The Family Man set the bar high. It had (and has) the advantage of the thrill that comes with foiling a terror plot, the nail-biting element where masses of humans must be saved from a bomb.
Economic offences which fund that terror somehow don’t come packaged with the same popularity or excitement. As a cop in the new web series rightly says, “Counterfeit is faceless, so it’s not taken as a serious crime.”
Writer-director team Raj & DK therefore make it more difficult for themselves when they venture with the same zeal into the criminal world of fake currency notes but retain their familiar template of a Hindi film star alongside a big name or two from the south, accent intact. It was Priya Mani as Manoj Bajpayee’s wife and Samantha Prabhu as the terrorist in the 2nd season of The Family Man. The roles are somewhat reversed with Shahid Kapoor as bad boy Sunny, the conman or Artist as he calls himself, with Vijay Sethupathi as Michael Vedanayagam, the cop out to bust the counterfeit racket. More of the north-south masala mix comes from Raashii Khanna (Megha, an RBI officer strangely obsessed with fake currencies) and Regina Cassandra (Rekha, the wife with whom Michael is embroiled in a divorce case).
With Sita Menon and Suman Kumar assisting Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK in the writing, it is a cocktail of crime, crime-busting cops, quirky, flawed lead characters and bits of wit.
There is no ‘Lonavla mein kya hua’ but there’s a minister signing off with ‘Thank you, namaste, Jai Hind’ and the fleeting appearance of someone from The Family Man re-playing his same curious role, prompts a sudden smile. It’s silly but acceptable when Sunny’s BFF Firoz (Bhuvan Arora) drinks chai, liquor, whatever’s on offer or both buddies have an overdose of buns.
But it’s zabardasti humour when a group is named CCFART (Counterfeiting & Currency Fraud Analysis & Research Team). It’s just not comedy when Megha, on unauthorised rounds of printing presses with a torch, is stonewalled with, “There’s a ghost running the machine…”. It’s also downright annoying and not one bit funny when Michael takes his young son out and feeds him with street food that gives him diarrhoea.
Fitting in well are terms like ‘Dhanrakshak’ which sifts the fake from the counterfeit, or ‘sandwich note’ and ‘super note’. But lengthy, uninteresting footage on how to make a counterfeit note is like a DIY class you haven’t signed up for.
The banter between Michael and the Minister (Zakir Hussain) is brazenly subtle and great fun especially since Vijay Sethupathi pulls it off with trademark nonchalance. But it’s tiresome when Raj & DK use too many over-familiar tracks. Resistance from the higher-ups to sanction a team and pulling up the rule-breaking hero-cop at regular intervals, a cop with drinking and marital problems, bumbling cops on the road, a master criminal grappling with English words, boring interviews for a receptionist, police station indifference to those without connections… The list is long.
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Perhaps a look at a few of the characterisations will give a clearer picture of the flawed and the fabulous.
Sunny: Shahid Kapoor makes his OTT debut with experienced ease, his body language languorous like his casual clothes. It starts off believably with two kids, Sunny and Firoz, putting price tags on the stuff rich people sport. But justifying crime because of a system that sucks (“The system screwed us, we’ll rip it apart”) is not only an overdone reason but also doesn’t fetch sympathy points for Sunny. With a roof over his head, a decent education and a loving Nanu (Amol Palekar) putting food on the table, Sunny’s constant gripes about needing a revolution to break the system, ring farzi. The oft-used “I’m doing it for grandpa,” also doesn’t land as an acceptable reason for turning criminal. “It’s your father’s criminal genes,” admonishes his Nanu. Perhaps that explains it. Especially when Sunny himself remarks, “I don’t feel guilty” about taking so easily to crime.
Again, on the one hand, it’s a compelling premise for a naturally gifted artist to design the perfect ‘super note’ that beats even the Dhanrakshak.
But when Sunny is inducted by the head of the racket, Mansoor Dalal (Kay Kay Menon), solely for his talent as an artist, why he’s pulled up for a slow distribution network or how he turns killer like a seasoned gunman doesn’t add up neatly.
Towards the end, Sunny’s conscience waking up over deceiving his girlfriend, is credible as contradictions do make a human out of a hero.
Nanu or writer and super artist Madhav (Amol Palekar), the editor-publisher of ‘Kranti’ which nobody reads, miring the printing press in a heap of debts, brings a soft touch to Sunny’s life. But your heart doesn’t go weeping over Nanu’s largely self-inflicted problems, like impractically sticking to his revolutionary opinions on social change even if nobody’s interested in buying it. The woes of the media that won’t march with changing times are outdated.
A mother feeding a grown-up child varan-baath (dal-chawal) with her fingers has been used from time immemorial as the epitome of maternal love but overuse over the years has drained it of its potential to make you choke with emotion. So the many references to Sunny’s mother stir nothing in the view.
It’s also too convenient to have Nanu veer between dementia and clarity, much like the printing press that hums with activity in spurts.
Nanu comes up with lines like, “Between a masterpiece and mess is just one stroke” but his presence is like the garnish of kothmir on a dish. It looks nice but adds little to the core taste.
Michael (Vijay Sethupathi): He handles quirk like Kay Kay Menon – with organic seamlessness. His scenes with Mansoor’s henchman and his bantering with minister Pavan Gahlot (Zakir Hussain) are quite a chuckle. Gahlot is the quintessential politician, ready for a good photo op with the ubiquitous “elections are around the corner.” It takes a bit for the non-south viewer to get used to an overweight Vijay’s pronounced accent but he grows on you, making one understand why his screen presence matters so much to filmmakers.
But there’s inconsistency. For a cop who’s so passionately invested in busting the counterfeit syndicate that’s ruining the country’s economy, why would he help himself to fake notes to pay his bills? Is it to establish him as so unpredictably quirky that despite his mission, he’ll help spread fake currency notes in the market? It’s neither funny nor convincing.
Megha (Raashii Khanna), adding to the overdose of rule-breakers in the series: Her boss at RBI tells her, “We’re analysts, not James Bond”. Her being a numismatist and currency notes collector who has studied the work of renowned counterfeits Wesley Weber, Art Williams and Stephen Jory, doesn’t quite explain why she’s so single-minded about checkmating the fake currency racket.
Despite the many flaws, excellent performances from an efficient cast, a challenging premise different from Pak-sponsored serial blasts, nice relationships, and a light touch make Farzi watchable.
Some may crib that except for one short scene between Sunny and Michael, there’s no confrontation between the two north-south talents. But that’s one of the many windows that Raj & DK keep open for Season 2 and more.
A passing suggestion for the makers. The next time around, avoid the tired and do sparkle with more original tracks, please. Thank you, namaste, Jai Hind.
Watch Farzi Trailer:
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