It almost seemed like South Indian actress Samantha Akkineni had a premonition in January 2021 that her debut Hindi-language web series ‘The Family Man’ would run into a deep controversy.
During a Zoom interview conducted months before her series faced calls for boycott, as some felt it showed Tamilians in a poor light, Akkineni was distinctly succinct about her role in her forthcoming series.
Going by the trailer, Akkineni plays a Tamil rebel who is anti-establishment and is willing to martyr herself for the cause she believes in. It also shows fictional antiterrorism squad leader Srikant Tiwari (an on-point Manoj Bajpayee) who is up against the ‘new face of danger’.
Hashtags such as #ShameOnYouSamantha and #FamilyMan2_against_Tamils began trending on Twitter following the trailer launch in mid-May. Many felt that Akkineni’s militant character and the Tamil community at large was being branded as terrorists. Political leaders in Tamil Nadu even wrote letters seeking the show’s ban.
Akkineni’s character seems to be fighting for an independent state for Ethnic Tamils, a spillover of the 1983 conflict which stemmed in Sri Lanka where government forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) clashed.
But all this information wasn’t gleaned from our interaction with her in January. At that point, Akkineni kept her comments about her role brusque.
It isn’t hyperbolic to assume that Amazon Prime Video’s ‘The Family Man 2’ is one of 2021’s most anticipated crime thriller shows. Its acclaimed first season, which saw Manoj Bajpayee play an undercover anti-terrorist officer tackling militants, was a runaway hit.
While Akkineni, the wife of Telugu superstar Akkineni Naga Chaitanya, didn’t have to audition for the role of Raji she remembers being thrilled about being given this plum acting opportunity.
“He [Chaitanya] was very kicked. He told me to go for it and to take the challenge. Even though I love challenges, this is a whole new ball game. But I am very grateful for the opportunity and am honoured to be a part of this amazing original web series. It’s truly the best introduction to OTT that one could ask for,” said Akkineni. These words were spoken long before any backlash brewed, but being a part of a hit web show with a cult following like ‘The Family Man’ is a jewel in any actor’s crown.
“I can’t imagine playing this role for a mainstream commercial film. I don’t see how that would happen. So OTT platforms have opened up so many opportunities for everyone — not just women — but for everyone. It has allowed for more risk taking,” Akkineni pointed out.
On June 4 with ‘The Family Man 2’ dropping, Akkineni will soon know if her creative gamble paid off or not. Excerpts from our interview with the leading actress from Telugu film industry who’s geared up for her digital debut …
What made you want to be a part of ‘The Family Man 2’?
I signed and began filming its second season even before season one had released. So, I had no idea that this series was going to explode the way it did. All in all, I am a very happy girl. When I signed on to do ‘The Family Man 2’, I was just convinced about who I was going to work with and the role I was playing. But now, I get to be introduced to the OTT Hindi web series world with such a great show. This is one show which is releasing with huge expectations. So it definitely feels amazing.
The first season of ‘The Family Man’ was brilliant and there’s this weight of expectations from its fans towards its second season. You are the new entrant to the show, so do you feel that pressure to deliver?
Yes, I think the pressure will start building closer to its release [this interview was conducted in January 2021]. In fact, even two days back directors Raj & DK [asked]: ‘guys, are you not feeling any pressure?’ But nobody seems to be under any pressure. Even today, I met the entire team and they all seem fine. Perhaps, it’s their knowledge that it’s going to be a great season that’s giving them this calm and composure. The second season is bigger than the first in every department.
What can you tell us about your role?
I wouldn’t call Raji the antagonist of this series. I would not say that about her. It’s just that Srikanth Tiwari [Manoj Bajpayee] and she have different belief systems and different ideologies. But that does not necessarily make her the bad guy. And if I had to say one word about her, it’s that she’s fiercely loyal to her cause. It’s a role that has definitely pushed and challenged me as an actor. I enjoyed being Raji tremendously … Raj & DK have written Raji in a tremendous way. They write such amazing female characters for their projects. At no point, did I have to ask for more. I am a greedy person as an actor, but I did not have to ask for a strong role. They gave it all to me on a platter.
Raji seems to be someone who operates in a grey zone and doesn’t seem to play by society’s rule book …
Exactly. She doesn’t follow what society believes what good and bad and that does not define her actions. Her loyalty based on what the general consensus is around her.
What’s your equation with actors like Manoj Bajpayee and Priyamani?
Unfortunately, I did not get to work with Priyamani. However, working with Manoj sir was absolutely amazing. I remember my first scene with him. It was his close-up first and I was amazed at how incredibly natural he is at his craft. It didn’t feel like he was acting at all. So it was almost like I was tutored on the finesse of his acting abilities.
Unlike other hit web series, ‘The Family Man’ doesn’t have unnecessary violence, gore, or explicit scenes … It’s one show that can be seen with your mother too.
When I always sit at home and I am watching any web series, I am always sitting with my remote because you never know when you need to immediately mute it. In that sense, directors Raj & DK are very sensitive to public sentiments in all ways. They are very intuitive and they really listen. Perhaps, that’s why there is such a mass appeal when it comes to ‘The Family Man’ series.
And, how good is your Hindi?
I am horrible at it. I had to dub the word ‘bahut’ (meaning more in Hindi) at least twenty times and even then my dubbing engineer said I sounded like a South Indian. He kept saying it’s not 'bahoot’ … But I do not speak Hindi a lot in the series and I had to do it only for a few scenes. I speak a lot of Tamil … And for season 1, Moosa spoke in Malayalam right? It’s a very inclusive show. The directors let the actors be themselves and that’s cool.
Don’t miss it!
‘The Family Man 2’ releases on Amazon Prime Video on June 4.