Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sudhir Mishra worked for the first time together on this film, and while Siddiqui says it was a longtime desire, Mishra says the screenplay inherently called out for Siddiqui to be cast as Mani.
Both director Sudhir Mishra and actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui come with a long list of achievements and bringing them together for a film was a formidable treat indeed for the audience. Netflix’s ‘Serious Men’, adapted from author Manu Joseph’s novel of the same name, saw Siddiqui play the role of Ayyan Mani, a Dalit immigrant who is the PA to a scientist. Directed by Mishra, the film is a socio-cultural commentary on India today and shows us how Ayyan Mani works to break away from his world and give his son a better future.
‘Serious Men’ released on October 2. Director Sudhir Mishra says that it is quite difficult to narrate a novel on screen. “You have to make scenes which are not in the book in order to reflect things that are essential to the book also. You can’t do everything in a film so you’ve to take the idea you’re interested in or works for you. So we took the Ayyan Mani story and in as much as it affects Ayyan and his son, the rest of the things around that. It took about eight to 10 months rewriting and thinking about it – it has to become another work of its own; it doesn’t work like the novel does, it has to work on its own. That was the whole dream. Ultimately, I think it works in no small measure to the writer Bhavesh (Mandalia) and his team. Once the screenplay and the blueprint gets ready and put it on screen with images and to keep the spirit of the book – that was also tough. I quite enjoyed it actually – the interaction with the mind of Manu Joseph,” he explains about adapting the novel on screen.
For someone who understands the underbelly of Mumbai and showcased various aspects of it in his films like ‘Dharavi’, ‘Iss Raat Ki Subah Nahi’ and ‘Chameli’, what attracted Mishra to ‘Serious Men’ was the character of Ayyan Mani. “It was angst-ridden but a beautifully emotional character who cares so much for his son. But he’s also reflective with his self-deprecatory sense of humour and his sense of improvisation in the way of dealing with the world which can be a lesson. It is by far that reason that hooked me to the book and then the desire came to make it into a film,” he adds.
The struggle of Dalits is well-documented in everyday life and ‘Serious Men’ also highlights how Ayyan Mani, a Dalit, tries to break the shackles of his world. “Like Manu (Joseph) says, the book came out in 2009 and it’s now 2020, the idea of the BDD chawl (slum) has changed and the idea of the Dalit has changed. BDD chawl itself is a lower middle class-middle middle class colony, the caste issue exists. But it is a new self-aware and empowered – to some extent – situation now with the Dalit and I think it’s very interesting metaphor for our times. It is something very necessary to look at. Without it, you cannot understand and India will not transform,” opines Mishra.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sudhir Mishra worked for the first time together on this film and while Siddiqui says it was a longtime desire, Mishra says the screenplay inherently called out for Siddiqui to be cast as Mani. “The best way to cast is to keep working on a script and slowly a face will emerge. And if you keep working and that actor stays with you, then it’s ideal to go to that actor because the writing will suggest and you have to listen. If Nawaz says yes then you’re lucky but if he says no, then the search becomes more difficult. Luckily, in this case it just worked,” says Mishra.
Siddiqui on his part says working with Mishra was a wonderful experience. “It was a long-standing desire that I should work with him come what may. As an actor, you have certain sensibilities and you keep looking for a director who shares that as well. When I passed out from NSD, there were many actors like me who wanted to work with Sudhir Mishra because he belonged to our world. I had complete trust and faith that working on this film will take my acting to the next level. Working with a director of his calibre, I knew that by playing Ayyan Mani, my craft would be well showcased and my acting skills will be challenged.”