The Family Man is back after a two-year gap to re-examine the challenges of saving the nation, as well as the mysteries of marriage. The second season of the Amazon Prime Video web series created by Raj & DK invents a new enemy and resurrects an old adversary. Meanwhile, ace undercover intelligence agent Srikant (Manoj Bajpayee) grapples with the twin tasks of preventing a 9/11-style attack and protecting his brood.
In the first season, Srikant’s wife Suchitra (Priya Mani) was drifting towards her hunky colleague Arvind (Sharad Kelkar). Their daughter Dhriti (Ashlesha Thakur) and son Atharv (Vedant Sinha) were victims of the marital tension.
Srikant’s efforts to prevent a nerve gas attack orchestrated by an Indian member of the Islamic State with the help of Kashmiri terrorists and Pakistani intelligence had resulted in the death of an innocent student. Two members of Srikant’s team sustained physical and mental injuries in the process.
If Srikant – glib, cynical, fond of coarse expletives and white lies, and wedded more to work than Suchitra – gave the impression that he didn’t care very much, he was clearly very good at his job. The second season, written once again by Raj & DK and Suman Kumar, attempts to humanise the spook. He is guilt-stricken by the student’s senseless death and remorseful at having driven his wife away. He seeks to make amends by quitting his job and joining a business corporation.
His marriage still resembles a train-wreck in slow motion. The question of just how Srikant and Suchitra got together in the first place bedevils the second season too. The secrecy that characterised Srikant has infected his daughter Dhriti, who has a boyfriend tucked away.
Fortunately for Srikant, redemption arrives from beyond Indian shores. History tells us that the Sri Lankan Tamil struggle for independence effectively ended in 2009 with the military defeat of its most prominent advocate, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Family Man proposes that the blood of the survivors of this deadly civil war still boils.
A government in exile is lobbying European governments for recognition. Meanwhile, a breakaway sleeper cell in Tamil Nadu is plotting to kill Indian Prime Minister Basu (Seema Biswas), a hardliner with strong ties to the Sri Lankan president.
Chief among these still-roaring Tigers – called “rebels” throughout the series – is Raji. She has a tragic back story that fails to inspire sympathy or identification. There is no occasion to feel sorry for the woman who slaughters at will.
Samantha Akkineni plays Raji with strong-jawed determination and make-up that resembles the Cherry Blossom shoe polish’s light tan shade. Tamil Nadu has no shortage of actors who could have portrayed Raji without brownface, but the lure to boost the series with a big-name star appears to have been hard to resist.
Portrayed as not-too-bright and easily manipulated, the Sri Lankan Tamil fighters do not inspire confidence. They are highly trained, brutal and in a great hurry – which make them cannon fodder for that other reliable Indian enemy.
Raji and her posse get vital support from Pakistani agent Sameer (Darshan Kumar) and Kashmiri terrorist Sajid (Shahab Ali), both of whom are seeking payback for the events of the first season. Between one bloodbath and the next, a touching bond develops between Raji and Sajid, both soldiers in a war with no victory in sight.
There is some chatter about the difference between revolutionaries and terrorists as Srikant and his colleague Talpade (Sharib Hashmi) partake of idli-sambar and navigate cultural and linguistic differences with their counterparts in Chennai. Events prove that Srikant’s paranoia about enemies lurking everywhere – and the show’s very existence – is justified.
Given the raised stakes, the new season’s tone is less frivolous and more focused. Talpade’s lechery is channelled into something resembling a crush on Umayal (Devadarshini), a Chennai police officer who joins the investigation. Srikant’s contempt, which borders on indifference, is checked by events back home, which link back to his previous actions.
The acrobatics involved in connecting seemingly disparate events give directors Raj & DK and Suparn Verma plenty of opportunities to lay out skillfully choreographed scenes of action and tension. It’s not always plausible and at times risible, but the makers steam ahead with undeniable and almost seductive conviction.
The state of the marital union – a primary concern of the first season – gets short shrift over the nine episode-run. The element that distinguished this series from every other terrorism-themed show – the family and the man at the centre of it – yields little that is insightful or invigorating this time round.
Srikant still looks and behaves as though he hasn’t touched a body that isn’t a corpse in decades. Suchitra, having boldly followed her heart’s desire in the past, is more timid and subsequently less interesting. The promise of an inevitable third season, with an adversary from another neighbouring country, suggests further patriot games and more chapters in the non-love story of Srikant and Suchitra.
The performances are as sharp as ever, both from recurring and new actors. Playing an unlikely and often unlikable hero, Manoj Bajpayee perfectly conveys his character’s monomaniacal sense of duty and disastrous social skills. Priya Mani’s Suchitra continues to be the show’s beating heart. Ashlesha Thakur is excellent as Dhriti, who faces her demons with her mother’s doughtiness and her father’s acumen.
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