Created by Raj and DK, 'The Family Man' focuses on the life of a middle-class man, who’s also a spy, and how he tries to strike a balance between the two worlds in his life.

The Family Man review Manoj Bajpayee shines in an uneven series on terror
Flix Amazon Prime Monday, September 23, 2019 - 16:17

In the opening segment of Raj and DK’s new Amazon Prime series The Family Man, three people find themselves in high seas off the coast of Kochi, India. We are told they have been hiding in Lakshadweep for several days and that they are on a secret mission. Soon, they are confronted by coast guards, which results in a shootout. Among the three is an innocent young man, Moosa Rahman (Neeraj Madhav), who begs their leader, Asif to not do anything silly. “I don’t want to die like this,” Moosa says, and in the commotion that follows, all of them end up surrendering to the coast guards.

It’s a dramatic segment and it sets the stage for a thrilling story about the threat to national security from various corners.

In the course of 10 episodes, The Family Man tells the story of Srikant Tiwari (Manoj Bajpayee), an agent who works at TASC (Threat Analysis and Surveillance Cell), an offshoot of NIA, and how he straddles the two worlds in his life. On one hand, he, like the title suggests, leads a normal life, where he has to look after his kids and his wife, and on the other hand, he’s one of the best field agents at TASC, where he often leads missions to nab terrorists and criminals.

The first season of The Family Man is set in the backdrop of the rise of ISIS in India and a devious plan, hatched by ISI in Pakistan, which could lead to a war between India and Pakistan. The rest of the story is about how these worlds collide to reshape the future of India, and what Srikant Tiwari does to stop them.

Raj and DK, who have previously directed Go Goa Gone, Shor In The City, Happy Ending and A Gentleman, bring their quirky humour to The Family Man, and it adds a unique flavour as the series explores the life of a middle-class family. Srikant Tiwari 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. And then, there’s his wife Suchitra (Priyamani), who often confronts him for not spending enough time with the family.

The juxtaposition of scenes where Srikant has to put up with the never-ending demands of his family life and the very real and imminent danger lurking at every corner of the country is thrilling. Part of the reason why The Family Man works 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.

Apart from the humour, Raj and DK succeed in keeping the proceedings going at a nail-biting pace and the writing gets better as the story unfolds. In one of the best segments in the whole series, there’s a scene where Srikant sits on a footpath to reflect on the horror that has just unfolded in front of his eyes and he’s hit by an avalanche of shame and guilt for being part of it. It’s a moment that stays with you and it’s in segments like these that the series humanises its characters.

Much later in the story, when Srikant goes to Srinagar, he reflects on the reality of the army’s presence in the state and how it has altered the dynamics of socio-economic life. But there’s also something off about the series, especially in the first four episodes. The focus is on the rise of ISIS and Islamophobia within the country. 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 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 the country right now. And so, we end up elaborate sequences where the script resembles a narrative, often circulated through WhatAapp, the veracity of which is often questionable. 

The story of The Family Man might have been inspired from the headlines of daily news stories, but it doesn’t get into the nuances and real issues beneath those headlines. Every 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. Another key subplot involving an army General in Pakistan and an ISI Major turns into a caricature.

For all its shortcomings, The Family Man shines the most when it focuses on Manoj Bajpayee. The actor gets plenty of room to dig into his emotional side and also, breathe life into a character that’s under pressure constantly. Priyamani, who plays Suchi, is brilliant in her role and the relationships within the family are well explored. The two young actors, who played Dhriti and Atharva, make a solid impression. Among others, it’s Neeraj Madhav and Sharib Hashmi who leave a long-lasting impression. Gul Panag and Sundeep Kishan too lend credible performances.

The Family Man is not without its share of issues and it struggles to find a middle ground, but once it finds its rhythm, there’s no looking back. In times like these where nationalism and national security make headlines every single day, The Family Man offers plenty of thrills and twists to make for an engaging watch.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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