Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, popularly known as Raj and DK, is the writer-director pair which has made films like Shor in the City, Go Goa Gone and Stree.

Known for their unique style and blend of satire-comedy, they believe that experimentation is the only formula to success.

Breaking off with, 99, their debut Hindi film in 2009, the duo paid tribute to one of their more iconic influences, Ram Gopal Varma and his path-breaking film Satya.

After a successful production outing with Stree (2018), the duo has returned to the director’s chair with Amazon Prime Video’s upcoming show, The Family Man, featuring Manoj Bajpayee in the lead.

While Raj was absent, DK spoke with Thestatesman.com about their influences, style and why they chose Manoj Bajpayee to play the lead in the show.

We have always seen one-sided spies on-screen. Either, the ones who are playing solo or the ones who come from a disturbed setup/childhood/ backstory that makes them one in the first place etc. How did you zero in on a middle-class regular-guy-spy character who is part of both worlds?

Even when we started making the film, we were aware of the various kinds of spy genre that exists internationally, all films about terrorism and counter-terrorism that are being made. All of these are either very cool action films or hard-hitting drama. So, we didn’t want to be decorative, we wanted to make something that was unique to us as filmmakers and unique to our country, the way it is. The way the show turned out was with that intention in mind. It comes through with the trailer also; it comes through as a realistic slice-of-life kind of a show with action because it is about counter-terrorism. It doesn’t come across as a very cool show. We don’t have any slow-motion of people doing cool stuff. So, that was the idea behind making the show.

What was it like directing Manoj Bajpayee? Why him?

It is good. It is always great to direct an actor who embraces the character like he (Manoj) did with Shreekant Tiwari. He just opened the character like that and after a while, even on the set, if he is doing something, he’ll be doing it as Shreekant Tiwari, not as Manoj Bajpayee. That is why even as directors, Raj and I let our actors’ improv (improvise) a lot. When you have a good actor, who has understood the character, it’s always great for the actor to bring something to the character beyond what we as writers-directors have written. That’s where a good actor comes to play, because what’s written on paper, if its a good character, its the actor who takes it to the next level. I think Manoj Bajpayee took “Shreekant Tiwari”, my personal opinion, like he has never taken to any other character before. And, he has never done a role like this before. He has played an intelligence officer, or army and police kind of roles a lot, but this kind and shade of an intelligence officer where he is just a common man dealing with common problems, but he is also saving the country. That special dichotomy of the character, I don’t think Manoj or anybody else has played so far. And that’s why we were also excited to see how it turns out.

It’s one thing to write a character, it’s another thing to see an actor bring it to life.

Many try to blend the satire-humour arch. And, both of you seem to have struck this fine balance between the two. Where do you draw inspiration from?

Inspiration I don’t know. Maybe, its the way we grew up, kind of films we watched and loved. I think all our films have that element of humour even when we made a ‘serious’ film. Honestly, in my opinion, when we made Shor in the City, we thought we were making a serious film and there were still a lot of moments of humour in it; some people even thought it was a comedy to some extent, obviously, it is still a hard-hitting comedy-of-sorts. But, we never thought of it as a comedy.

Even, The Family Man, I wouldn’t call it a comedy. But, it’s not like a heavy hard-drama either. So, it has its light moments and it derives its humour from everyday life. At no point are we thinking “Oh, we should be joking…”, it’s more like something is happening in a very observational way, you see that this could be funny, it looks funny or it could go the other way and become funny. Even in serious situations somehow, we tend to derive humour. I think, somewhere we believe that the seriousness of a subject or an incident gets elevated if it comes in a platter that is not so serious.

If you start of something, saying this is serious and show something serious, it may not be as efficient as if you just show it in a very natural-casual lighthearted way. That’s something that has always stuck with us. Even in Shor in the City, there are moments where you’re laughing at something silly or quirky that’s happening on-screen and 15-seconds later, things go wrong very quickly. So, the shock of it is that much more.

Inspiration — We have always been big fans of Coen Brothers. We grew up watching Telugu films and then some Hindi films but, mostly Telugu. Thereon, when both of us were living in the USA, we started watching American independent films, all the festival films and the films that really didn’t make it to India, because they were not blockbusters or big commercials. We also saw Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh and a bunch of other directors.

I can say this for both me and Raj, Mani Ratnam was one of our favourite directors growing up. And, then when Ram Gopal Varma came to the scene, from his first film onwards, we were big fans of the work he was doing. He was making path-breaking cinema, that was also another great inspiration for us. Even, if he was not a direct inspiration, it showed to us that in this industry where people are making certain kinds of films, you could come and do something drastically different and do it very well. That’s what Ram Gopal Varma did for us.

If you take a close look at the first film that we made in India, 99, some people may and some may not have noticed it but, there are these two goons we named Satya and Bhiku. That was out hat-tip to Satya, and to Ram Gopal Varma.

We started off with all these influences, but we have managed to find out our own voice that’s a little different from everybody; a trademark that we are bringing in our films that people are beginning to notice.

When writing, do you consider market forces or audiences?

We definitely consider the audience, but market forces no. Not in the way you would say, because we have always been trying to either beat the trend or buck the trend, but never go with the trend. In fact, we have consciously not gone with the trend. We have never made a film that fits into the formula of a successful film ever. Like, when we wanted to make a romantic comedy, we wanted it to be like a film that acknowledges that it is a romcom, and embraces other romantic-comedies with all the tropes. Like, Happy Ending (2014). Whether it is accepted by the audience, whether it works or not is not entirely up to us, but at least we didn’t want to make a regular romantic comedy in that sense.

When we wanted to make Go Goa Gone (2013), there were no zombies. There was no concept of a horror-comedy at that time in India. So that way, I think, the one formula we stick to is that of ‘experimentation’. ‘The safer you play, the worse your chances of being successful’ is what we have learnt.

Both of you write and direct your own work, Stree being an exception, but has there ever been that writer-director conflict? And, do you think its harder to direct a work written by someone else.

When we are writing, its the writer, the moment you go on set, we start becoming directors. Internally, we never have the writer-director conflict because we are the same people and when we are directing it, we change the writing. We keep evolving our scripts as we are direct, its not necessary that as a writer we have written a script, and as a director we have to direct it to the T. Because, once you go there, with the actors’ doing something, the location, certain ideas come or just because you have been living with it for so long, an idea comes. So we are always open to that. We ourselves are writers, we quickly discuss and say,” OK, let’s change the scene like that,” For 10 minutes, we become a writer, change the scene and then we are back to direction.

It’s not a conflict, I think its a happy marriage if you are the writer-director. Because with a different writer, then you would have to convince the writer, the writer has to buy in and write it. But, here we are already sold on that.

Why did you not direct Stree?

Initially, we thought of directing Stree (2018). But, two things happened. One, we wanted to get on this show and start directing it  (The Family Man). Second, We have always wanted to produce films as well, not necessarily direct it. Because, as directors, we can only direct films once every two years and as producers, we can do a lot more than that. We have so many more stories to tell that’s why we wanted to start off this journey of being producers in our own life. We create content, we get people we like, for instance; the director of Stree(Amar Kaushik) was our own AD(Assistant Director). It’s not like we went to an established director to direct a film.

Our own AD who had worked with us on Go Goa Gone. We could also help him, mentor him to make this film. He is a very talented guy, so it helps us and opens new avenues for us. We could be directing a film and producing two films. Its a lot more that we can do.

Also, we had made Go Goa Gone which we thought, in terms of genre, too similar to Stree. We didn’t want to be boxed up as makers of ‘Zombie-comedy-horror-comedy