What makes The Family Man 2 more appealing to a diverse audience rather than the show's usual targeted audience is its cosmopolitan nature.
The second season of The Family Man has reignited the debate about representation in mainstream pop culture in India. The showrunners received praise for casting appropriately throughout the season. And it has been one of the strong suits of the show since season one.
Take, for instance, Suchitra. Her character is a Tamil girl who is married to a Hindi-speaking guy in Delhi. And the showrunners didn’t rope in a well-known Bollywood actor to play the character. Remember, how Shah Rukh Khan perpetuated south Indian stereotypes by playing a curd eating, heavily-accented, unnecessarily timid Tamilian living in the UK in Ra.One? Aiyo, who can forget that?
Only, you don’t hear Suchitra or any other character from Tamil background reducing their identity to obsessively prefixing ‘aiyo’ to every conversation they begin. Suchitra comes across as a strong-willed, independent, educated, smart, and modern working woman because Priyamani could really connect with the cultural background of the character as opposed to falling back on known stereotypes.
Now let us consider how Deepika Padukone portrayed Meenalochni Azhagusundaram in Chennai Express (2013). Interestingly, Deepika had the benefit of growing up in Bengaluru, which is a melting pot of cultures. And that means she must have had plenty of opportunities to interact with people from various cultural and language backgrounds at least once during her formative years. And yet, when she got an opportunity to bring to life a Tamil-speaking girl in a Bollywood film, instead of getting real, she got lousy, superficial and delivered an ill-informed performance. How can she explain her atrocious accent? In which part of Tamil Nadu do people speak in that accent?
It seems Bollywood is stuck in the 1960s. It seems for most actors and filmmakers, Mehmood’s Master Pillai in Padosan is the ultimate reference point to writing and portraying a South Indian character. We can understand back in the day, there may not have been a lot of awareness about the sprawling diversity of south India, which consists of five states and two union territories. Each state has its own rich and distinct social and linguistic background.
And about five decades later, we still have some successful filmmakers, who are unwilling to acknowledge the evolution of south India, which has produced some powerful CEOs in the world (Google’s Sundar Pichai, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella). And yet some filmmakers, for the sake of a few laughs, prefer to believe that all Rajinikanth fans wear lungis to dance floors. It is as if they have not met a single south Indian in person.
Now, stereotypes remain an important part of comedy culture. But, stereotypes stop being funny when they are done without any sort of awareness. If people are still laughing at unclever stereotypes, chances are they find the breathtaking level of ignorance of some creators humorous.
However, The Family Man 2 creators Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, popularly known as Raj and DK, have done a solid job assimilating two different languages and cultures. They have even debunked a few stereotypes in the process. Given that majority of the story takes place in Chennai, they have cast some highly talented Tamil actors. Ravindra Vijay as Muthu Pandian, an officer with the National Investigation Agency, and filmmaker-actor Uday Mahesh, as seasoned spy Chellam, seasoned comedy and character artist Devadarshini, as Chennai cop Umayal, have all become fan favourites as they have brought a cultural edge to their respective characters, which actors from the Hindi heartland could never have mimicked.
And Raj and DK were quite wise getting Samantha Akkineni to play highly-trained rebel Rajyalakshmi Sekaran aka Raji. She is very convincing as a smothering force of nature who could unleash a trail of destruction at a moment’s notice. And then there was Mime Gopi as Bhaskaran Palanivel and the very talented Azhagam Perumal as Deepan. These actors gave memorable performances because they were able to connect with their characters not just spiritually but ethnically as well.
What makes the show more appealing to a diverse audience rather than the show’s targeted audience is its cosmopolitan nature. Raj and DK have not limited the usage of the Tamil language to benefit the Hindi-speaking viewers. In a way, Tamil is spoken to an extent where it feels like an original Tamil series with a few characters from the Hindi heartland. And that must have made many Tamil audiences connect with the show easily.
The cultural connection between an actor and the character he or she plays is vital. So much so that the connection would allow the actor to deliver a performance of a lifetime or simply ruin a highly potent and lovable character. The mainstream Hindi film industry, especially, has taken the subject of diversity in terms of character representation very lightly so far. And finally, in 2021, we are seeing the winds of change that would, sooner than later, diversify the entertainment industry as diverse as the country itself.
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