Interview

Was initially intimidated by Samantha Akkineni, says The Family Man actor Shahab Ali


His portrayal of the terrorist Sajid, who works for Pakistan's intelligence agency, has been appreciated. 

Shahab Ali and Samantha Akkineni

Keyur Seta

Actor Shahab Ali is elated about the success of the latest season of The Family Man because the second seasons of Indian shows rarely outshine their predecessors.

Shahab plays the terrorist Sajid, who is employed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in both seasons of the Amazon Prime Video show. 

While the actor had an inkling that the second season would make a mark, he didn't expect the kind of response his character has received. “I knew people would like my work even after the first season, in which my performance was appreciated. But I hadn’t expected such a response for the character of Sajid,” he said. 

Shahab Ali

Apart from showrunners Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, the second season was also helmed by Suparn Verma. “He is a high-energy director. He is always excited and brings a lot of positivity. He appreciates you after every shot and keeps motivating others,” said Shahab. 

He finds Raj and DK to be different in their approach. “They are very chilled out,” he said. “They work in a calm way. The good thing about them is that they neither control you nor ask you to do just about anything. They know when they need to intervene and when they should let the actor improvise. They trusted me a lot as an actor. They provided me with a lot of confidence.” 

In the second season, ISI colludes with Tamil insurgents. So, Shahab’s character teams up with Samantha Akkineni’s and hence, most of his scenes are with her. “When Raj and DK told me Samantha would be starring opposite me as Raji and she and Sajid would be starring neck-to-neck as villains, I was very excited. I had seen her work and appreciated her as an actor. So it was intimidating and I was nervous at the start,” he said. 

With Samantha Akkineni in The Family Man 2

Recalling his very first meet with Samantha, Shahab said, “She said she recently saw season one and liked my work. We started speaking humorously and developed good alchemy. Our shoots together were very smooth. There was no conflict or problem. We both used to respond to each other’s improvisation.” 

The actor also had scenes with Manoj Bajpayee, his counterpart on the other side of the law. “I consider him a legend but he considers everyone at the same level. Similarly, the atmosphere on the sets was very democratic. I didn’t feel this was my first web show,” he said. 

When Shahab auditioned for the first season of The Family Man, he was doing the musical plays Zangoora and Mughal-e-Azam and was playing the lead in both [the latter is still running]. “The response to the shows was good but I used to keep giving auditions in between. Mukesh Chhabra’s agency contacted me. I sent them a rough cut after which they held an audition in Mumbai and I got selected,” he said. 

Manoj Bajpayee in The Family Man

Interestingly, there was never a culture of watching movies or television at Shahab’s home. The family didn’t even have a TV. “Honestly, we still don’t,” he said. “My dad was against these things.” 

So how did he get into acting? “When I was in college, I joined a street play group and started enjoying it. I then realized I had some acting talent. But I couldn’t continue for the next two to three years. I then took a U-turn. I cleared the entrance exam at the National School of Drama (NSD) on the second attempt. There I took proper training and had an amazing three years. I then did the musical shows and then I got The Family Man,” he said. 

It was at the NSD that the actor learnt Kerala’s martial art Kalaripayattu, the eastern dance Chhau and yoga. This physical training would prove useful during action sequences. 

Despite Shahab’s parents not being into shows or films, they have seen both seasons of The Family Man. “We all saw it together at my sister’s place. We enjoyed it. Although they are not fond of it, they will surely see if I do something. They also see my plays. This is the change that has taken place after I joined this profession,” he said. 

After the release of The Family Man (Season 2), Shahab hasn’t been flooded with acting offers. After the first season had released, he started receiving offers to play similar characters which he didn’t like. 

“I had kept a toy gun at home in the lockdown since I was getting a lot of calls to play terrorists,” he said. “I was a bit frustrated at only being offered the roles of a terrorist or a Muslim with a skull cap. But after the appreciation for my work in season two and the layers the character had, I hope people start seeing me in different roles.” 

Shahab’s wish to take up something entirely different recently came true. “I have got a role in an upcoming comedy web-series. I am really looking forward to that. I hope to play a different and a positive role,” he said. 

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