Neeraj Madhav’s brand new role

The actor is excited about his debut on an OTT platform via Amazon Prime’s new series ‘The Family Man’

As Moosa Rahman in the Amazon Prime 10 episode series The Family Man, which started streaming on September 20, actor Neeraj Madhav steps into unfamiliar territory, both in terms of format (an OTT platform) and language (Hindi). He is also the first mainstream Malayalam actor to appear on a digital platform, giving him company is Priyamani. The series has Manoj Bajpai as an intelligence operative and Neeraj, a terrorist he apprehends.

A new medium and a seasoned cast, he could have been overwhelmed but he holds his own, especially in scenes with Manoj Bajpai, who, Neeraj says, improvises on the fly. Neeraj essays a 24 year old IIT-trained engineer who gets involved with the ISIS. The actor effortlessly shifts gears between portraying the guilt and angst-ridden terrorist yearning to meet his mother to a young man in love or a man motivated by a mission – there is ample scope for performance in this substantial debut outing.

“Acting with Manoj sir was incredible…with each take he throws in a surprise and I enjoyed rising up to the challenge. There are different kinds of co-actors – some don’t enhance your performance and there are others who get a better result out of you. He is one of the latter, who make you want to do more and better.”

Neeraj Madhav’s brand new role

This is a big, and bold, career move for him; he landed the role, in early 2018, when he was looking for something ‘solid’ as actor. “It is mind-blowing that I was considered for a significant role in the series, also that they [the makers] saw potential in my work for something like this,” says the actor over phone. He was at a point when the roles coming his way weren’t demanding much of him as actor. It was as good a time as any to experiment with a new medium.

Neeraj rewinds to 2018 when he got a call from casting director Mukesh Chabbra’s office. Auditioning for a role is unheard of in the Malayalam industry where choosing an actor is more informal or ‘organic’ as Neeraj terms it. Initially he didn’t take the call too seriously, “I had got calls for national level commercials, which didn’t materialise. So I didn’t get too excited about it. I asked to be briefed by somebody on the team, so that I could get a clear idea about the project.” He was also taken in by the fresh take on the subject Srikant Talpade (Manoj Bajpai) is an unlikely spy – not the suave James Bond-type.

A call from one of the directors DK, the series has been directed by DK and Raj, surprised him. They were familiar with his work, 15 minutes into the briefing he fell for his first OTT series hook, line and sinker. “I wanted to do a solid character, as any actor would, and this was it.” The ‘table read’ at the Amazon headquarters in Mumbai where the main characters read their characters dispelled whatever apprehensions he might have had of his role.

When he decided to commit to The Family Man, he asked peers – seniors – what they thought. “Are you going to act in serials?” was one of the questions he was asked. Amazon Prime held two special screenings, of the first two episodes, in two cities – Mumbai and Kochi. Neeraj is floored and happy by the response at the Kochi screening. Since he started posting about it on his Instagram handle, the response from industry peers has been very encouraging.

Clued in on the rising popularity of OTT platforms, he had an inkling of the mediums’ rising popularity in India, “I guessed it would be the next big thing. And if that would be the case, I thought, I would be a pioneer – the first from Malayalam cinema to make an appearance in a digital series,” he laughs. The other Malayali in the series is Dinesh Prabhakar.

Filming took almost a year, which explains his absence from Malayalam films, which he says is his core area. Along the way he was listening to scripts in Malayalam, and committed to two films both of which are due for release soon – Anand Menon’s Gauthamante Ratham and Rajeeshlal Vamsha’s Ka. While The Family Man was being filmed, he was offered the Hindi film Chhichhore, which he couldn’t commit due to date issues.

But Neeraj is not complaining, he took a chance and going by his performance the gamble seems to have paid off.

Shifting gears in Neeraj’s words

I am an instinctive actor. Usually I observe people I know or come across, for inputs for a character. But in this case, not many people know terrorists so that was difficult – this is not a relatable character, so I chose to go with the emotions of the character. The series has Moosa’s perspective too, this is a layered character. It speaks about his inner life and turmoil.

A series such as this gives much scope for performance. A film doesn’t have the luxury of time to explore each character, nor can parallel tracks be developed. But this medium affords freedom for the actor. Each character has an amazing graph and from an actor’s perspective this is exciting.

Raj and DK have told an unbiased story, it is a balanced narrative – cleverly made. What impressed me is the fact that they cast South Indian actors as South Indians. They could have hired actors from Mumbai passed them off as us with fake accents, but they didn’t. For example Priyamani, a good friend, essays Suchi, Srikant Talpade’s Tamilian wife.

Although Hindi is my second language and I can read and write, I wasn’t fluent in speaking it. I brushed it up, I had to since it was sync sound. I had help from assistant directors who would take me through the lines.

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