The series, a spy thriller laced with humour, has emerged as the most watched Amazon Original in India. The Family Man has also won the award for Best Series (Drama) in the second edition of the Critics’ Choice Shorts and Series Awards announced earlier this month.
Popularly known in film circles as Raj and DK, the two complete a decade as filmmakers in Bollywood, after cult hits such as Stree (2018).
It’s been something of a rollercoaster journey for the duo, who are both in their early 40s. Originally from the temple city of Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, Nidimoru and DK first met while studying engineering in their hometown. DK studied computers, Nidimoru opted for mechanical engineering. This was in 1994.
They’d partner for various intercollege fests, bagging prizes while maintaining good grades, being “everything their parents could ask for,” they say (they insist on being quoted as a team). They later went for higher studies to the United States, and in the Indian tradition of seeking jobs there, settled into professional lives as tech consultants. “We were doing well, but it was like only one side of our brain was working. Our hearts were not in it.”
What did give them joy was writing stories, and so they taught themselves filmmaking, editing and scriptwriting. While Nidimoru is all for writing outside the box, DK is the rational and logical half of the team.
After making short films such as Just Me, an eight-minute thriller that was screened in independent film festivals and won awards, they set off to Hyderabad with a script for a full-length feature in hand.
In Hyderabad, they say, “a well-established Telugu actor” told them that while he loved their script, he would like to do a “more commercial” film with them first. Set in 1999, in the backdrop of betting controversies in cricket, the script focused on two small-time crooks. Such a story hadn’t been taken up earlier, largely because, as Nidimoru and DK put it, “there was no precedent for it”. There was no precedent for a hero who was an Everyman in settings so familiar it could be your own neighbourhood.
After some similar reactions in Bollywood, the film was finally made with Kunal Khemu, Cyrus Broacha and Soha Ali Khan. It was called 99. Days before its release in 2009, a well-meaning member of their crew told them, “This is a really funny and well-crafted film, but I just wanted to let you know it’s not going to be a hit. People just don’t know about it.” Nidimoru and DK were running on fumes, there wasn’t any money to promote it and it looked like their first full-length film was doomed to die in empty theatres.
The first two days after 99’s release seemed to confirm this. The website Box Office India had this to say: “The reports are not great for 99… Recovery may well be an uphill task.” It was crushing. And then the filmmakers got a call on Sunday (“from either Eros or another theatre,” telling them it was a “mast movie” and inviting them to see their film in the theatre). They went for a night show and found the theatre about 75 per cent occupied. “It was such a relief to know people were actually watching it and enjoying it,” they say. The film went on to play for eight weeks. “We recovered our money and made a little profit, too.” The Telugu film industry’s loss was Bollywood’s gain.
The two have had their fair share of hurdles, of course. Every now and then someone from Bollywood would tell them that “that’s not the way we say it in Hindi”. “And we’d tell them that’s how we wanted to say it.”
“We knew our knowledge of Hindi was a little bookish because we had only studied it as a compulsory subject in school (in Andhra Pradesh),” say the filmmakers. But this turned out in their favour. Both 99 and Shor in the City (a story of a love-hate relationship with Mumbai) were nominated for their dialogue.
Besides writing, they now occasionally wear other hats, that of directors and producers, so as to be a part of as many stories as possible. But they never imagined they would get where they are today. “In college we took part in all extra-curricular activities, except drama,” they say. However, they believe that every Indian is at heart a filmmaker, a storyteller. “As Indians, we are passionate about cinema. We love films, we criticise them, we think about what they could have been.”
Their most popular film, Stree, which features a malevolent female spirit, was written as a trilogy. The comedy-horror starring Rajkummar Rao was what the filmmakers describe as the “middle” of the story. The sequel is expected next year.
A sequel to their action-packed zombie apocalypse film Go Goa Gone is largely because of the demand for it. We’ve decided to succumb to that demand.” Also in the works are at least three yet unannounced projects, including one with Shah Rukh Khan.
“We’ve discovered that humour that comes organically is a great way of telling a lot of things, including talking about subjects that are too serious to have humour associated to them, like terror or communal riots (as in The Family Man). Stories that need telling can beautifully use humour too.” They also have great faith in being subversive. In Stree, for instance, men are told not to go out alone, to stay inside homes and always in the company of others.
Characters like Tiwari (Stree could easily have veered into being silly beyond measure. They carry the dangerous potential to go either way. They could have been the undoing of these projects. But they clicked. It is this desire to experiment and innovate, to mould distinct genres together, that keeps them going.
Currently shooting for the second season of The Family Man, Nidimoru and DK continue to craft stories irrespective of which city they are in. They wander on streets familiar and unfamiliar, looking for parks and coffee shops where they can dream of ordinary people in less than ordinary circumstances.