What defines each one of us, supplies us with a unique identity is a personal piece of space that we can call our own. That space is our intimate cloud of operation within which we live, love, eat, and define what works for us and what doesn’t. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. For so many of us, however, the carving out that very space is the chimera—how do you define something as intangible as a cloud? Thrown into a milling mass of people, emotions, demands, and expectations, finding that space, whether we know it or not, is our biggest struggle and siphoner of everything positive. And for those who have no physical space to call their own—especially the identity of what they define as their nation—the exertion to get what belongs to them doubly rumbles up conflict, strife, and more often than not, violence.
In the terrific Season 2 of The Family Man, every character, etched out superbly, is busy fighting their space odyssey. Srikant Tiwari (Manoj Bajpayee) continues his struggle to live up to the series’ name, ceding his secret role of an agent at Threat Analysis and Surveillance Cell (T.A.S.C.) to the hum and drum of a corporate job. His wife, Suchitra, now world-famous as Suchi (Priyamani,understated and hugely effective), is torn between guilt and family, between the roles of a weary, sacrificing homemaker and the calling of her corporate job, stuck inside the vacuum of her personal Magdeburg hemispheres. Their daughter Dhriti (Ashlesha Thakur) simmers in the stew of angsty hormones, her inner turmoil triggered by her parents’ constant Battle of Implacable. What may quell her inner fears in her corner could be true love in the form of a likable Kalyan (Abhay Verma), who has his own dwelling challenges. The youngest member of the family, Atharv (Vedant Sinha), struggles to be heard, to be taken seriously. In his world where everyone seems so strung up, his attempts to provide solace (“I’m there for you”, something he needs to hear more often) are brushed aside, and his solution to hypnotize all around him to make things easier flops faster than you can say “Mandrake”. Small wonder then, that his saxophone notes are as off-key as his existence.
Outside, another force threatens to cloud this unstable family dynamic. No, it’s not Suchi’s one-night defiant stand Arvind (Sharad Kelkar doing a lovely job of staying in the background, yet adding to the dynamic). That is an identity and recognition war which the writer-director duo Raj Nidimoru–Krishna D.K., along with writers Suman Kumar and Suparn Varma (who directed some of the episodes) negotiate on a tight-rope. Borrowing from the Eelam Tamils’ pogrom-induced disaffection in Sri Lanka, this season dips into troubling waters to fish out a quasi-political thriller; quasi because the creators keep it as apolitical as possible—not surprisingly, with heckles raised for every edgy line or approach nowadays—whence the tight-rope act. Which begs the question: how can filmmakers and writers ever hope to create content that takes a stand, tell stories that are strictly a POV from one side, when litigation and prison lurk around every episode’s corner? Involving the Indian Prime Minister Basu (played with East-India ambition by the terrific Seema Biswas) and the Sri Lankan head Lasit Rupatunga (Abhishek Shankar) and Chinese strait bullying, the political and optical compulsions are played out that begin to hit the Tamils’ plans for recognition. This in turn cleaves the relationship between the in-exile Sri Lankan government head Bhaskaran (Mime Gopi) and his second-in-command Deepan (a fine Azhagam Perumal). There’s ex-ISI Major Sameer (Darshan Kumar, very good in this season) and Sajid (Shahab Ali, adding heft, menace, and then unexpected kindness) from the earlier season to add to the fomenting danger.
As Bhaskaran activates his sleeper cell that involves his trusted aide Selvarasan (Anandsami, simply brilliant) and the fiery Raji (Samantha Akkineni), the plot veers away from its politics to a purely tick-tock, countdown thriller. And yet, it works, all of it, and fabulously, because the entire season is breathless, slick, and leaves you no time to chew your nails. In a superb twist of marital and situational irony, while Suchi rejoins her old company job (and Arvind and D.K. in a beaming cameo), Srikant Tiwari quits his in a scene that’s purely cat-calls and whistles, leaving his office boss Tanmay (a hyper rib-tickling Kaustubh Kumar) dangling by the thread of his lanyard.
The Family Man Season 2 packs in a lot in each compact episode. There’s none of the mid-section fat that afflicted the first outing, and for that, you have the writers and directors to thank. Every scene is strung tight, even the familial and familiar ones. Adding to this season’s impeccable credentials is the cast. Mukesh Chhabra puts together a fine ensemble of actors. There’s Tiwari’s new-found ally, Muthu Pandian played with beautiful grace by Ravindra Vijay: the actor brings such empathy and dignity to his role, he’s mesmerizing. The ever-dependable Vipin Sharma plays PM Basu’s tea-quaffing chief of staff, who, if visiting a fortune teller, would throw away the crystal ball and boil the tea leaves to brew a cuppa. There are the ravaged and ragged survivors from the earlier season, Zoya (Shreya Dhanwanthary, defiantly heart-breaking) and Milind (Sunny Hinduja, haunted and superb). Both Ashlesha Thakur and Vedant Sinha as the Tiwari offsprings delight and stun in their turns here. And where would Tiwari be minus Chellam Sir? Udhayabhanu Maheswaran plays the omniscient spook with a misleading nonchalance, lending a Ludlum-like enigma, a vegetable bag in one hand, a burner in the other, and secrets surrounding him like a halo.
If there’s ever an award for the most likable character, it has to be J.K. Talpade. Sharib Hashmi plays Talpade with such a genuinely kind, human touch, it can’t be all an act. Talpade’s the friend you want to have by your side and never want to lose. It’s in how he takes the effort to pronounce cop Umayal’s name—she played by Devadarshini with a stolid and steadily thawing force; it’s in how he tries breaking the ice by praising South Indian food, to which Muthu ripostes: “Which state? There are five states in South India.” That bridge between idli-‘sambhur’-‘mendu’ wada, and podi perceptions and the Mumbai and Chennai T.A.S.C. teams closes that bit more in a scene that pays tribute to playback singer S.P. Balasubramaniam singing Rahul Dev Burman’s Hindi composition, uniting broken hearts across languages and biases.
The series is uplifted by Ketan Sodha’s score that adds momentum, tension, and zing to the proceedings. And the action scenes are a highlight. Cinematographer Cameron Bryson captures every shoot-out with panache, at times keeping you at a distance, others, pushing you right amidst it all, hoofing it in the heart of a cross-fire, or galloping into imminent danger.
As Raji, Samantha Akkineni brings a wiry, tightly-wound explosive wrath to her act. Her knit-brows form more than a frown—they’re a dam across wounds that when teased, break into an immeasurable boiling flood of physical and mental magma. Which raises the point of how the woke people of the Republic of PC are all riled up about her make up. In turn, this raises the question of how it’s now an ‘in’ thing to get all stuffy and hot under one’s collar, seated in an armchair, and protest about the bronzed look. “Why didn’t they get an actor who actually was darker?” “Why are they perpetuating the myth of dark-skinned rebels?” The point is, there’s no end to what one can take offense about these days. It’s akin to treading on a floor with PC pieces strewn all over, and then calculating the Minimum Offending Denominator, and hoping you sail through just fine. Casting actors is a tough job. When it’s done to override a character’s space and get in a saleable star, it’s discriminatory, racist, and invidious. When it’s a character that needs a specific look and persona, and you use cinematic props—including make-up—to achieve that end for an actor who fits the requirement, it’s doing what cinema and TV are all about. Such umbrage does nothing for the critical cause of inclusivity, just as it would do no good to be offended by Dalip Tahil as the choice for T.A.S.C. head, Kulkarni. There’s no semblance of anything Maharashtrian about him, nor is there any dearth of Maharashtrian actors of that age to portray that character. Pune protests, anyone? Plus, the skin-color bias is so strong in India, it seeps into every societal interaction and involves shaming and discrimination, especially for women. What happens then, when superstars’ looks are digitally brushed to make them look fairer in song sequences? That’s an offensive perpetuation of a bias that needs to be dealt with.
And Manoj Bajpayee is the other highlight of the show. The actor brings a bagful of myriad emotions to his act, each as effective as the next. His Srikant Tiwari, struggling in his own emotional space and inability to communicate (despite, or because of, counseling: in a cruel twist of fate, played out by the superb late Asif Basra), is quizzical, baleful, and stumped by everyday situations. How is his daughter a feminazi? What does that even mean? When did children become so complicated? How does one handle emotions boiling over at home? Bajpayee is a delight, especially when he gets around to delivering those slaps that are as tight as the script. He can channelize Sanjeev Kumar in a comical scene, where, with impeccable timing, he says, “Shall we?…JK?” He can break your heart when his does, mournful, and still struggling to say what he feels. And when he springs into action, he’s a mean machine.
As our world crumbles and despairing realization sinks in that there is no new normal because there is no normal, Srikant Tiwari will need more answers in the future. And fast. How WFH and WTF are different things. Or maybe not, considering how we’re all getting on each others’ nerves, sharing spaces we never had to in the past. The future’s uncertain. But it’s one worth waiting for. To see T.A.S.C in a mask.
Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers. The Family Man is streaming on Prime and rated A (For adults only) for moderate profanity, violence, and some non-nude scenes of sex.
The Family Man Season 2
Directors Raj Nidimoru–Krishna D.K. Time ~ 40 min
Writers Raj Nidimoru–Krishna D.K., Suman Kumar
Stars Manoj Bajpayee, Samantha Akkineni, Priyamani, Sharib Hashmi, Ashlesha Thakur, Ravindra Vijay, Vedant Sinha
Genres Action, Comedy, Drama