The Kerala actor plays a Malayali terrorist in Mumbai in the Amazon Prime series, with Manoj Bajpayee in the lead.

From Mollywood to acting in The Family Man Neeraj Madhav interviewNeeraj Madhav in 'The Family Man' / Courtesy: Instagram
Flix Interview Saturday, October 05, 2019 - 14:47

Everything else seems familiar – the curly hair, the beard, the thin frame, the desperate look in the eye. Only the language he speaks is different. Neeraj Madhav, looking injured and hurt is speaking Hindi – fast and fluent. Not Malayalam. This is a scene from The Family Man, a much-discussed series streaming on Amazon Prime, with Manoj Bajpayee in the lead. And Neeraj is playing a Malayali terrorist in the Indian web series.

Neeraj has been a noted actor in Malayalam since Drishyam – he played the naïve assistant to Mohanlal in the acclaimed movie, remade later into Tamil and Telugu. He got picked up for comedies, a role in Sapthamasree Thaskaraha, making him a favourite sidekick. He didn’t stick to comedy though, picking up serious roles (a student leader in Oru Mexican Aparatha, a techie in Oozham); and suddenly turned to scriptwriting for a movie called Lava Kusha as well. And then, just as quickly, he moved back to acting – appearing as a lead in a movie.

Two weeks ago, Neeraj quietly popped up in The Family Man, introduced as the meek one among the lot, the soft guy trapped among bad ones.


Neeraj in The Family Man

“It is quite a challenging character. You need to watch all the episodes in the series to understand how dynamic the character is,” Neeraj shares, in an interview with TNM. He is right. Moosa – the terrorist he plays -- is not a character you can afford to ignore. In the first few episodes Moosa is in a hospital room, treated for a bullet injury. But you can’t write off his character yet, even as on the other side Srikant Tiwari (Manoj Bajpayee) and his colleagues of an intelligence agency are doing important work.

The call that made it happen

The offer to act in The Family Man came via a call from a casting agency, Neeraj says. “They wanted an audition. I wanted to know what it is and asked if someone on the crew could brief me. That’s when DK (Krishna DK), one of the directors called!”

Krishna and Raj Nidimoru, who have made such films such as Shor in the CityGo Goa Gone and others, are the creators of the series.

“DK said we would like to have you on board, we just need to test your language skills,” Neeraj says. And that wasn’t a problem, because, having learnt it in school as a second language, Neeraj could speak, read and write it.

“In 20 minutes, he explained where my character fits into the plot. I fell for it. There are so many layers to the character, it is just so exciting. It is like nothing I have done before,” Neeraj says.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

*Please read till the end * To have one of your movies gearing up for release is a very special feeling. There’ll be a lot of excitement, anxiety and many other mixed emotions. But there’s always this big concern... will anyone show up to theatre for the FDFS! But this time it’s different for me. Just this once, I don’t have to worry about the number of people coming to theatres, instead this time the cinema is coming to you! Well technically it’s a 10 episode ‘series’, but to me it’s just a big cinema! My first Bollywood venture. And this time you don’t have the excuse to miss it in theatres cos it’s already coming to your phones, tablets or whatever streaming device you have. So just subscribe to Amazon prime if you haven’t already, your not just paying to watch my series alone you have 100 other options as well. So tell me you’re going to binge watch this one with me. The Famiy Man streaming on Amazon Prime video from Tonight, do not miss it ! @primevideoin @familymanamazon

A post shared by Neeraj Madhav (@neeraj_madhav) on

 

And of course there was Manoj Bajpayee, an actor who will enhance better other actors’ performance too, says Neeraj. “For every retake, he delivers an entirely different performance, and you have to step up to keep up with him,” he notes.

Playing a terrorist

Neeraj can’t say a lot about his character without revealing the plot. But he understands the implications of playing a terrorist. At the time of the interview, the RSS, through its publication Panchajanya, had raised objections against the content of The Family Man, especially over dialogues of a woman character who is colleague of Srikant Tiwari, for referring to Kashmiris as those oppressed by the Indian state.

Neeraj counters that as an actor, he doesn’t have propaganda. “We are playing a character. In the media, you read about terrorists as brainless monsters. It is true that they seem inhuman through their actions. The writers have, however, decided to look at Moosa as a person, and why he became who he did. They have given perspective, a humane side to the character.”

In that way, The Family Man bears similarity to another noted series – Mindhunter which streams on Netflix. Based on real life incidents, the series shows two FBI agents who interview criminals – serial murderers and rapists – to understand why their psychology and ultimately prevent such crimes in the future. Neeraj, who has followed the series, agrees. He has been watching a few on Amazon and Netflix – The ExpanseThe BoysStranger Things among them – and understood the potential of streaming services. So he had no qualms about jumping in when the call from Krishna came.

 

 

“Of course I wouldn’t have taken it up if the character had nothing much to do (someone asked me after watching the trailer – it is good you are acting with Manoj Bajpayee but it looks like you’d vanish soon enough?). But this character had so much in it, and on different levels. One, I didn’t have a reference – when we do other characters, we might have a friend or someone we know to refer. But no one knows a terrorist. I am also more of an instinctive guy, I don’t research much but rely on my instincts. Two, I understood that hardly anyone from Malayalam had gotten into a streaming platform, and I might be the first to go. This was a place I could prove myself as an actor.”

Malayalam opportunities

There was another risk: he’d have to let go of many opportunities in Malayalam to do The Family Man. He even lost the chance to act in a Bollywood film, Chhichhore, directed by Nitesh Tiwari. “I was to act as a south Indian guy but then there was a date clash. In the end, it came to finishing season 1 of The Family Man and two other commitments in Kerala. I chose those,” says Neeraj.

Not that he had to wait much before newer opportunities came. Surprisingly, calls and messages that have come to him are mostly from outside of Kerala – people impressed by his performance in The Family Man. He, however, has no plan to stray too far from Malayalam cinema.

Neeraj finished shooting two movies this year – Ka, a thriller, and Gauthamante Radham, where he and a nano car play the lead. Before these two, Neeraj played lead in a movie called Paipin Chuvattile Pranayam.

Someday he will write again, he says. That had been the original plan. His graduation in SRM, Chennai, and a course at the School of Drama were all with specialisations in direction, not acting. But acting is what happened – like choreography did once, accidentally. “I love dancing but I don’t see it as a profession,” he says. 

Also read: 'Jallikattu' review: Lijo Pellissery's magical film will leave you breathless

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