Actor Kay Kay Menon, who burst into public memory with his portrayal of a ‘rebel with a cause’ role in Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi (2003), has headlined many genre defining films in India, and remains one of the finer actors that the Indian film industry has seen. Since convincing us with the role of a firebrand revolutionary who wants to end caste-based discrimination, Menon wowed us with significant roles in Madhur Bhandarkar’s Corporate (2006), Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar (2005), and Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider (2014). So after a host of blink-and-you-miss-it outings in films such as Singh is Bling and Vodka Diaries, he has now made his debut in the digital space. Titled The Great Indian Dysfunctional Family Menon’s new webseries is available on Alt Balaji and is the story of two estranged brothers with maladjustment at its core. And there is a secret too. “This is the middle ground that actually exists — between the sugared, syrupy avatar and the killing each other for zameen-jaydaad versions of families that have been previously showcased in the mainstream realm”, says Menon. Excerpts from an interview:
The Great Indian Dysfunctional Family is your debut in the digital space. Your contemporaries had jumped the bandwagon when the space came into being. Why did you stay away all this while?
I have known Tanveer Bookwala (co-writer of the series) for some time, and he approached me for this. I trust him for not misusing me, unlike rest of the industry. A couple of years ago I made a policy decision for not taking work that I am over-qualified for. The Great Indian Dysfunctional Family, fell into that space. The Indian family has only had two versions — the saccharine one or the vengeful killing types. In between all this is the dysfunctional version. The issues that we deal with in the show are serious but we are not preaching. And the characters are also complex — the layers come off. What attracted me to this was the treatment — of not overwhelming the narrative with unwanted seriousness.
The current crop of filmmakers seems comfortable in addressing problematic themes. Is this a reflection of how we have evolved as a society?
I think a perfect functional family is a utopian concept. There are elements of dysfunctionality in most families. The less dysfunctional is the most ideal one. Nothing can be purely functional. If there are two humans in a room, there will be friction. That’s how we are wired. That friction is what is functional. And that’s what we have tried to show — the middle space, where real world exists.
This is your first outing in the digital realm, where a story can be highly detailed and stretch for an entire season. What do you make of it as an actor?
The digital medium is also the middle path — between TV and cinema. Films have two hours, which is a limited and brilliant format. The other spectrum is TV serials, which is endless, and which can go on even for the next janam. A web series has a definite end of course, and has enough length for you to flesh out the details of the story and narrative, and say what you want to. And you can really get into the skin of the characters and live them. I, at times, think that we don’t misuse this medium like we did with TV. But as far as acting is concerned, it’s the same for me. As long as I am in front of the camera, I can’t act differently. The size of the screen doesn’t affect me.
Your last big outing was Haider, where playing Khurram Meer got you rave reviews. But, there seems to have been a lull after that.
I have been waiting for that big thing since Sarkar. There are certain facts of life that you cannot change and then you put your head down and just work. I have done enough work for which I was over-qualified. I need to really value myself as an actor, and so the industry needs to also use me that way. Mehnat utni hi lagti hai, for either bit. It’s like sending Sachin Tendulkar at number six in the batting order. You can’t do that. Our industry doesn’t follow sports norms, if it did, we would be a completely different industry. The yardsticks that apply there, they are very different. The industry doesn’t work on performance alone. So you just put your head down and work. I am sure that my work will outlive me.
Strong and intense characters, with shades of grey seem to have become regular with your acting repertoire. Are there some roles that you wish to do, but have not been offered — like perhaps a romantic hero dancing around the trees?
I think the tree will feel very complexed if I danced around it. I did something on these lines in Honeymoon Travels and Sankat City. But, sadly, these films never got their due. In case of the films that are known, people came to see the star and got the bonus of Kay Kay Menon.
But that has changed. Now we have character actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Rajkummar Rao who are also lead actors with their own star power.
Yes, it’s changing, but I hope this remains constant. I have been in the industry for long. It always threatens to change, but it doesn’t. Change has to last for 10-15 years, only then we can call it a change. For example, if Ramu hadn’t made Satya with Manoj Bajpayee, people like Irrfan and I would have taken a lot longer to be where we are. We thought then ‘yes, things will change’, but they didn’t. As for now, I just hope this is not a phase. I’m a bit skeptical, and not immediately euphoric. I would rather have this change be constant for the next decade and say, yes the audience has also matured.
What is your take on the current #MeToo movement. Do you think that it is taking the narrative to the real world, where women are finally confronting their demons off-screen?
I can’t predict the future of my own film, leave alone anything else. But I insist that any case of sexual harassment and misbehaviour should be taken very seriously and it should reach a logical end. The judiciary needs to take a very prominent and strong stand. But we need to separate the wheat from the shaft as well. We need to follow due process, and channelise it well. It’s a wonderful movement, but I hope it’s not misused.