Bollywood star Shahid Kapoor's streaming debut Farzi was initially envisioned as a feature film. But as creators Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK delved further into their story, which follows a disillusioned artist who decides to use his gift to make counterfeit currency, they realised there was much more to their antihero than what could be told in a two-hour film.
"I got involved almost eight years ago when the story was first discussed as a film," Kapoor tells The National. "I loved the idea and the character they offered me. But when Raj and DK felt it might be better as a TV show, I couldn't commit the time and we kind of went our separate ways."
Raj and DK, as they are known in the industry, approached Kapoor for another film a few years later.
"By then I had binge-watched The Family Man and I said: 'Alright, but what about doing a show together?'" Kapoor says, referring to the duo's hit spy thriller, which has a third season out soon.
"They were really shocked and didn't expect me to want to do something for streaming. And I was like: 'Listen, you guys are the best. I loved your show. And if you have something, we should collaborate'.
"That's when they told me that they had converted Farzi into a show and took me through it. I heard it and knew it was something that I wanted to do and here we are."
In Farzi, Kapoor, 42, plays Sunny, an artist who is abandoned by his father following his mother's death and adopted by his grandfather. As he and his idealistic grandfather struggle to keep their dying printing press alive, Sunny soon realises how the odds are stacked against them, and how it would take more than a lifetime to realise his dreams of making a decent living.
With the help of his childhood friend and his grandfather's press, they begin to make fake money, so believable that it soon attracts the attention of a criminal mastermind, and the authorities.
The result is a slick crime thriller with a great social commentary about class differences and economical divides thrown in for good measure.
Kapoor, the son of actor Pankaj Kapur, began his Bollywood career in the 1990s as a dancer. He says he has prepared his entire life for the role of Sunny.
"As a lower middle class and middle class, figuring out how to make ends meet, trying to help your family and become financially independent ... I've lived that life in Mumbai, so I could relate," he says.
"From the age of 15 or 16 and once I went to college, I used to travel by train. I was a dancer with Shiamak Davar and had a lot of friends who I would hang out with and do the regular stuff ... and I know the street life, things like getting thrown out of the club because we couldn't afford it.
"Even when I started out as an actor, everybody just wanted me to do a version of what they knew was working, but that was somebody else doing something else. So I felt Sunny's angst as an artist whose original work is not respected and from whom people would rather buy his copies of famous artists. [Sometimes it feels like] nobody's interested in originality, everybody wants to stick to the formula that works and you can't do anything original."
Farzi also features South Indian star Vijay Sethupathi as an officer tasked with stopping counterfeiters, Raashii Khanna as a currency fraud expert, Kay Kay Menon as a gangster and smuggler, as well as Bhuvan Arora as Sunny's childhood friend and accomplice.
Kapoor, who's played memorable roles in films such as Jab We Met (2007), Haider (2014), Udta Punjab (2016), Padmaavat (2018) and Kabir Singh (2019), said the stars aligned perfectly for his small screen debut.
"I was looking at doing something new and different. And I was wanting to challenge myself and try doing what I have been enjoying, which is bingeing shows," he says. "So it was more the right subject and the right filmmakers, rather than the right time."
As an actor too, he says he found it more gratifying to work on long-form shows compared to feature films.
"I feel that when you do a long format show, there are no crutches, there are no songs and all that stuff that gives you that support and padding. It's all about performance. And at my heart, I'm an actor before I'm a star. So I wanted to try that and see how people respond to it," he says.
"When you do long form, it's also more personal in the sense that everything gets played out. And every scene is kind of leading into the narrative, which takes the story forward. So it's actually more immersive to watch and also more satisfying as an actor to do. I've done certain films that fall in the same category, and I really enjoyed doing them. So it's definitely more challenging, more tiring, but also more satisfying."
While talks are already on for a second season following the show's cliffhanger ending, Kapoor says he'd be more than happy to sink his teeth further into Sunny's character.
"I actually feel the last shot of the series was the first shot of Sunny in his purest form," he says. "I think Sunny was very lost and confused about who he really is throughout the show, and then really takes ownership of the fact that he's not that nice a guy. So I think season two will allow us to see Sunny in full bloom."
As Bollywood slowly picks up the pace after a spate of high-profile cinema flops since the hiatus due to Covid-19, Kapoor believes it's time for the industry and stars like himself, to go back to the basics.
"Everyone has lived through a tough couple of years and I think you have to give them something that is up to standard. We need to give them qualitative content, it needs to be relatable," he says.
"Everyone has so much they need to cope with. You know, jobs are lesser, it's a tighter time, so everybody's working harder to get what they were getting. And I think the same holds true for the fraternity. I think we need to work harder to get people's love. And I'm more than happy to do that."
The first season of Farzi is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video