Created by: Raj & DK
Starring: Manoj Bajpayee, Priyamani, Samantha Akkineni
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Midway through season 2 of The Family Man, his closest associate, JK, tells Srikant Tiwari, ‘Teri life ko summarise karte karte maine apne aap ko depress kar liya yaar.’
Our favourite intelligence agent, sometimes described by his creators Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK as ‘James Bond from Chembur’, is back and his life is a mess. His 16-year-old marriage with the lovely Suchi is strained to breaking point. His teenage daughter Dhriti is surly, rebellious and wounded by the friction between her parents. Nine-year-old Atharv seems to be Srikant’s only ally – a lively, cheerful presence in this otherwise gloomy home. Srikant’s work doesn’t offer much solace either – Srikant has abandoned the covert agency TASC for the soul-numbing comfort of a 9-to-5 job at an IT company. He’s got the cubicle in a corporate office and is routinely lectured by his 28-year-old boss, who tells him that he must not be a “minimum guy.”
Meanwhile chaos and violence loom large. The ISI operative Major Sameer has joined hands with Sri Lankan rebels, who are fighting for an independent state. Sleeper cells are being awakened. A cache of C4 explosives has been transported. The only thing that stands between us and anarchy are a few good men and women who risk their lives and toil incessantly, even as they ask themselves – do we really make a difference and, more importantly, are we the good guys?
The Family Man season 2 consists of nine episodes, with durations varying between thirty-three minutes and one hour. Even with that running time, this is a lot to pack in. Raj, DK and their co-writer Suman Kumar masterfully juggle Srikant’s personal struggles and the larger global politics and conspiracies playing out across nations – the action moves between India, Sri Lanka, the UK, and we even touch down briefly in France. Of course, the political is personal and inevitably, Srikant’s two carefully separated worlds collide.
Like the first instalment, season 2 is genre-defying. The series begins with a signature Raj and DK four-minute continuous shot, which instantly immerses us into the action. These directors aren’t fans of ramping up – they prefer to start with big bangs. The series also climaxes with a bravura eight-minute single take. The action directors, Aejaz Gulab and Yannick Ben, and DOP Cameron Bryson create dazzling, visceral violence. There were moments when I screamed out loud at my computer screen. This time, Srikant gets more physically battered, which also matches his internal state.
The Family Man doesn’t deal in simplistic heroes and villains. Even the good guys have blood on their hands – Srikant’s boss at TASC explains, ‘That is the price for peace.’ And who the bad guys are depends on your point of view – the same person can be labelled a terrorist or freedom fighter. Which took me back to Jean Renoir’s iconic line in The Rules of the Game: “The awful thing about life is this: everyone has their reasons.”
Take the case of Raji, an elite commando of the Sri Lankan rebels. Raji is capable of horrific brutality but she is a monster because her circumstances are monstrous. Samantha Akkineni skilfully captures not only Raji’s rage but also her chilling lack of emotion – her expressions are deliberately opaque. Raji’s determination is frightening. As is the predatory behaviour of the men around her. At one point, Raji says: “If women started speaking out, all the men would be in jail.” Raji is so much more than a textbook bad guy. And Samantha is so effective that you can get past her brownface.
Even players with less screen time have depth. Seema Biswas is terrific as the Indian Prime Minister, clearly modelled on Chief Minister Mamata Banjeree. PM Basu seems wily and stubborn, insistent on playing politics when lives are at stake. But in one scene, with a few lines, the screenplay establishes her depth and fortitude – you instinctively understand the battles she has fought to get the top job. Even the late Asif Basra, playing a counsellor Suchi and Srikant meet is memorable – in a hilarious scene, Srikant has a meltdown, especially when asked about their sex life.
And this is the miracle of this series – that in the heart of darkness, there is a running thread of humour. There are moments here that will make you laugh aloud – especially one in which Srikant finally pushes back against his hyper IT boss. But mostly, it’s small details of the comedy of living – the cultural divide between North and South, or Srikant’s struggle with newfangled ideas and language – in one scene he is confounded by the word feminazi. Even the inability of the prime minister’s aide to enjoy a cup of tea becomes a source of laughs. The dialogue by Suparn Varma, who has also directed a few of the episodes, is terrific – watch out for a throwaway line about Salman Khan in episode 3. It’s casually delivered and so clever that it will make you smile.
The superb writing is enhanced by a slew of seasoned actors, working at the top of their game – apart from Samantha and Seema, there’s Priyamani as Suchi, Sharib Hashmi as JK, Ravindra Vijay as Muthu, Devadarshini as Umayal and the two youngsters – Vedant Sinha as Atharav and Ashlesha Thakur as Dhriti. There is also Darshan Kumaar, plotting destruction while wearing dapper jackets in London – I suspect Major Sameer is a closet fashionista. And leading the cavalry is Manoj Bajpayee as Srikant. After almost 30 years onscreen, Manoj continues to surprise with his dexterity and nuance. This is his series but there is little attempt at showboating or hogging the frame. He plays Srikant with the delicate combination of comic exasperation and existential melancholy.
There are enough thrills here but what stays with you eventually is a sense of sadness. There is a moment between JK and Srikant in which JK quotes the memorable Rajesh Khanna dialogue from Amar Prem – “Pushpa, I hate tears” – that made me cry. I understood that men like Srikant and JK can never retire. There are too many fires raging and, to quote a line from Ghostbusters, who you gonna call?
You can watch The Family Man season 2 on Amazon Prime Video.