Updated: June 5, 2021 8:52:09 am
The Family Man Season 2 cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Samantha Akkineni, Sharib Hashmi, Priyamani, Sharad Kelkar. Seema Biswas, Asif Basra, Ashlesha Thakur, Vedant Sinha
The Family Man Season 2 directors: Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK
Let’s just put it out there: the second season of The Family Man is bigger, slicker, and much better. It significantly raises its stakes, casts its net wider, and manages to get in a larger context, even if fleeting, about the state of the world we are living in.
What’s really heartening is that the show manages to retain some spine in its careful treading of the thin line between rah-rah jingoism and a much more pragmatic view of I-love-my-India, without letting it overcome either intent or execution. And it has, by far, the best action sequences, bar one of a blast in the sky which couldn’t quite shake off its computer graphic origins, of any Indian movie or show. The chases, shoot-outs, hand-to-hand combat, scenes of guerilla training-plus-warfare are world-class. The adrenalin pumps, and everything jumps.
Our guys are clearly patriotic, willing to do or die for the country, but are not going to dump on our enemies, without just cause. How hard that is to do, is evident in the way things pan out in this new season, where our old pals from ISI/ISIS gang up with a bunch of committed Tamil rebels to, that’s right, attack India. It still can’t get away from drawing attention to the spreading tentacles of the ‘jehadi’ nexus: a soft-touch ‘Muslim’ teenager is placed alongside the hardcore terrorist to balance things, but we know which side our sympathies lie. ‘India khatre mein hai’, and Srikant Tiwari is your man for the job.
Not Bond. Not Bourne. Just middle-class, about to be on the other side of middle-age, ‘desi’ spy, more at home in situations where he is fronting high-octane raids than confronting snooty school principals. More ‘vada paav’, than ‘aglio olio’.
When we last saw Tiwari (Manoj Bajpayee), bumbling family man and super smart spy rolled into one, he was busy trying to scotch a terrorist attack in which a dangerous leak in a chemical factory is poised to turn India into a stunted wasteland.
Tiwari returns, along with JK Talpade (Sharib Hashmi), his faithful partner-in-crime, to crack a conspiracy whose roots go deep, arising from the rising spiral of identity politics, regional nationalism, bloody conflicts, and failed-but-with-long-tails rebel movements amongst our neighbouring countries.
This time around, the focus is Sri Lanka, and the show gives us a sweeping bird’s eye view of the recent history of the island nation, whose current state of relative peace was built on the back of two decades and more of violence, killing and civil war.
Everything is connected. A ripple in a deserted shanty on the Sri Lankan coast becomes a wave by the time it reaches the centre of power in India, where successive governments have had to be publicly sympathetic to the Sri Lankan Tamil cause. A direct consequence of the Rajiv Gandhi government’s botched attempts at armed intervention in Sri Lanka, where the LTTE reigned supreme, was the assassination of the prime minister.
One of Family Man season 2’s coups is to have Seema Biswas play the Indian PM Basu, who speaks of herself in the third person, as she marches through the corridors of power, hungry to increase India’s footprint on the world stage. Cleverly, the show’s creators and writers, Raj and DK, and Suparn, have created characters which look cobbled together from real-life. Basu, with her distinct sartorial style of silk jackets-and-saris, could well be a mix of Mrs Gandhi, Jayalalitha and Didi; the chief Tamil rebel leader reminds you of Prabhakaran, the formidable Tamil Tiger, who masterminded the assassination. Good to see Bajpayee and Biswas, both such powerful actors who had got their big break in ‘The Bandit Queen’ in the mid-90s, united again, but I do wish they had more time together.
The new season also gives us the real hero of the show. Samantha Akkineni, playing a highly trained, highly skilled terror operative, is absolutely terrific. She has only one burning desire: to take revenge on the Sri Lankan army which has destroyed her family, and the place she called home. Raji’s complex character, her harrowing backstory, and her flint-eyed resolve raises the bar. At times, she feels like she can take on not just the Tiwari-Talpade combine, but anyone who tries to come in her way. She reminds you, a little, of Nandita Das’s character in Mani Ratnam’s ‘Kannathil Muthamithal’; as well as Manisha Koirala’s character in ‘Dil Se’, the latter a rebel from a different region, but with the same desire to ‘free’ her homeland. Akkineni is the real lethal weapon of this show.
Don’t get me wrong. Manoj Bajpayee, the OG, continues to be the backbone of this show, his awkwardness in trying to make things better with discontented wife Suchi (Priyamani) balancing out with his skills in the field. It is a delightful act: a trained agent totally at sea in the cut-throat corporate world, and totally at home in the dangerous, murky terrain of counter-intelligence. And Sharib Hashmi is a joy, as ever. A female cop in Chennai is given a strong arc, and I missed her when she was not on screen. The actors who play the locals in Chennai and those who play the terrorists and their handlers are all spot on too.
The other thing that makes this season distinctive are the locations, in Chennai and its outskirts, Mumbai, London, Normandy, and some spots meant to be in Sri Lanka. Also nice is its insistence on letting us hear the language of the people who are on screen. Not in a half-hearted manner, but a flow of colloquial, colourful, salty dialects: those jobless worthies protesting about a Tamil actress being portrayed as a terrorist, should be delighted that with the Tamil language in full spate, being bandied about amongst full-bodied characters, all of whom look as if they belong to the landscape. Worth mentioning too are the great production values, and that it was shot like cinema, no skimping there: one sequence which has Raji limned against the night-sky, talking about her painful journey, is outstanding. There’s some fun to be had among all the bang-bang, kill-kill: I like South Indian food, says a clueless character. Swift comes the riposte: South India has five states, which kind of food are you talking about? Haha. And well called out. The occasional wry sending up of slippery bureaucrats (Vipin Sharma) and their allegiance to their political masters, adds to the humour.
There’s some clunkiness too. The weakest bits are between Suchi and her still besotted co-worker Arvind (Sharad Kelkar). Frisson is taken away, and their interludes are very dull indeed, and the much wondered about Lonavala question becomes a damp squib. There are a few embarrassingly bad scenes featuring a seriously inept marriage counsellor and a couple trying to circle back to each other. In a few places, I spotted some English subtitles which don’t match well. Sample: ‘Tum kahin nahin ja rahi ho’ becomes ‘You’re going to be here for a while’. Minor, but in a series like this, it jars.
But you forget all this because The Family Man Season 2 does the big picture so well. It brings us up to speed with India here today as we battle a brutal virus, and the continuing tragedy playing out all about us. But, aha, something else is afoot, this time in another part of the country, with the help of another enemy. Here comes the third season, no spoiler there.
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