Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor
Family Man is a highly pleasant surprise, and unlike any other Indian cinema I’ve ever seen. But you need to stick with it, as I did. I am very glad that I did. With it Amazon Prime continues to cement a top position in producing great Indian TV. By the way to prove I’m an honest broker and NOT a Bollywood or Amazon shill, please take a gander at my unsparing beatdown of Tandav and glowing review of Paatal Lok, if you’d like. I can swing either way 🙂
What starts out as a somewhat confusing attempt at merging family drama, weird comedy, and brainless action sequences eventually graduates into a show with great depth and feeling. This can be unexpected for those of us who have watched too much Bollywood masala over the years and are unable to process a convincing genre-bending TV series taking place in India that actually works. It all comes together mostly thanks to the heavy acting chops of the main character and protagonist Srikant, played by Manoj Bajpayee in the first time (but not last) I’ve seen this Bollywood star at work. Because all 3 of the show’s genres are funneled directly through him and his mastery of facial expressions, foul language, and a pathological inability to tell the truth. I’ve heard so much about Bajpayee from relatives that this was about time.
The show follows a group of federal gunslingers assigned to a fictional, top-secret Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA) cell who hunt nasty international terrorist networks. This plot line in itself delayed my desire to start streaming. In too many Indian movies and shows about anti-terrorism, it devolves into barely watchable one-sided patriotic propaganda, with sequences of highly predictable twists and moral projections forced onto the audience with the heroes of the story and the Indian government getting worshipful treatment instead of humanity.
But Family Man is thankfully different. All of a sudden some totally unpredictable stuff started happening, the bad guys and good guys weren’t all exactly what we thought they were, and multiple points of view were portrayed. The action scenes were at times super. Eventually one of the many excellent villains of the show, the diminutive female firecracker Raji played by Samantha Raj Prabhu, instilled deep horror in my heart. All the while hilarity and family drama ensued in healthy doses. As an added bonus, the plot line meanders through interesting threads of the United States and CIA, Pakistan’s ISI, ISIS recruits from Syria, the Tamil Tigers, etc.
True to the show’s name, a fair amount of screen time is given to the difficult home life problems of Srikant, an underpaid government agent who can’t exactly tell the wife and kids what he does all day and night… which we want to give him sympathy for, but then he acts in ways around his family and others that strain our ability to root for him. And herein lies the magic of the show: Srikant steps right up to the line of us liking or disliking his actions, laughing or cringing at them, applauding at his selfless heroism or swearing at his self-inflicted wounds. The perfect balance of chords is somehow struck in the chaos. This is not common in any cinema, let alone Indian, where again, hero worship and forced morality rules film about terrorism instead of the imperfections of humanity in someone who is nearly, but not quite, an anti-hero.
For all these reasons Family Man’s first two seasons are a great dive into Indian film and deserves the 8.9/10 rating on IMDB. Watch this acting master class by Bajpayee, Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Priyamani, and other good actors of our time. I look forward to more seasons! Enjoy the trailer: