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The overwhelming response to The Family Man feels almost unreal to Manoj Bajpayee. As an undercover agent trying to strike a balance between his job and his family in this web series, he has delivered a wonderfully nuanced performance, leaving critics and viewers awestruck. In conversation with Giridhar Jha, the Bihar-born actor admits that he had never received such adulation in the past. Edited excerpts:
The Family Man has turned out to be a blockbuster web series with its first season. Did you expect such a response?
To be honest, none of us had ever thought that something like this would happen. We had no idea about the reach of OTT platforms or the extent to which they had penetrated. Let alone us, even the people associated with the platform had no clue.
The overall response has been mindboggling. It is always overwhelming whenever you are appreciated by a small or a large audience for your performances, but how The Family Man has evoked reactions from people, cutting across age groups around the globe, is quite amazing. I have never seen anything like it. Even its directors (Krishna D.K. and Raj Nidimoru) are shocked over the way responses are pouring in every day. The number of viewers is growing every weekend and so is the subscription for the platform. The other day I was at an event where people were listening to me as if I were a new Manoj Bajpayee.
Your repertoire boasts of great performances. But this appears to have floored millennials, many of whom may not have watched your best work in the past.
I was at my daughter’s playgroup, where 12-year-olds asked me for a photograph. This is an age group which I believed I had never touched. Three or four boys from that group may not have been there at the time of Gangs of Wasseypur and none of them could have watched Aligarh for sure. For them, I was a new actor they were talking to. I am so happy about that.
You are one of the few actors to take an early plunge into web series. Do you think the success of The Family Man will inspire more actors, including big stars, to do it?
I think The Family Man will give a lot of courage to other film stars to venture into web series, not because an actor like me has done it but because of the tremendous success the show has achieved. They will surely think about getting into it.
Would it not be risky for stars stuck on a particular image? Don’t you have to be a good actor to hold the attention of the fickle and fastidious audience on the web?
Certainly. For a series of ten episodes, you have to be good at what you are doing. You just cannot take even a close-up shot for granted. Like theatre, it tests your ability.
Did you prepare specially for this role? Was it different from the way you go about doing your characters in films?
It is different in the sense that the effort and preparation don’t stop the way it does for characters in feature films. Here you are constantly preparing for the role and going on locations. For three to four months you are doing just that. It is a non-stop process. And if there is a plan or for that matter even a possibility to shoot two or three other seasons, then you cannot afford to leave that character and forget about it. So the process is always on. One has to have that focus and the zeal to get back to it as quickly as possible.
You have often switched from one medium to another. As an actor, do you have to change yourself for different mediums?
For every medium, you have to tweak here and there as per the requirements. When you are doing a two-hour film, it is compact. As an actor, you have to have the intelligence of understanding the advantages or disadvantages of each medium. When you are doing a series like The Family Man, which spans over ten episodes, you know the advantages. You know what comes with it, how much you can do, how much liberty you can take with the length and where you have to drop it. It is all part of the process of doing, constant questioning and answering that becomes important.
Due to the absence of censorship, many filmmakers view OTT platforms as a free-for-all zone and depend on sex and violence for storytelling. But the success of The Family Man underlines the importance of content with strong emotions…
Sex, violence, and abuses, if they are there just to grab eyeballs, they will always fall flat. It will never last. When you are making ten episodes of a web series, how can you make each episode impactful with just sex, violence and cuss words? Your content has to be solid and the characters, their conflicts in relationships or their worlds have to be universal. Even if you are making a local story, the emotions should be universal. Shrikant Tiwari’s fights, struggles, and conflict in relationships are all universal, just the way it happens in the life of an average middle-class guy anywhere in the world. I have been receiving accolades from across the world simply because people are relating to this character.
Apart from your character, what is reponsible for the show’s success?
More than my performance, it is the ensemble cast, which has given its best. The craft of the director duo is being talked about everywhere. How they have shot certain sequences has left many filmmakers puzzled. They are wondering as to how these guys managed to pull off this sequence or that sequence. On top of that, you have to have a great writer on board if you are planning to make such a show for any platform. They are the real heroes on this platform.
The first season has raised expectations high. Is the second season coming soon?
We are in the process of going there.