The Family Man season 2 Review: An ambitious return of a stellar series
Manoj Bajpayee goes all out in Raj and DK's thrilling, complicated spy series
Srikant Tiwari is missing the game. His action hero days are clearly over, and he now stagnates in a dead-end job at a software company. Aggressively bored, he calls up his old partner, JK (Sharib Hashmi), who’s leading a covert operation in Chennai. JK gives him the lowdown: action, guns, hostages. Srikant’s face turns angry, desperate. It’s the look of a football player who’s been forced to grab a bench. Yet the coach is not to blame.
Srikant, played by Manoj Bajpayee, is on the slide. In the debut season of The Family Man (on Amazon Prime Video), he was a star spy, a master negotiator capable of disarming angry fanatics with his stories and smile. His fortunes have dipped exponentially ever since: he’s left the NIA, and harbours immense guilt over his previous mission even though the day was saved. Directors Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. don’t waste any more time tying up loose ends. Rather, in season 2, the drama turns to another taciturn soldier in exile.
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Samantha Akkineni, Priyamani, Sharib Hashmi, Mime Gopi, Seema Biswas
Directors: Raj Nidimoru, Krishna DK, and Suparn S Varma
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Following an explosion in Chennai, Raji (Samantha Akkineni), a former Sri Lankan Tamil rebel living in the city, is stirred into action. JK and his team of local officers prove inadequate in their surveillance efforts. And so Srikant is called in to help.
The show’s trailer, which dropped last month, has been at the centre of a heated controversy over its subject matter. In it, Raji, dressed in military greens—the defining uniform of the Liberation Tigers (they’re simply referred to as ‘rebels’)—is said to have teamed up with Pakistani agents. This much holds true in the series, though the actual collusion is more complicated than it seems. Much of it rests on a conspiracy theory that’s as ambitious as it is provocative. For now, I’ll say this: if you enjoyed the first season, and would like to pick this one up in good faith, it might be worth a try. That said, there’s little excuse for Samantha’s bronzed-up look as Raji (I also wish the makers had delved a little deeper into the character’s past, as well as the island’s complex history).
The pleasure of this series—and the Raj and DK brand—is in its unruffled lightness of approach. Season 2 continues in the briskly comic strain of its predecessor. It contrasts the make-do scrappiness of Indian agents with the larger-than-life threats they face. “Put it in rice for 24 hours, it will work,” a police officer tells JK apologetically after she unwittingly dunks his phone in water. It’s a funny contrast, though what truly makes it work is the deadpan performances of the actors. Manoj, especially, goes all out, switching between humour and urgency with frightening ease. His adaptability is what makes Srikant so fascinating. He’s the reason it’s hard to categorize this as a spy comedy—or a simple thriller. It’s a wry, complex, many-Manoj-ed show.
I found the family story a bit glum this time—and repetitive in view of the first season. Srikant and his wife, Suchitra (Priyamani), have hit a rough patch again. They’re seeing a counselor (late actor Asif Basra in a touching cameo), but it’s not working out. Srikant, as before, is struggling to get down with his kids. With the focus trained so firmly on Chennai, these scenes begin to drag. Manoj and Priyamani make a great team, though, and there’s a fine, charged moment when they quarrel over her birthday dinner (the cake arrives too late).
Tamil Nadu offers a rich backdrop to the show’s main action. It’s hard to recall a recent Hindi film or series that captured Chennai so vividly. “Think I better get used to the heat,” Srikant grumbles on arrival. “Summer’s not arrived yet,” his aide tells him. There are nods to city landmarks—the red-bricked façade of Fine Arts college, for example—as well as the perpetual water crisis in town. The supporting cast is extensively Tamil: Devadarshini Chetan and Anandsami stand out in their limited parts. The soundtrack is a mix of vernacular and Hindi/English tracks: Brodha V’s Vainko, which closes Episode 4, lands wonderfully on key.
The action is both slickly choreographed and a tad same-y. A chase sequence that utilizes everything from fishing nets to broken chairs could well have played out in Dharavi. This is followed, in the same episode, by a large-scale gunfight, reminiscent of the epic hospital shootout in season 1. As inventive as they are, Raj and DK seem to run out of new ideas. Srikant, never the trigger-happy type, is lurched into the centre of big set pieces – nowhere is this more disappointing than the climax.
In two seasons, The Family Man has come to resemble something unique in the Indian mindset. It’s a big, brawny show about terrorists and spies; it’s also a show about the little man and his less-than-ordinary life. It’s baldly patriotic - yet rushes to suggest extreme caution in its wake. Srikant, his heart still in a moment of great personal hazard, is a rare child of popular myth: the level-headed hero. He’s an oxymoron, really, and we are glad to have him around.