The excellent first season of The Family Man showed how even a familiar, tried and tested tale can be elevated through genius-level writing. It's basically the same old cops and robbers template with Srikant Tiwari (Manoj Bajpayee) and his team going after a bunch of Islamic extremists in a deadly cat and mouse game. Even though he's a special agent like we've seen in films like True Lies, we get the feeling that something different is happening right from the first episode. It's not just that the actors are great, they've also been cast with great care. The first season opens in Kochi and people we first meet seem authentically Malayali. They seem to walk right out of a Malayalam film.
Manoj Bajpayee is reliably marvelous, but right from the first episode, I was fascinated by Suchitra (Priyamani), a Tamilian married to Srikant. She has a complex personality and knows her husband's secret, but she's also tired of making all the sacrifices in the house. They have two kids and she wants to change jobs and ends up being attracted to a colleague; she has her own life. Priyamani is so good that you're reminded of the young girl who showed such promise in Paruthiveeran. The biggest takeaway from Season 1 is how tragically underused performers like Priyamani are and how they can get a new lease of life through OTT.
There are some actors who are at least new to me. Sharib Hashmi is easily the discovery of the show and plays JK, Srikant's best friend. He has a tricky job because Srikant is so serious; JK has to do a balancing act. He has to make wisecracks, and at the same time, he's also as skilled as Srikant, not just a joker hanging around.
Raj and DK and the head writer Suman Kumar do a marvelous job of detailing every single character, whether it's Srikant's sweet-faced blackmailing son or his teenage daughter who is getting to be woke. I was especially captivated by the character of a nurse who takes care of a captured terrorist Moosa.
The series hurtles along like a giant boulder that's been pushed off a cliff and gathering speed and getting more dangerous by the second. What didn't work for me in season 1 was the cliffhanger ending.The lack of closure seemed to me a bit of a gimmick without any real narrative purpose. When we begin season 2, we are given information about what happened — in bits and pieces. Apart from that, though, season 2 is even better (I don't know how they managed it). Raj and DK have directed the series with Suparn Varma. The scope of the second season is much bigger: there's an additional angle about Sri Lankan Tamil Militants. We are left with some of the villains from the first season, and their target is now no less than the Prime Minister of India.
Samantha's performance as Raji reminds us that our heroines are so tragically underused. Her strong presence and convincing action scenes make you wonder the same thing you wondered about Priyamani from season one: why are these actors — who are capable of so much — given so little to do in films?
The smaller relationships are also built beautifully. Take the relationship — not necessarily romantic — that builds between JK and Umayal (Devadarshini). Devadarshini must have looked at the script and literally wept in joy because she's not playing an akka or an anni but a tough cop who smokes and drinks: a badass person capable of taking down bad people. There are lovely touches like when she tells JK how to pronounce her name. Another relationship that develops is between Raji and a man named Sajid (Shahab Ali). You sense not romance but respect due to their common cause and belief. You feel they're freedom fighters and not terrorists. The last two episodes are nail biting and I was glad that there's no cliffhanger.
The humanity of the series keeps shining in every single episode. When Srikant's team accuses the villains of kidnapping a young girl and using her as bait, the villains reply that they too did the same thing with an old woman. In the first series one of the most effective moments was when the people in Srikant's team went after three young men that they thought were going to assassinate a minister and we all know how badly that went. Something horrible has happened to his daughter and yet at even that moment all that Srikant can think of is: oh my god are these terrorists going to win or am I going to win? That's not just for his ego but because he wanted to stop this from happening.
In real life we never get to meet the secret agents who guard our country and us, but thanks to this ridiculously amazing series where we get not alpha male characters with guns blazing away but instead real, flawed human beings, we get to meet them, at least, in the approximations of them in our living rooms.