The first episode of The Family Man (season 1) is distinctly unpromising. Although it opens to a tautly shot sequence off the Kerala coast, where three ISIS men trying to enter the mainland are captured by the Coast Guard, the rest of the episode appears to dwindle into unconnected loose threads. A humdrum day in the life of the protagonist (an intelligence agent named Shrikant Tiwari) in Mumbai is interspersed with a Pakistani agent making mysteriously sinister plans in Balochistan and an alleged ‘lone wolf terrorist’ leaving a scooter bomb in a busy area of Mumbai.
Tiwari, his beat-up car, bickering kids and irate wife, the cramped apartment they reside in (and consequent EMI aspirations) – all pay homage to the title of the series and constitute the major part of episode one. His real job as a gun-toting secret agent is hidden from his family (who believe that he is a paper-pusher in a dusty government office). Amidst juggling calls from his wife, his children and their school, Tiwari hardly seems to get any sleuthing done- typical of Government jobs where work takes second place to gossip, chai, smoke-breaks and personal phone calls. The part where he abandons an important assignment to dash off to his daughter’s school in response to her SOS and then in the principal’s presence keeps glancing surreptitiously at his phone and stammers out excuses is painful to watch. It leads the viewer to pray that our nation’s security is in better hands in real life.
Weaned on Western spook series, where the action is unremitting from Minute One and the main characters are good looking eight packer bad-boys with swaggers to match, I was lulled into NOT watching beyond the first episode. The skinny average-Joe (or is it Jaggu) and his hen-pecked and chick-pecked existence in suburbia was boring.
Thankfully, other viewers were persistent. Over the weeks, subsequent episodes captured the attention of viewers and The Family Man is being recommended as a must-see. Which is how yours truly got around to watching the rest of the episodes. And I admit to being blown away. The reader may note that even my choice of words is a pun that betrays the lingering effect of watching this series.
Appearances are deceptive seems to be the motto.
If Western serials are pizzas, relished slice by monotonous slice, then the dish created by maker chefs Raj and DK is a roadside Chaat. Seemingly innocuous, slightly dodgy ingredients are laid out on the ‘Thelaa’ and mixed in successively to create a tangy, spicy, oral-mucosa searing creation. Yeh Dil Mange More even while the eyes are tearing up and nose is watering (and bowels are waiting for the final reckoning ).
The brilliance of this series is the seeming credibility of the story. The makers claim they are inspired by true stories culled from the daily news. The omnipresent red-tape, poorly paid agents, backroom politics, interfering administrators, ubiquitous cover-ups and half-truths fed to the public as well as short-sighted politicians are authentically desi, as are swear-words liberally peppering the dialogue ( Hindi version recommended for viewers). The office is hidden on the top floor of a building where no lifts can go, the waistband tucked guns casually brandished and fired, wiretaps, hidden cameras, drop boxes for messages, the feeling of imminent danger, the shocking reveal of the identities of the villains – all essential spy story components are artfully woven into the narrative. Tiwari’s family and their frustrations and squabbles as well as the antics of his children seem real.
The aerial shots lovingly record moments of breath-taking panorama amidst the ugliness that follows in the narrative. The foot chases through tiny back-alleys, occasional roof-tops and roads are created by the eye of the camera at times myopically following the action infusing an edge-of-the-seat excitement. Sachin-Jigar’s background score (and title track) subtly highlights the tension in every sequence.
The thwarted radicals who are fighting for their cause are not completely reviled. Indeed, one feels a reluctant sympathy for the manner of their manipulation and ultimate fate at times. Maintaining philosophical neutrality despite the subject matter ( ‘today’s terrorist is tomorrow’s freedom fighter’), the storyline is not preachy or judgemental. Shri’s moral and ethical dilemma upon the wrongful death of a young liberal is a worthy one and evokes empathy.
There are no spoilers in this review. It would be safe to reveal that the first season deals with terrorist acts in India that are masterminded by ISI through Kashmiri separatists, while the second season moves to the Tamils fighting for Eelam in Sri Lanka planning an assassination on Indian soil. As the secret intelligence agency responsible for uncovering and stopping these acts, TASC operative Tiwari or Shri (short for Shrikant) sets out to link captured ISIS operatives and the lone wolf responsible for a Mumbai blast to a bigger plot involving releasing Sarin gas in the capital. His sojourn to Balochistan and Kashmir and later Delhi, to uncover and stop the plot in Season One is fast-paced and nail-biting.
The casting is brilliantly done, Bajpayee as Tiwari, Priyamani as his wife, Neeraj as Moosa, Gul Panang as Saloni, Sharib as Talpade, Shahab Ali as Sajid and so on, slip into their roles with admirable ease.
Does Tiwari succeed in stopping the release of the Sarin? Who is the Butcher of Raqqa who masterminded thousands of deaths in Syria? Does he escape to create more mayhem and deaths in India? On the home front, does the family of the Family Man get neglected by the demands on his time due to this crisis? Does the secrecy create new problems for Shri and his family?
The first season appears to end inconclusively. One can’t help wondering if Raj and DK decided to cash in on the popularity of their creation and retrospectively edited the end of Season One ( pushing it to Season Two) to whet the viewer’s appetite for more.
The second season supplies some answers. And simultaneously poses new questions. But that will be the content of my next review!
In the meantime, I am waiting for the teasers of Season 3 …or as we all say to the chaat seller “Ek sookha puri do na, bhaiyyaji!”