She’s not new to controversy, having marked her decade-long presence in the Tamil and Telugu film industries with a strong social media voice. Her, at times, no-holds barred tweets have incited trolls to launch an avalanche of abuse towards the award-winning actress who is married to Telugu actor Naga Chaitanya (superstar Nagarjuna’s son). So the latest controversy to erupt post the trailer launch of the new season of Amazon Original Series The Family Man (TFM) is not exactly new territory for her.
Samantha makes her OTT debut with the edgy pan Indian series starring versatile actor Manoj Bajpayee in the lead, which drops on June 4, in a role that has drawn a lot of eyeballs. After catching a glimpse of the dark and intense Raaji, rumours abounded that Samantha plays a deadly suicide bomber in the series.
As Raaji, she is pitted as a “brutal adversary” to the average, middle class family man and world-class spy played superbly by Manoj Bajpayee. But the actress is averse to referring to her character as an ‘antagonist’ when we catch up with her over Zoom, to find out more about her role. This was way before Tamil Nadu sought a ban on the series for portraying Tamilians in a “highly objectionable” manner and for what they saw as an attempt to discredit the struggle of the Eelam Tamils in Sri Lanka. There were reports that Amazon subsequently gagged the actress from speaking out about her explosive role.
The 9-part second season was expected to release earlier but its launch was delayed when another OTT series the Saif Ali Khan starrer Tandav ran into trouble for reportedly hurting the religious sentiments of a section of the audience.
‘Raaji is not an antagonist’
“I wouldn’t call Raaji an antagonist. It’s just that maybe she has a different point of view compared to Srikant (Tiwari, played by Bajpayee). But that does not necessarily mean she is bad,” Samantha points out. In the aftermath of the controversy the creators, Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K., popularly known as Raj and DK (Go Goa Gone), have stated that the true essence of a character cannot be gauged from a brief promotional trailer.
“It is just that she has a different faith and a different set of beliefs,” Samantha further clarifies. “I would call her fiercely loyal to her cause.” Not many are perhaps aware that the first schedule of Season 2 of The Family Man was being filmed even before Season 1 hit the streaming service.
As for making her OTT debut after establishing herself in the Telugu and Tamil film industries the actress is clear that the thrill was all about being offered a great character. “I’ve never chosen things I wanted to do based on whether it was film or OTT but based more on the role I was offered. When this role of Raaji was offered to me, it was just me being greedy to accept a challenge and it didn’t matter really if it was on OTT.”
‘Not a Bollywood debut’
The Family Man is indisputably among the top Pan Indian series to come out of the country’s OTT space. So even as it is headlined by a major Bollywood actor it also boasts of some familiar faces from the Southern film industry.
Season One starred Neeraj Madhav and Priyamani along with Sharib Hashmi and Season 2 will have more names from the Tamil industry. TFM is also being dubbed in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Malayalam among other Indian languages, which Samantha finds very appealing.
“It is great that Amazon has made this decision to dub in not just Indian languages, but even in Arabic and Mandarin. Just the idea of how many people are going to watch this is truly amazing.”
Samantha confesses OTT’s reach when compared to regional cinema is no doubt a big attraction. “Obviously actors are very greedy and the idea that a whole new set of audience is going to be watching my work is a thought that makes me very excited,” she says.
But she is also clear that she never saw The Family Man “as a Bollywood debut because I speak a lot of Tamil in the series. All I can say is that I am greedy for great content. I’m very comfortable in the space that I’m in down south, where I can pick and choose my roles. I need to be given roles that challenge me, and give me sleepless nights. That’s all I care about.”
‘Manoj Bajpayee is lethal’
From Satya to Gangs of Wasseypur and Aligarh, Manoj Bajpayee has never left any doubt that he is a nuanced actor who can break the mould with any given role (we’d prefer to forget him hamming it up in Mrs. Serial Killer).
Unsurprisingly Samantha is also full of praise for her co-actor who plays a TASC (Threat Analysis and Surveillance Cell) agent caught between his action-filled undercover espionage work and his mundane life as a family man. “He is a master class in acting,” she enthuses.
“I have had a very beautiful experience with the team of The Family Man whether it is with Manoj Sir or with Raj and DK. Manoj sir, even when he is not in the shot, is just the funniest person to be around. When he is not in character he is amazing to be around. But when he is in character you have to be on your guard because he will destroy you with his performance. He is a lethal combination.”
Samantha’s active lifestyle is on full display on her social media platform where she regularly engages with fans. And while her fitness routine can’t be faulted, for TFM she admits she had to train harder since she had a lot of action sequences.
“I worked with a brilliant action choreographer Yannick (Ben). I kind of mimicked him and he was pretty tough on me as you’d be seeing in Season 2.” So has Srikant Tiwari, the quintessential family man leading a double life finally met his match? Guess we’ll know when Season 2 of The Family Man drops on June 4.