The Precarious Politics and Tamil Eelam in The Family Man 2
Before its release, The Family Man 2 faced accusations of negatively portraying the Tamil Eelam.
Shehan Karunatilaka’s novel Chats with the Dead is an overwhelming piece of historic fiction that fantasizes life after death of a photojournalist, who has been among the thick of all things political in Sri Lanka from 1970s to 1989 – the inchoate political movements of both Marxist-Leninist JVP (the nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) and the beginnings of the Sri Lankan Civil War with the formation of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
It might be a fictional plot, but Karunatilaka spares no one, using real names or sobriquets. He writes, “Since Sri Lanka’s 1987 peace accord with India, garbage men have been in high demand. The government forces, the eastern separatists, the southern anarchists and the northern peacekeepers are all prolific producers of corpses.” Where is the lie, as internet rhetoric would articulate today.
In Raj & DK’s web series The Family Man 2, the personal invades the political and vice versa almost every other episode. It is the show’s elevator pitch as well as the subconscious force. The writers (Raj Nidimoru, Krishna DK, Suman Kumar and Manoj Kumar Kalaivanan) and directors (Raj & DK, Suparn Verma) rarely steer away from the narrative rigor (with its undying, enviable penchant for single take set pieces) but take the time to expose the way politics, ideologies, guilt and remorse simmer underneath the characters concerning their job of “safeguarding the nation”.
The Family Man too is a prolific producer of corpses on all sides, but it always allows some time for an important conversation about family, a dusk time digression on the fight for a homeland and an undead separatist movement, a companionship found under shards of genocide at two ends of a subcontinent or a fellow officer telling her colleague about the judicially sanctioned murders their departments undertake in.
In season 1, Saloni (Gul Panag) talks about the zulm (cruelty) of living in occupied Kashmir. She mentions how we – herself, Manoj Bajpayee’s Srikant Tiwari, the government they work for – can do anything in the name of AFSPA, and they do; the separatists attack and our response is to impose curfew, cut off networks. It is the people who suffer amidst this exchange, it is indeed a life of zulm.
LTTE is not name dropped in the second season but gets more than a handful of references – Raji (Samantha Ruth Prabhu) and Bhaskaran (Mime Gopi) say "Maveerarukku maranam illai" (there is no death for heroes); Eelam celebrates Maaveerar Naal as Remembrance Day for soldiers lost and one of the characters is named Theepan, one among the LTTE leadership killed in the Battle of Ananthapuram.
Raji, the rebel soldier fighting for an independent Tamil Eelam gets a Saloni-like moment to school Srikant Tiwari on the political landscape of the region he has found himself in this time – Tamil – while in captivity. Tiwari’s familiar way of duping an assailant with his circular storytelling of a terrorist attack killing innocents in front of his eyes fails to penetrate the highly skilled Raji. Samantha as Raji doesn’t buy an ounce of Bajpayee’s Tiwari trying to deliver a performance.
In return, Raji tells him her own story, arms tied tongue not, mincing no words in giving him the unspeakable things done to her, her family, her siblings and her friends by the Sri Lankan army. She signs off by highlighting the difference between Tiwari’s and her story – his is a lie, hers is not.
Yes, it is Srikant Tiwari and family’s story, and he is the good guy fighting the “bad guys”, but the show is uninterested in staying safe in that corner. It holds its ambitions at the edges. The show indicts both the countries – India and Sri Lanka –from the get-go.
The Sri Lankan Prime Minister looks and dresses like Mahinda Rajapaksa – believed to be responsible for the massacres of Tamil civilians and LTTE fighters in the decade leading up to the end of the outfit – and his Indian counterpart Prime Minister Basu (Seema Biswas) is a self-aggrandizing politician who likes to keep her friends closer and always has a personal point to prove.
We get a tip that Basu was supportive of the current Lankan Prime Minister’s fight against the rebels years earlier (which harks back to the quote from Karunatilaka) and it only adds to what the state of Tamil Nadu already thinks of her (it is not pretty). And yet she decides to meet the Sri Lankan leader in Chennai for bilateral talks. The Tamil state’s sympathy for Eelam’s cause is repeatedly reinforced in the show without judgements and proclamations.
The creators of The Family Man love to perch themselves up in the precarious black hole somewhere between nationalism, patriotism, human rights and duty. In between mining humour by disabusing the very “north Indian” Tiwari and JK of South Indian stereotypes, Raj & DK throw offhand commentary.
The rebels remain “rebels” throughout the show, not “terrorists” until later when the very conversation on nomenclature comes up with Tiwari and JK, a Tamil agent Muthu (Raveendra Vijay) and Tamil Nadu cop Umayal (Devadarshini). To them, they are freedom fighters someone says, and it rings true at that moment knowing what people of Tamil Nadu would know about Eelam and the decades long civil war and the endless stories people have heard or experienced.
The Kashmir subplot from season 1 harmonizes with the Eelam plot of season 2, silhouettes of Sajid and Raji finding only sky as their umbrella (“this is my hometown, this is my land, only the sky belongs to all”, a drunkard’s croon in the background) more in common within their respective historic terrain than otherwise. If ethics of surveillance is a smoke break conversation for rookie agents in season 1, the seed of doubt – whether the work that Tiwari and company put in makes a difference, becomes the fishing net encompassing this season.
We work for no politicians and cannot afford to hold ideologies, Tiwari says. We work for the chair and whoever sits on it. This is the disillusioning perspective The Family Man, an Indian web series in 'Hindi' goes for with its host of characters and actors playing them spread across India.
If the season 3 hint is anything to go by, then Karunatilaka will help us out there too – “Evil is not what we should fear. F*ckers with power acting in their own interest: That is what should make us shiver.”
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