Readers of this review who have not yet seen Season 2 – although the title suggests it, please be aware that this season is NOT based in Lonavla. Those of you who have seen the entire series – No! I do NOT know what happened in Lonavla.
More of that later.
For the longest time, the Desi tele-series featured unrealistic fully made-up women in twinkly sarees and two dozen glass bangles wandering into the kitchen and around the house/mansion with some saas-bahu skirmish /intrigue as the drama element.
Contemporary series like The Family Man goes about viewer-wooing differently. All the characters seem real. They talk like the guy/gal you might bump into in the train/bus/market/office or even encounter in the mirror. They dress like us on a normal day, do average stuff (eg. have limp potato wafers at kiddie birthday parties), face regular problems (how to tackle my kids’ junk-food craving!) and even have nightmares like us (what is my teenage daughter up to?). In The Family Man, the adrenaline rush that hooks the viewer is the plot rooted in reality, connected to actual current happenings. A lot of it seems surreal, but not James-Bondishly so. One still feels the thrill of a Hey man- maybe-this-did-happen?!
This Season follows on the heels of the earlier one and discloses how the terrorist-triggered gas leak (from Season one) ended. Dear Reader, kindly note – no spoilers as always! More significantly, in this season The Family Man, Shrikant Tiwari has chucked his Secret Agent job in favour of a Regular One. At last, he has ‘normalcy’, a bigger paycheck, regular working hours and a teensy cubicle to duck into when he wants to yawn with boredom. And oh yes– also a just-out-of-diapers boss who is incessantly lecturing him. A frustrated Tiwari keeps his toes dipped in TASC waters by being ever available to his erstwhile colleagues for updates, advice and outright intervention. He is like a teenager with his nose pressed against the window display of a Hamley’s outlet eyeing all the toys- he is dying to go in, but can’t because he has publicly said he has outgrown it and isn’t interested!
Meanwhile, for his TASC colleagues, it is just another day at the office as well – obeying their political masters no matter how abhorrent the task and shooting ‘terrorists’ to ‘save’ the nation. This time it is at the geographical other end of India – the state of Tamilnadu, where Sri Lankan Tamils fighting for Tamil Eelam have a support base.
A deplorable act of betrayal (by a fair-weather friend), a capture for political reasons (by the Indian Government) and a bomb-blast created with cunning intent (by the ISI) is the triage resulting in the death of a key person in the struggle for Tamil Eelam- the brother of their Supreme Leader. What follows is a mad quest for revenge by this London –based hench-man leading to the hatching of an audacious plot. Of greater alarm to RAW and TASC is a new friendship forged by the Pakistani ISI (smarting at the failure of their earlier attempts) and Sri Lankan Tamil fighters (who have loyal foot-soldiers at Ground Zero willing to make the supreme sacrifice ). Enemy’s enemy and all that…
Four highly-trained agents, of whom one is a woman, a part of a sleeper cell are tasked with bringing this plan to fruition. The targets – the Sri Lankan premier and the Indian Prime Minister, who are meeting in Chennai to sign a strategic treaty. The key to this is the female agent, Raji – battle-hardy, highly trained, loyal to the cause.
Here, I will play spoiler because some things just need to be highlighted in a review. The dead gaze, the low voice, the way Raji shrinks into her skin even when suffering the most terrible indignities and injustice ( a man groping her unashamedly on her commute, her boss propositioning her and demanding sex in exchange for his silence, or calmly offering her body to an inspector at a check-post for waving their cargo through) lulls one into imagining that this is yet another ‘Abala-Nari”. But the jack-in-the-box speed with which she demolishes those who trigger her deep anger is astounding. When quizzed by a lady cop about her quiescence, her answer “If every woman complained about men, all the men would be in jail!” reveals the depth of her disillusionment.
In Season Two, besides Raji, The Family Man episodes appear to be awash with women who display their chutzpah in myriad ways.
The TASC team investigating the plot has ambitious, fearless and capable local cops, one of whom is a female. Tiwari’s wife, the unsung, unappreciated Suchi has a new job, dresses modishly, applies light make-up and significantly, is asserting herself. The twist in this tale is a hunky flirty colleague/friend, who is single and gazes at her with silent yearning. Tiwari’s daughter, Dhriti is infatuated with a new boyfriend, who has lured her online with a hidden agenda. Despite all the odds, her strength in face of the crisis is admirable. This part, the stuff of every parent’s nightmare is horrifying to watch.
Much has been made of the Lonavla sequence where Suchi has to stay overnight with her colleague and hence the enigmatic title of this review. The script never actually lets the viewer know what happens between Suchi and her colleague in the hotel room. But that has not deterred viewers with a medieval misogynistic mentality from – I kid you not- sending a torrent of hate-mail and trolling poor Priyamani who plays the part of Suchi, much like the neighbourhood Aunty with voyeuristically twitching curtains waiting to judge every action from her own narrow perspective. We have no dearth of viewers who need to get a life and not spend precious time trolling actors. Not to be left behind, certain feminist critics are trolling the trollers and extending support to ‘Suchi Tiwari’ for putting up with being ignored by her husband!
There is no such thing as bad publicity, as they say! The attention is raking in more of the big bucks and the producers of the show must be laughing all the way to the bank.
The strength of this Season is the way the actors have fit into the narrative. Samantha Akkineni has pulled off an intense Raji with skill, while Bajpayee, Priyamani, Sharib, Ashlesha ( as the daughter), Shahab Ali, Kelkar, Darshan Kumar have stepped into their earlier roles with the ease of slipping into a pair of well-worn sneakers. Seema Biswas, Mime Gopi, Devadarshani, Anandsami, Ravindra Vijay have done a great job. Anandsami as the reclusive, multiple SIM card toting, morbidly cautious Chellam Sir is a treat to watch.
All in all, enough ingredients have been added into the cauldron to stir up a spell potent enough to entice and enchant the viewer. Where the first season seemed lax and lagging at times, the second season sets off at a fast pace and never slackens. Juggling as many as four or five scenarios at a time, the script and directors keep the narrative crisp and never let a single ball tumble down, gathering all of them together to create a nail-biting climax. This is aided by brilliant camera work, especially during the aerial shots and chases and well-choreographed action scenes. The musical score also keeps pace with the story. The moral, emotional and ethical dilemma faced by the agents who are all too human is also dealt with delicately.
Don’t be surprised if you end up binge-watching this season well into the night.