Synopsis – The Family Man is an edgy action-drama series, which tells the story of a middle-class man who works for a special cell of the National Investigation Agency. While he tries to protect the nation from terrorists, he also has to protect his family from the impact of his secretive, high-pressure, and low paying job.
Episodes – S01E01 to S01E10
My Take – As streaming wars continue to heat up, at least in matters of Indian content, I am confident Amazon Prime has overtaken Netflix. Anchoring this latest success are underrated filmmakers Raj and DK, who always seem at the cusp of bringing in the next big thing.
Despite mixed reactions to most of their work which includes films like 99, Go Goa Gone, Shor in the City, Happy Ending, A Gentleman and Stree, you have to admit that they have a distinct flavor that invariably creeps into their storytelling.
Without ever parodying the genre, this series succeeds at being a surprisingly funny spy series; equally capable of snappy one-liners as it is of slick thrills.
Like its street-smart protagonist, the new Amazon show is wily, adaptable, and intelligent; but most noticeably, it is a necessary foil to the comparatively drab Bard of Blood, which arrived, with all its similarities, on Netflix only seven days later.
Yes, the basic idea itself is not explosively fresh, I as it was most memorably pulled off in James Cameron’s True Lies (1994) in which, Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared to be a dull computer salesman to his family, but was actually working for a covert anti-terror task force run by the US government. T
hankfully here, Raj and DK completely take the idea to a new level padded with ample sensibilities, delightful characters, exhilarated writing and enough wacky moments.
The story follows Srikant Tiwari (Manoj Bajpayee), a middle class family man living a double life. To his family, he’s an overworked and underpaid government employee who sits behind a desk of files and paperwork. Unknown to them, Srikant is actually an intelligence officer working for TASC, a top secret government agency that undertakes mass surveillance in order to prevent terror attacks. F
orever juggling his professional and personal commitments, Srikant seems to be falling short on both accounts. As a result, he is unable to spend time with the family and contribute to household responsibilities, which becomes a source of great frustration to his wife and two kids.
As his wife Suchitra (Priyamani) has her hands full teaching psychology at a college and raising the kids, while she aspires for more from her life she feels she’s being held back by familial duty. That is until her former colleague, Arvind (Sharad Kelkar), offers her a challenging and exciting opportunity.
However, Srikant is forced to choose precedence when TASC comes across an upcoming terror mission being carried out, code-named Mission Zulfikar. While his family live begins to unravel, Srikant and his team consisting of JK Talpade (Sharib Hashmi), and their latest intern, Zoya (Shreya Dhanwanthary) begin hunting down the terror network, with their only possible key being Moosa Rehuman (Neeraj Madhav), to prevent the next attack which is probably even bigger and nastier than 26/11.
Running for a total length of 10 episodes of 45 to 60 minutes each, the series is a cat-and-mouse chase between Indian intelligence agencies and militants.
The story moves between the cities of Delhi and Mumbai, India, Pakistan, Syria, and Afghanistan. The intriguing yet uncomplicated story moves at a brisk clip and at no point does your head feel muddled with too much information. The show isn’t an out and out action fest.
The focus is more on chasing trails and putting pieces together. We do, however, get to see some finely shot action sequences. The shootout scenes in particular, which are made to appear as if they’ve been shot in a single take, are a visual delight.
The plot is inspired by daily news stories, and we’re reminded of this at the end of every episode by way of a collage of newspaper headlines. For example, a man gets beaten up in a cinema hall for refusing to stand for the national anthem, persons suspected of transporting beef are lynched. We also see a fictional equivalent of JNU in Mumbai, where students are deemed anti-nationals.
In the process, the makers have explored homegrown terrorism. The primary antagonists aren’t foreign forces, but are in fact Indian, though foreign parties are involved. Filmmakers Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK attempt to understand the forces that drive these men to follow the path of terror. At the same time, they’re careful not to sympathize with terrorists.
Despite its serious theme, the show is enlivened with much humor. The duo bring their quirky humor here, and adds a unique flavor as the series explores the life of a middle-class family. Srikant suffers from extreme stress and anxiety issues, although he doesn’t quite pay enough attention to it. His kids expect him to earn more so that he can buy a new car; and he’s breaking his head over buying a new flat in Mumbai.
Part of the reason why the series works so well is the extraordinary lengths that Srikant goes to, to ensure that his two roles, as a family and a spy, don’t hamper each other.
In a particularly hilarious sequence, Srikant finds himself restless when his daughter is on the verge of being suspended while, elsewhere, his colleague JK is trying to call him incessantly to warn him about a mission which has gone haywire. And then, in another sequence, when Srikant meets a doctor who warns him about his health, the former flips out when he gets an emergency call. Before dashing out of the room, he tells the doctor that he might as well die before following all the health precautions.
The makers have also wisely chosen to protract certain scenes to create memorable moments that make the characters and events seem natural and plausible, for instance, the conversation between Moosa and the nurse in a hospital, where, like all true blue Keralites exchange notes on where they belong in Kerala. There’s also a sequence where in Srikant’s mother from UP and Suchitra’s father from Tamil Nadu have an awkward passive aggressive discussion about Hindi Imposition.
However, very time the story veers away from Srikant’s life and his work, it finds itself in a zone where it struggles to find its voice and rhythm. A key subplot involving an army General in Pakistan and an ISI Major Sameer (Darshan Kumaar) turns into a caricature. It has also become a cliché to point out the stereotyped portrayal of Muslims and Islamist terrorism in most films and television shows that attempt to build a story around jihadist groups, and the series almost starts off down the same route with a one-sided narrative.
But, by the third episode there is an attempt to balance it out by bringing in instances of majoritarian violence against Muslims in the story. There are numerous references to lynching of Muslims over food and how their loyalty towards the country is always questioned, but the series makes no effort to dig deeper into the emotional and psychological aspects of this phenomenon.
The side characters too lack depth and the treatment of the script is quite superficial in these segments. It also leaves you with a feeling that all these complicated issues are clubbed together as one common issue, which is quite a myopic view of the seismic changes happening in India right now.
Of course, as one would expect, Manoj Bajpayee hits a home run with his portrayal of Srikant Tiwari. His performance is minimalist, and his humor straight-faced. Watching Bajpayee for nearly 10 straight hours in all his acting glory is a bliss. Priyamani turns out a warm and winning performance as the neglected wife who quietly picks herself up and forges her own path. Sharib Hashmi is immensely likeable as JK, Srikant’s partner as well as confidante. Their camaraderie is one of the highlights of the show.
Malayalam film actor Neeraj Madhav is quite brilliant as Moosa, so are the kids, Vedant Sinha and Mehak Thakur. In supporting roles, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Gul Panag, Darshan Kumaar, Dalip Tahil, Kishore Kumar G, Shahab Ali, Sunny Hinduj and Sharad Kelkar manage to stand out. On the whole, ‘The Family Man’ is an excellently engaging well shot series that offers a perfect blend of comedy, thrills and twists.
Status – Season 1 (Completed)
Network – Amazon Prime Video