes essayed similar roles in films like Special 26 and Naam Shabana. But, in The Family Man, fast-paced action is more often than not interspersed with the everyday, including situations that seem almost farcical. In one of the most middle-class dad scenes in the trailer, Tiwari is distracted by a text from work while his daughters school principal is lecturing him. Thats a fun scene and a perfect example of him trying to balance these two worlds. He is in the middle of chaos and has to get back to work, but this principal wants to talk about his daughters behaviour. He is stuck; he doesnt know what he should prioritise at that moment, says Bajpayee, adding, I am just so happy that better sense prevailed when this show came my way and I chose to be a part of it.
The actor has previously spoken about how hed stayed away from the digital space because of shows with an overdose of sex and violence; he wanted to wait for something unique. But, when I bring up recent talk about censoring OTT platforms in India, he immediately asks, How would you censor the web? It is free-for-all. I know... there is too much sex and violence, but Im confident the audience will get bored of this soon. People want good content, so the correction will happen by itself. It shouldnt be forced.
This is not Bajpayees first foray into the digital space, however. He has been part of two shorts Shirish Kunders psychological thriller Kriti and Devashish Makhijas Taandav, where he played a foot-loose cop that went viral. The Family Man, however, marks his dbut into the world of long-format content. It is so hard, he says. You need to know the whole show and the graph of your character perfectly. There is a lot of homework and preparation required. Also, shows take longer to make, which means you are living with that character for longer. Among the actors he is inspired by (in this genre) is Bryan Cranston, who played Heisenberg on the acclaimed show, Breaking Bad. What about his favourite shows? He lists everything from House of Cards and Narcos to the more recent Chernobyl and Mindhunter.
Bajpayee will be following up the spy-thriller with a crime-thriller, Mrs Serial Killer. A Netflix Original directed by Kunder, the film marks Jacqueline Fernandezs digital dbut. It has shaped up well and Jacqueline has given a lifetime performance in this one, he says. The actor is also awaiting the big screen release of Bhosle, a film where he plays a jaded Mumbai cop who strikes up a friendship with a young girl and her brother.
The Family Man will launch on Amazon Prime Video on September 20.