The show’s second season of ‘The Family Man’ has turned out to be the biggest hits of this year on OTT. In a candid chat with Prateek Sur, filmmaker Suparn Verma opens up about the reception of the new season, the inception of Chellam Sir, being Manoj Bajpayee’s Chellam Sir, brown facing Samantha Akkineni, and how the Lonavala scene became such a talking point. Excerpts:
‘The Family Man 2’ has turned out to be a sensational hit. After season 1’s success did you expect this much of a craze for season 2?
We had written the show’s second season and begun shooting before season one was even released. We knew we had a good thing on our hands. So, when the show came out, we knew we had something nice. I feel proud of it. I am very proud of it in terms of the response. It's honestly been very humbling and overwhelming at the same time. It has been insane. It's still going strong, which is even more insane. It feels nice.
What portions did you direct?
So, we divided the show between us wherein they would be directing four episodes and I will be directing five. There were times when because of some location issues, I would direct a part of their episodes and they would direct some portions of my episodes. We were making a show holistically. So, there was nothing like yours and mine, it was like raising a child together. Raj and DK have been friends with me long before they came to India. DK in fact is a neighbour of mine. We share a love for cinema, a common taste in movies and politics. And this series was something that we had been planning for a long time, we had collaborated in the past but those were small projects. They are without a shadow of a doubt, the best producers out there.
Chellam Sir became a massive success this year. Whose brainchild was that character of Chellam sir?
Chellam sir was there initially in one scene because we needed a bridge between Manoj's character and Bhaskaran. But as we kept writing Chellam sir kept evolving and kept coming back and the character had a life of its own.
When I spoke to Manoj Bajpayee he said, that Suparn Verma is my Chellam sir as he has the answers to everything. Whenever I am stuck I go to him. Did you end up giving a lot of advice to Manoj on how to do a particular scene or something?
Manoj and I have known each other for over a decade now. We worked together in ‘Acid Factory’, we became friends, and have been constantly in touch. He has been an inspiration and a mentor to me and he trusts me a lot. He is someone who feeds my hunger for knowledge.
If you’re Manoj Bajpayee’s Chellam Sir, who is your Chellam sir in real life? Whom do you go to for advice whenever you’re stuck?
My Chellam sir is Nikhil Lakshman, the editor of Rediff.
A lot of people said that PM Basu’s character was modelled on Mamata Banerjee. Is it true? Did you’ll write it keeping her in mind?
Not exactly. PM Basu's character was not based on any single person in particular. When you write a character it has to be across seasons. The PM's character is not left, she is not right, she is a mix of both which is the most important thing. Smriti Irani, Sushma Swaraj, Mamta Banerjee, Mayawati, and many others – you see a bit of each of them in this character.
A lot of criticism also came your way where people said that you resorted to brown facing to pass Samantha Akkineni off as a Tamil rebel. What do you have to say to such harsh comments?
Raj and DK have also spoken about this before. The character inhabits the Sri Lankan jungles. So, for that character to live in the sun of Sri Lanka there had to be some authenticity lent to it. For this reason, we did it in a certain way. And needless to say, Samantha pulled off one hell of a performance.
I have to admit that the scene where Ashlesha Thakur, the little girl, kills the other terrorist boy that’s my absolute favourite. But as a director what was your brief to her, because from what I can imagine it must have been very challenging to get her into that dark space? How did you convince her and what did you tell her to get that performance out of her?
We spoke with her about the scene. She understood what's going to happen and how the scene will unfold. We got a lot of raspberry juice and she tasted a lot of it also (laughs). Ashlesha Thakur is one of the most brilliant actresses emerging out of our country. She will be literally a gift to cinema because she understands the depth of the character and the scene which she is a part of. Raj, DK, and I kind of raised a canopy around her to extract the performance and she gave it all because she's a very emotionally intelligent girl and understands the nuances. As for the scene, it was challenging to shoot for a variety of reasons, in terms of getting the right performances. It was a very emotional scene and was heavy on the technical side because the physical space was very constrained. But, we made our way through it courtesy of our technical team and the actors. Ashlesha is definitely someone to look out for.
If you had to make the same show with a woman in the helm of it all, like ‘A Family Woman’, who do you think would be the perfect actress to play the lead role of Srikant Tiwari?
I'd say, Vidya Balan.
I cannot let you go without asking you about the infamous Lonavala scene. Do you think the scene wouldn’t have made that much noise if Srikant would be the one who would be doing the assumed cheating on his wife? As everyone would just pass it off saying he is doing it for the country.
That's exactly what I said in one of the earlier interviews. It was in MAMI's workshop that we discussed this in that if a man does it, nobody questions him or nobody wants to know. So, I guess these are our double standards as a society. Why can't a woman have her own life, why can't she have her own choices, why can't she be free to do what she wishes.
Would you ever reveal what happened at Lonavala or would you just keep the audience hanging for that answer even in season 3?
If it was on me, I would never reveal that. I think we should rather not answer that question (and let the audience be hanging). When we reach the end of episode 10 of season 3, maybe then we will know (if we’re revealing or not). So, let's see how it unfolds from there.
While you guys did give a sneak peek at the end about season 3, have you guys already started penning the story or the script?
Raj and DK have an idea. We are still thinking about it, talking about it. They are currently busy shooting a web series with Shahid Kapoor. They will come back to us, then we will be back in the room and we will soon begin the work.