There is nothing farzi about the Farzi makers who with their recent outing have firmly established themselves as the masters of the format. And the way things are going, 2023 might just be the year of RAJ&DK supremacy. Their next release this year will be Guns & Gulaabs, which will be followed by Gulkanda Tales. They are also writing and developing the third season of Family Man. And they have begun shooting Citadel–their international project with the Russo Brothers—with Varun Dhawan and Samantha. That’s five very different web series in one single year.
The USP of Raj and DK is that they don’t stick to a particular style or genre. In Family Man they subverted the tropes of the traditional spy genre swapping the suave and womanizing James Bond with Shrikant Tiwari, a rather haggard middle-class married guy saddled with an unhappy wife, an off-key bansuri vaadak son, and a randomly rebellious daughter. Instead of hi-tech gadget-laden ultra-expensive cars, they make their family man run behind criminals and at best hitch a scooter ride.
While Family Man was a total departure from a ‘Bollywood hero’ with the superlative Manoj Bajpayee playing Shrikant Tiwari, their next series Farzi can be regarded as their most ‘Bollywoodish’ project so far with a stylish Shahid Kapoor playing the protagonist, Sunny (unlike Srikant, Sunny even gets a proper filmy car chase scene, but in true Raj&DK humor, he get stuck in the Mumbai traffic). His character arc in the first season might even remind one of the quintessential origin stories of the Angry Young Man of the ‘70s and ’80s Bollywood.
But Sunny is not your regular Angry Young Man choosing the path of crime to escape poverty and class discrimination. Yes, Sunny wants to make so much money that he wouldn’t have to ever think about it. However, his main motivation behind choosing his profession of that as a counterfeiter is not money but achieving artistic excellence. He wants to create that perfect piece of art—the perfect fake note.
“He wants to make money so that he can focus on his art. The irony is that he can’t claim credit for his work. Sunny takes up Mansoor’s [Kay Kay Menon] offer so that he can have a bigger platform to showcase his art and he calls himself Artist so that at least people in the world of counterfeiting know him as one. Getting credit for one’s work is crucial, we all struggle for it. He is also rebelling against society through his art, he is overcoming his angst through his art,” points out DK.
“We have seen regular people turn to crime to make money–there are so many stories about scamsters, smugglers, peddlers—but an artist becoming a con guy adds an exciting new layer to it; there is a kind of poetic justice,” Raj chimes in. In fact, it is what makes Farzi such a delicious watch.
Much like Sunny, this filmmaker duo is also out to create perfect specimens of art and they don’t want to confine their expertise to a particular genre or style. Their filmography is a delectable and experimental smorgasbord that constantly teases and surprises your taste buds. “We don’t want to repeat a style. As creators, we are always striving to make something new. After Shor in the City, people said we should do more such gritty dramas; we did a zombie movie instead. Then we did Stree and horror comedy became a thing. We moved on to Family Man next. The idea is to keep moving ahead and keep challenging ourselves. We don’t want to become a factory churning out movies/shows,” says the duo.
And like Sunny, they leave a subtle signature on their works and it is manifested through their breezy storytelling, intricate detailing, socio-political awareness, and their heady sense of humor that ranges from satire, biting sarcasm, and dark humor to a more simplistic and light-hearted tongue-in-cheek variety.
We catch up with the Farzi makers at their Andheri office to talk about art, cinema, and the importance of authenticity. Excerpts:
We already have Shrikant Tiwari’s voice making an appearance in Farzi, are we looking at a Farzi-Family Man, a RAJ&DK cop universe, next? Also, couldn’t this story be part of Family Man? Why create a new series?
DK: We love building fresh new worlds. The world of Farzi is very different from that of Family Man—one is about the rise of an artiste into the world of counterfeiting and a cop’s dogged pursuit of him, while the other is about issues related to national security, terrorism, and the intelligence agents—these run parallel to each other. Yes, we definitely see a crossover. But it was not written as a cop universe. In fact we had the idea of Farzi even before we started Family Man.
Raj: The term ‘universe’ is thrown around a lot these days, but we didn’t have any such thing in mind. While we were shooting Farzi we decided to pepper a few references of Family Man here and there as general hooks. These are two worlds but an inhabitant of one can definitely appear in the other. But we are not really the sequel guys; we are always striving to create something new and fresh. Be it Stree or Go Goa Gone, we really don’t want to make sequels. We don’t want to milk the success of one project. Yes, we will make a very strong Family Man Season 3. It is our responsibility towards the fans of Family Man.
The bits about how Sunny makes the fake notes are so elaborate that those can double up as a DIY Youtube video on counterfeit notes! It is also a masterclass on how to utilize the longer web series format. But why did you choose to get into so many specific details?
Raj: We had to be detailed so that you buy into this world of counterfeiting. We could have wrapped it up in a 2-minute montage… it is something we usually see in Hindi movies. We didn’t want to take that route. It is a series and we wanted to use the longer format it to show how each step is cracked. We wanted to make it authentic; we wanted people to believe that a guy with a small printing press can pull this off. But we skipped three important steps, we had to be responsible!
DK: Also, it is a specialized crime. It is not that anybody with the know-how can create such a note. You need artistic talent like Sunny’s. Then you need printing knowledge that is serendipitously available to him. The unique collusion of multiple elements has created this counterfeiter. Maybe if all of these things hadn’t come together Sunny would be doing something else for money.
While Family Man, Shrikant Tiwari was a regular common man who didn’t look or behave like a hero at any given point, Farzi can also be seen as a quintessential Bollywood origin story of the ‘Angry Young Man’ hero. Shahid’s Sunny the ‘Artist’ can very well be Amitabh Bachchan’s Vijay. Was this intentional?
DK: We wanted to give two perspectives of the contemporary middle-class world. Shrikant Tiwari is a father and a husband, who fights for the country. It is about middle-class family dynamics set against a larger backdrop of national security. Farzi is about the angst of the upcoming younger generation of middle-class families who have the talent but the system is failing them, they don’t have enough opportunities, they don’t get the recognition they deserve, and they are struggling to create their identity.
Raj: Of course, he is an angry youngster and his angst is not just the angst of a middle-class youth but that of an artist not getting his due. But it is not about the revival of the ‘Angry Young Man’. It might be in our subconscious as we have all grown up watching those movies. But for us, Farzi is about the angst of an artist. Morality is the theme we are playing with here.
Talking about an artiste’s angst, we have seen the same but in very contexts in films like Chup and The Menu, do you think it is something that has become more acute and relevant in today’s times with the validity of art becoming dependent on social media ticks and influencer approvals?
DK: For me, it is biographical, it comes from my life. I come from a family of singers and musicians. Although my aunt eventually became a renowned singer and was conferred the Padma Shri, not all got their due. I used to be fascinated by the musicians who played with her, they were so good, but they hardly got their due. I have seen great artistes struggle to make ends meet all through my life. The struggle of the artiste is not confined to a particular geographical location or time period.
Raj: It took us 4/5 years to get out first film out. Even though we knew very well that we had a solid screenplay, nobody was willing to produce it because they didn’t know us. We are surrounded by struggling artistes. Look at Bhuvan Arora [Firoz in Farzi] or Sharib Hashmi [JK in Family Man]—we are applauding their rise now, but look at those years of struggle that have preceded this recognition. So, of course, there is pent-up angst. Adding to this, today art is increasingly being evaluated by its commercial prospect. As Sunny says early on in the show today it is not about creating great art but about what gets you fame.
You are working extensively in the web series space. How do you see the future of the format and do you think web series require a more customised filmmaking grammar that will be more conducive for phone viewing?
Raj: Slowly it is becoming a product instead of a piece of art. Films are content now. I am ok with it because you need to keep up with the times. But we won’t make a series or film thinking if it be viewed on a mobile screen or that of a movie theatre. I think the creator should tell the story the way they want, but if they want to make it a bit phone-friendly or take extra care of the daylight, and things like that, it is their call. There are many series made solely for phone viewing, but we have not reached there yet.
DK: While we acknowledge that the person might be watching our show on a mobile device, as creators I think it is our responsibility to provide a great experience to a person watching it in the best available device—if you are watching it on a big screen with optimum quality sound output, you will of course have a great experience, but even on the smallest of the screens and with patchy sound, it will retain its charm. It will be shame if you make it for a smaller screen, like that of a mobile phone, and then it looks horrible when shown on the big screen. The attempt should be at attaining the peak potential. Art should be accessible to all, that’s the point.
Also, today even when the theatrical releases are getting an OTT release and a part of the audience will always watch it on a mobile device. You can’t make something thinking about screen size. Same is true for the production quality and the budget. Spectacular shows like Game of Thrones are lavishly mounted; A Grey Man as big an experience as a Mission Impossible.
What can you tell us about your international project Citadel? How would the show connect to Russo Brothers’ original Citadel?
Raj: We have started shooting with Varun and Samantha. There are four complete and independent series set in four different parts of the world. You can watch them individually but they are also linked in a bigger universe, they are calling it a global event series.
DK: Basically, it is what Farzi is to Family Man. The American show might have its tentacles into the Indian one but the Indian one is its own original show—it is not an adaptation or a prequel, or a sequel. It is an entirely different show set in the same larger universe.
Raj: This is the first time we are collaborating with anyone. It’s always been DK and I.
DK: And suddenly we are collaborating with who? The Russo Brothers. It is just crazy right!
Raj: It is great working with them and their writers and showrunners. It is good to see how a show is developed there, how their almost 25-year-old well-oiled machinery works, and how we have been reinventing the wheel. When we started with Family Man, we had to figure out everything from scratch.
So, it seems you have five web series, including Farzi and Citadel this year …
DK: That’s what we did during the pandemic, we worked every single hour (laughs)
What can you tell us about the other three?
DK: We have Guns and Gulabs releasing next. We are still in the process of writing and developing the third season of Family Man and hoping that the audience would allow us some time with it now that they have already got Farzi. And then we have Gulkanda Tales.
Raj: Everyone is making historicals these days, so we also thought of giving it a shot. But this has our twist to it. It is set in the 5th century and is high satire, and is shot beautifully. We have co-written and produced it. We are the showrunners. Rahi Anil Barve [director of Tumbbad] has directed it. This will be a whacky one!