Creators Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK’s fine thriller is both lighthearted and intense. Expect slick action sequences, humour, commentary on topical issues and an intriguing plot at the centre of which is Manoj Bajpayee’s undercover intelligence operative.
Directors: Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK
Writers: Raj Nidimoru, Krishna DK, Sumit Arora, Suman Kumar
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Priyamani, Sharib Hashmi, Gul Panag
Streaming on: Amazon Prime
Indian content on streaming platforms has explored a species infrequently seen in Hindi cinema, the flawed hero. Netflix’s Sacred Games gave us Sartaj Singh (Saif Ali Khan), an under-performing police officer desperately trying to do some good while battling internal demons. The Family Man‘s far from perfect lead is Srikant Tiwari (Manoj Bajpayee). An intelligence officer par excellence, he’s a poor husband and father.
Tiwari works for TASC, a top secret government agency that undertakes mass surveillance in order to prevent terror attacks. In what can be seen as an alarming invasion of privacy, TASC can access personal data and records of anyone in the country. As Srikant’s partner JK Talpade (Sharib Hashmi) eloquently puts it, “Privacy is a myth, just like democracy.”
Tiwari leads a double life. To his family, he’s an overworked and underpaid government employee who sits behind a desk of files and paperwork. His inability to spend time with the family and to contribute to household responsibilities is a source of great frustration to his wife and two kids. His wife Suchitra (Priyamani) has her hands full teaching psychology at a college and raising the kids. She aspires for more from her life but feels she’s been held back by familial duty. Their daughter Dhriti (Mehak Thakur), meanwhile, is a rebellious adolescent with problems of her own.
The plot is inspired by daily news stories, and we’re reminded of this at the end of every episode by way of a collage of newspaper headlines. A group of people have fled to Syria to join ISIS, a man gets beaten up in a cinema hall for refusing to stand for the national anthem, persons suspected of transporting beef are lynched. We also see a fictional equivalent of JNU in Mumbai, where students are deemed “anti-nationals”. In the process, the makers have explored homegrown terrorism. The primary antagonists aren’t foreign forces, but are in fact Indian (though foreign parties are involved). Nidimoru and Krishna DK attempt to understand the forces that drive these men to follow the path of terror. At the same time, they’re careful not to sympathise with terrorists.
What works for The Family Man is that despite its serious theme, the show is enlivened with much humour. The intriguing yet uncomplicated story moves at a brisk clip and at no point does your head feel muddled with too much information. The show isn’t an out and out action fest. The focus is more on chasing trails and putting pieces together. We do, however, get to see some finely shot action sequences. The shootout scenes in particular, which are made to appear as if they’ve been shot in a single take, are a visual delight. We’re also treated to some beautiful aerial shots of different places, Mumbai, Delhi, Kashmir, Balochistan and even Syria.
As one would expect, Manoj Bajpayee hits a home run with his portrayal of Srikant Tiwari. His performance is minimalist, his humour straight-faced. The daily pressures of his job, along with the guilt of neglecting his family have taken a toll on Srikant’s health, as has the heavy smoking and drinking to cope with the stress. But he sails through it all and is beyond competent in his work. Our man isn’t a hardline patriot, he doesn’t thump his chest about how much he loves his country. Instead, he’s critical of extremism of any kind. In fact, Srikant is not your average trigger-happy action hero. He isn’t even a part of the major action scenes. He is essentially the brain that puts everything together, believing in tact rather than pumping lead.
The supporting cast chips in with noteworthy performances too. Priyamani is wonderful as Suchi, the overworked wife and mother desperately searching for meaning in her life. Sharib Hashmi is likeable as JK, Srikant’s partner as well as confidante. Their camaraderie is one of the highlights of the show. Gul Panag makes an impression in a short role as Saloni Bhatt, Srikant’s reporting officer in Srinagar. A special mention must be made of Mehak Thakur, who plays the snarky teenager Dhriti. The surprise performance is by the Malayalam film actor Neeraj Madhav, who is brilliant as Moosa Rahman, an engineer from Kerala who goes to Syria to join the Islamic State.