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'Our intention was never to shock'

Last updated on: March 16, 2023 13:03 IST

'There are people who loved the show and people who have been shocked by it.'

IMAGE: Venkatesh and Rana Daggubati in Rana Naidu.

Suparn Verma wears many hats.

He is a director, screenwriter and dialogue writer.

In 2002, Suparn made his foray into Bollywood as a screenwriter for the Hansal Mehta-directorial Chhal. They continued their partnership with another film in the same year, titled Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai?, which was loosely based on the English film series American Pie.

In 2005, he turned director with Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena starring Fardeen Khan and Feroz Khan.

Suparn has a writer's credit for many Bollywood thrillers like Zameen (2003) and Qayamat: City Under Threat (2003), and Karam (2005).

Fast forward to 2021, Suparn located his best shot in Amazon Prime Video's The Family Man 2, which he co-directed with showrunner duo Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK. The dynamic space of OTT gave the writer-director his well-deserved footing in the world of storytelling.

Suparn is back with the Web series Rana Naidu, starring Venkatesh Daggubati and Rana Daggubati. The first time the uncle-nephew duo is sharing screen space.

The Netflix show is an Indianised version of the American Web series Ray Donovan. Set in Mumbai, Rana Naidu is an action drama centered around the volatile relationship of father-son played by the Daggubatis. Suparn shares directorial responsibilities with Karun Anshuman, the creator of the show.

Talking about their spin on the original show, Suparn tells Mayur Sanap/, "The original first season of Ray Donovan came over a decade ago. So we were now changing it for modern sensibilities, which gave us more freedom and flexibility. But we didn't want to stray far into a different terrain either. To keep all the drama and emotion intact and make it into a mass entertainer was a challenge because that's what we are going after."


How did the idea of an Indian remake of Ray Donovan come about?

Our producer Sunder Aaron was in talks with CBS; they were looking at adopting a format that would lend to Indian sensibilities.

He thought Ray Donovan would be an interesting one, where you take a family from the south of India and bring it to Mumbai, and bring in professional conflict, personal conflict, and a lot of dysfunctional family drama into it.

Karan (Anshuman) and I came on board and we worked on it. We changed the whole scenario to Indian sensibilities.

There's a lot of conflict in this that leads itself to adaptation, where we could play around with the character, storylines, and bring it into a milieu that is completely our own.

What were the challenges to bringing the story into the Indian milieu?

Ray Donovan was made for television, not for OTT.

Television structures are like a five-act structure per episode, with 13 to 14 episodes. Here, we have lesser episodes, which means a concise story and storylines.

The father-son conflict in the original exists, but we heightened it for our sensibilities. To bring the family structure, completely, with the drama and the Hyderabadi milieu into Mumbai (was the challenge). The characters speak in the Dakkhani accent.

Venkatesh's character comes from prison directly, so his accent is never gone. We had dialect coaches.

The original first season of Ray Donovan came over a decade ago. So we were now changing it for modern sensibilities, which gave us more freedom and flexibility. But we didn't want to stray far into a different terrain either.

To keep all the drama and emotion intact and make it into a mass entertainer was a challenge because that's what we are going after.

We didn't want to keep it subtle; we wanted to play in a way that it was more hard-hitting.

Rana Naidu team.

IMAGE: Suparn Verma with Venkatesh, Karan Anshuman and Rana Daggubati. Photograph: Kind courtesy Suparn Verma/Instagram

You are working with superstar Venkatesh for the first time in your career. What was that experience like?

He is the hardest working person I know.

He would be nervous before every shot, working harder every day, pushing himself and never ever allowing himself the liberty of being pleased with something.

After every shot, he would look up behind the monitor to see if I was happy or not. He was always striving for perfection.

Honestly, there is so much to learn from him. Also, he is one of the biggest stars in the country.

The biggest learning that I took away is that he treats it like a job. Being famous is a job for him.

It's not something he takes upon himself as 'Look, I'm so famous.'

No, he takes celebrityhood as a job. Acting is his job.

So he's one of the most grounded people I know.

I know that he takes one month off every year, does his yog, goes into the mountains and spends time with himself.

He is a very simple personality, and that's why his focus is razor sharp.

How comfortable were Venkatesh and Rana with working in Hindi?

Venky sir has already done a couple of Hindi films and Rana made his debut in Hindi with Dum Maaro Dum, Department and stuff.

They understand Hindi very well.

It's not their first language in terms of fluency, but we had the script ready and we also did workshops with them.

Rana Naidu Poster.

IMAGE: The Rana Naidu poster.

Do you see the original many times before you devised a template for this show?

I see it once and then write my own thing, whether it is Rana Naidu or The Good Wife (his next OTT project starring Kajol).

I saw the original just once. You know the core and the basic arc, now you do your own thing because we are not shooting frame-to-frame remakes. We are adapting it.

The casting is terrific. It brings together the uncle-nephew duo Rana and Venkatesh on screen for the first time. How did they come on board?

Rana was looking to make his debut in OTT, and he was pitched the show.

Venky sir was also eager to push himself as an actor and he loved the character of Naga.

When he was explained that this is a very challenging role in terms of something he's never done before, especially because it's going to shatter his image and create a completely new avatar, he was up for the challenge. He wanted to reinvent himself.

He has been playing a certain image for a long time and he wanted to explore himself as an actor.

Suparn Verma on the sets of The Family Man

IMAGE: Suparn Verma with Krishna DK on the sets of The Family Man. Photograph: Kind courtesy Suparn Verma/Instagram

Do share some anecdotes on working with Rana and Venkatesh.

We broke the ice much early on when we did readings with Rana and Venky sir.

One of the things I learned from Manoj Bajpayee is to do the exercise where you have the actors abuse. It takes away inhibitions.

When Venky sir learned about this, he looked at me seriously. He got up, turned his back to me, and then brushed his hair and turned back. He was growling, and in chaste Telugu, he started hurling abuses.

Then he smiled and said that when he came back from America and started his career in Telugu cinema, his Telugu was not completely polished. So, before every take, he would abuse. And then he'd turn to the actor or actress and say sorry, mami (Laughs).

In one of the first scenes we shot with Venky sir, I needed him to be completely distraught and shattered and go in a very, very dark space. We just cracked it early on.

He allows you freedom and surrenders completely.

With Rana, it was great fun.

You are co-directing it with Karan Anshuman. Tell us about this creative partnership.

We did readings with the actors together.

We made our own visual board.

We would discuss ideas of how we're going to shoot, and what the look should be like.

The way we divided was: He would direct all the odd episodes and I'd direct all the even episodes.

Sometimes there would be some scenes which our episode enters going on to the next scene. So those depending on whose schedule it was, he would direct that particular scene.

So honestly, it was two friends directing a show and having a great time.

We have similar views on the craft and on life.

When you leave your ego at home and you come to work with the idea of creating a great show, things just go smoothly.

While the show is praised for its action-packed drama, some feel it has unnecessary abusive language and is too bold for casual viewing. Were you always conscious of this pitch for the show?

I am not surprised by the polarised opinions.

There are people who loved the show and people who have been shocked by it, and enjoyed it eventually.

I agree that the show does push you. It is polarising in nature.

(But) It's not like we did things for effect. Our intention was never to shock people.

The very nature of the subject matter and the show has a certain emotional bend to it that is very in your face.

Also, reviews are subjective because there are all kinds of audiences.

For example, some people will never watch a horror film. Or some will never see a Guy Ritchie film or Quentin Tarantino film because the violence is too much for them.

So, these are genre things.

I am an ex-movie critic myself and so is Karan (Anshuman). Every individual has a different opinion and I respect that.

It's different strokes for different folks.

If art doesn't polarise, what will?

Surveen Chawla In Rana Naidu.

IMAGE: Surveen Chawla in Rana Naidu.

The gaze of the show toward women is also widely criticised and many say it feels exploitative and disturbing. What do you have to say about that?

Firstly, the show deals with very toxic people.

Rana Naidu and Naga Naidu are toxic personalities. They are not your ideal version of a man.

They are not just extremely flawed, but extremely f****d up people, and this is their story.

The world they inhabit is really messed up, and their relationships are the reflection of their personalities.

Secondly, there are women who hold their own against these men and women who don't. So there are all kinds of characters in the show.

It's not a gender thing.

Good people do bad things and bad people do good things. It is a very murky place.

Everyone is broken and flawed and scarred.

Suparn Verma with Manoj Bajpyee.

IMAGE: Suparn Verma and Manoj Bajpayee in The Family Man 2.

After The Family Man 2, you have set a certain benchmark. Does it come with the added pressure that you have to constantly deliver now?

Nobody knows what works and what doesn't work, except for the fact that you just work.

All that is in your hands is working hard and having the best time ever making it.

That's how I treat everything I work on. I do it like it's the first time I'm doing it.

I had the greatest time of my life collaborating with Raj and DK, Manoj and Samantha while working on The Family Man 2, and I had an insanely amazing time working with Venky sir, Rana, Karan, and everybody else during Rana Naidu.

You have been working a lot in Web series space. Are you more comfortable in this zone than films?

Not really. I'm also working on two films.

Films and shows are two different languages, when it comes to how you make it.

Shows give you more creative freedom as you're not bound by an hour-and-a-half, or two hours of storytelling.

The grammar of shows is different from films.

It doesn't hold me back in any way.

I'm lucky that I get to do both.

What can you tell us about season 3 of The Family Man at this point?

Nothing! If I tell you, I'll have to kill you.

But yeah, we're going to start working on it very, very soon.