The Family Man: Never a Dull Moment In Manoj Bajpayee’s Wacky Show
(Note: This is a review of the first 3 episodes of The Family Man)
Surprise! The first two-and-a-half minutes of Prime Video’s new series The Family Man is totally in Malayalam. That’s what welcomes you when you step into Raj and DK’s quirky world of a middle-class guy, who is a world-class spy.
At the outset, we’re witness to a trio on a small boat trying to escape Coast Guards patrolling the waters somewhere off the coast of Kochi, and the action then switches to the hustle and bustle world of the protagonist - Srikant Tiwari (Manoj Bajpayee) in Mumbai. Our man Srikant lives a double life, he appears to be your regular middle-class man who works in a government office and goes about pushing files from 9 to 5 for a living. But, he’s actually an agent at the Threat Analysis and Surveillance Cell (TASC), whose job consists of chasing terrorists and hanging around while bombs are defused by experts.
The idea itself is not explosively fresh, I remember loving every bit of 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. But, trust filmmakers Raj and DK to completely take the idea to a new level padded with ample desi sensibilities along with able help from Manoj Bajpayee, Sharib Hashmi, Priyamani and the rest of the team.
The macro plot of The Family Man is not very different from the usual espionage thriller - a bunch of Islamist terrorists (with links to ISIS and Pakistan) have a sinister plan to carry out a strike in India and it’s up to Srikant Tiwari and his TASC force to uncover the terror plot and bring the extremists to book. What keeps The Family Man ticking are the delightful characters, the exhilarated writing and the wacky moments that are created by a fusion of these elements.
The story and screenplay by Raj, DK and Suman Kumar (with dialogues by Sumit Arora) is nimble and well paced. The action smoothly moves between Srikant’s home, his work on the field and the parallel track of the extremist group who is planning a terror strike named Mission Zulfikar. Srikant Tiwari is a juggler, he’s forever juggling his professional and personal commitments and is perhaps falling short at setting goals for both. Between helping his wife Suchitra Iyer (Priyamani) with household chores, which could be as mundane as paying the electricity bill, or picking their kids from school, our desi agent is also dodging bullets and risking his life while negotiating with terrorists.
As the story accelerates, not only does the viewer get to know about Mission Zulfikar and the terror network that’s involved in it, which Srikant is trying hard to crack, they also see Srikant’s family life unravel. His wife is probably on the brink of having an affair, his daughter is covering up for a boy who’s pushing pills in their class and his son, well, he’s just a little brat of his own. It’s this imperfect world that Srikant inhabits that makes him immensely relatable even when he’s dealing with his peeved doctor or with a gun-wielding desperate militant.
It’s 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 Family Man 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. Besides a sequence that shows a mob attacking two men allegedly carrying beef, one of the ISIS sympathisers has a back story that briefly delves into the attacks on Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. However, the scene involving a fracas over the national anthem still stuck out like a sore thumb.
What makers Raj and DK bring to The Family Man is a total mastery over the craft of storytelling. Unlike, say a Sacred Games, The Family Man manages to remain eminently accessible while still retaining its finesse. Also, there’s hardly a dull moment in any of the first three episodes, which vary from 46 to 50 mins each. It’s clear that the writers have made an attempt to more than scratch the surface with the themes they are dealing with. For instance, a captured terrorist, Moosa, explains how low the Indian Muslim ranks in the organisational hierarchy of the ISIS. 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 Malayalis, they exchange notes on where in Kerala they are from. There’s also a sequence where in Tiwari’s mother (from UP) and Iyer’s father (from Tamil Nadu) have an awkward passive aggressive discussion about #HindiImposition (talk about being relevant and topical in the digital age!).
Manoj Bajpayee in top form brings an earnest nuance to his performance as Srikant Tiwari and Sharib Hashmi as his trusted right hand JK is brilliant with an equally arresting screen presence. The supporting cast of Priyamani, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Neeraj Madhav, Sharad Kelkar and the kids Mehak Thakur and Vedant Sinha are absolutely natural performers. If you are looking for an engaging binge-watch this weekend, The Family Man on Amazon Prime Video is what you need to tune into right away.
Rating: 3.5 Quints out of 5
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