Filmmaker duo Raj and D.K. know how to begin with a bang. Season 2 of their rightfully celebrated Amazon Prime Video series The Family Man opens with an impressive 4-minute single take sequence (one of many through the show). It’s a flashback set in Sri Lanka which takes us through an active military camp and serves as an introduction to the ‘villains’ of this season. An elite unit of Sri Lankan Tamil rebels who were massacred and driven out from their homeland, many of whom have been hiding out in India ever since, waiting for a new mission.
For the uninitiated, The Family Man follows Srikant Tiwari (the inimitable Manoj Bajpayee) - an intelligence agent at TASC, a special cell of the National Intelligence Agency. The series follows his missions tracking down terror threats while attempting to balance his responsibilities as a husband and father. Not easy, considering his job is kept secret from his family.
It’s a peculiar yet brilliant show that’s somehow as much about thwarting terrorists and slick gunfights as it is about intimate family dynamics. With a whole lot of laugh out loud humour peppered in along the way.
Suffice to say, there’s an open offer to buy a beer for anyone who can describe the genre of this show to me.
Season two picks up almost a year after the events of the explosive season one finale, where a nerve gas attack almost eradicated the population of Delhi. As a result of no longer wanting to bear the costs, compromises and cover ups that come with being an intelligence agent, Srikant has traded TASC for a corporate job, allowing him to spend more time with his family. He goes full ‘family man’, if you will. Of course, he misses the old life and tries to keep tabs on the latest security threats. Or, as his partner J.K (an always impressive Sharib Hashmi) puts it - he’s suffering from ‘major FOMO’.
But, as expected, this new domesticated life doesn't last long and he is soon back on the frontlines with TASC. To creators Raj and DK’s credit, however, Srikant doesn’t go back because of some tired cliche of ‘being forced back to the life he left behind’. He goes back because he chooses to. You can take the man out of the action, but you can’t take the action out of the man.
If the first season was about Srikant trying to balance his two worlds and keep them apart at all costs, this new season is about how that’s no longer possible and how they come crashing together.
Nowhere is that better encapsulated than in a scene in episode 7. Srikant’s daughter Dhriti has been kidnapped by a terrorist with an axe to grind against Srikant. His wife, Suchi, tries to call him to tell him Dhriti is missing, but he doesn't take the call. He doesn’t have the energy to deal with her and their strained marriage. When she finally does get through, even then their conversation about Dhriti’s kidnapping is riddled with conflict and contempt for each other. It’s a great scene which perfectly captures the essence of the show, where the relationship drama and life threatening situations are so intricately intertwined.
Once again, The Family Man is singularly elevated by Manoj Bajpayee’s effortless turn as the everyman agent strained between two lives, just trying to hold it all together. Manoj manages to convey more emotions with his trademark piercing stares than many actors do with their everything. But, alongside a fine ensemble of well-etched characters, arguably the greatest triumph of this season is Samantha Akkineni as the elite rebel soldier Raji. Despite her uncomfortably darkened appearance, Akkineni brings a palpable intensity to a complex character. Raji has only ever known tragedy and pain and will stop at nothing to get revenge. She’s pure weaponised trauma, forced into a life of violence as a means of survival. It is to writers’ Raj, DK, Suparn S Varma and Suman Kumar’s credit that we sympathise and almost root for her, despite her murderous intentions. One of the many reasons that season two is stronger than its already fantastic predecessor.
Add to that the fact that Raji’s action scenes are electrifyingly choreographed and among the best I’ve ever seen in Hindi cinema. The Family Man is known for its standout action set pieces (see Season 1, Episode 6’s stellar 13-minute one-take hospital assault scene). And with that too, they really raise the bar. This time around there’s a thrilling police station assault, and a captivating finale shootout in the final episode. These are breathtaking single-take sequences in which it feels like DOP Cameron Bryson has the camera gliding through the air, in and out of vehicles, through gunfire, explosions, bloodshed and beyond.
What is odd, however, are the episode durations of this season, which range from 30 to 60 minutes. It’s hard not to wonder whether that’s due to all the controversy against Amazon Prime Video’s after Tandav (which is why The Family Man’s release was pushed from its original February release date). We'll never know whether this released version is what was originally intended or if it's been altered and edited down in some way. But despite all those obstacles and outrage the resounding message here is clear - a great story is a great story.
In the end, The Family Man 2 is everything you’d hope for from a fantastic follow up, seamlessly blending the intimacy of a layered family drama with the grand scale and thrilling execution of a tense action blowout. What more could you want?