Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Samantha Akkineni, Priyamani, Sharib Hashmi, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Sunny Hinduja, Sharad Kelkar, Darshan Kumaar, Dalip Tahil, VipinKumar, Seema Biswas, Asif Sattar Basra, Shahab Ali
Director: Krishna DK and Raj Nidimoru
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Those who have binged on the first season of The Family Man, deservedly one of the highest-rated Indian web shows ever, know full well what to expect from the second. So, does Season 2 of the Amazon Prime Video series created by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK deliver on the promise? It does. Does it surpass the fantastic first season in terms of excitement and intrinsic effervescence? Not quite.
The Family Man S2 is buoyed by an as-magnetic-as-ever central performance by Manoj Bajpayee and a sharp-as-a-needle star turn by Samantha Akkineni in the role of an unwavering Sri Lankan Tamil liberation fighter on a suicide mission. The show, however, takes a while - in fact, quite a while - to lay all its key pieces out on the table. The build-up to the business end of the show is slow and deliberate. But if you hang in there long enough, you'll do yourself a favour. The final act and the run-up to it do pack quite a punch.
When the nine-episode series (written by Suman Kumar, Suparn S. Varma and Raj & DK) explodes in the sixth chapter, it does so in style and sustains the momentum right until the very end. The last four episodes are as riveting and well-paced as anything that the outstanding first season had on offer.
A quick postscript encompasses the timeline of the pandemic era right down to the onset of the second wave in India and provides a pointer to what lies ahead for Srikant Tiwari, the intrepid secret agent and the constantly struggling family man. What transpires until this point has enough voltage to whet the appetite of the audience. The Family Man isn't done yet. Nobody is complaining.
Season 2 loses some of the fine explorative balance that Season 1 had struck between Srikant's tremendous work pressures and his family commitments. In the early episodes, we find that he and his wife Suchi (Priya Mani) are in need of counselling. In another scene, the school principal alerts Srikant to the fact that his son Atharv (Vedant Sinha) might be suffering from ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). His teenage daughter Dhriti (Ashlesha Thakur), too, is desperate to break free from parental control. But these burgeoning domestic hot buttons take a bit of a backseat when the male protagonist is inevitably called upon to protect national interest at all costs.
Sajid Ghani (Shahab Ali), Srikant's vicious foe from the Kashmir outing that culminated in a thwarted nerve gas attack on Delhi in Season 1, is still around, but the action shifts to Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu and London, where Tamil rebels have joined hands with ISI operative Major Sameer (Darshan Kumar) to plan another terror strike on India.
The enemies are out to scuttle proposed bilateral talks in Chennai between a feisty, impulsive Indian Prime Minister (Seema Biswas) - she is referred to simply as PM Basu, no first name - and the Sri Lanka President. The two nations are on the verge of signing a historic port construction deal in order to keep China out of the Indian Ocean. Here, too, the surface is skimmed.
The PM is projected as an impetuous lady. "She hates being cornered," somebody says. That is all we are allowed to learn about her. Seema Biswas is a fine actress, but saddled with an underwritten part, she struggles. No better is the lot of another accomplished actor, Vipin Sharma. He plays a close aide of the PM but isn't allowed to emerge out of the periphery of the plot.
Part of the story unfolds in London. That is the current base of two former Tamil liberation fighters who are now key members of a government in exile - Bhaskaran (Mime Gopi) and Deepan (N. Alagamperumal). And that is where Major Sameer establishes contact with them and plans a joint mission in India. Sajid, whose hatred for Srikant, goes back a long way, enlists the help of Raji (Samantha Akkineni), a trained commando and pilot.
Raji is a character that stands out thanks to the power that Samantha Akkineni brings to the portrayal. She is a scarred woman who has a score to settle with her tormentors and a debt to pay to her benefactors, the Tamil rebel leaders who rescued her and trained her to be as mean a fighter as any. When we first meet her, Raji is a timid worker in a Chennai spinning mill where she is at the receiving end of the unwanted sexual advances of the foreman. On the bus journey back from the factory, she is harassed by a lecherous male passenger. Neither of the two men have any idea until it is too late that they are playing with fire.
The fire that rages within Raji, conveyed with controlled intensity by an actress who banks on sustained restraint to create a silent, smouldering aura around herself, threatens to engulf everything in her way. The threat she poses forces Srikant Tiwari to quit an IT firm job and throw himself back into the thick of the action to help old mate J.K. Talpade (Sharib Hashmi) and TASC's man in Chennai Muthu Pandian (Ravindra Vijay) stop the rebels in their tracks.
Srikant isn't still able to shrug off the guilt that he feels for the killing of a Muslim student unfairly branded a terrorist. Milind (Sunny Hinduja), out of action since the Orion Chemicals fiasco, continues to hold himself responsible for the botched operation. And Zoya (Shreya Dhanwanthary, who has only a couple of sequences in Season 2) and Srikanth try their best to help Milind tide over the low phase. But these are at best marginal plot details. They needn't have been.
Season 2 lacks the wry humour that The Family Man served up so generously the first time around. The banter between him and JK and the showdowns between him and his wife Suchi (Priya Mani) are not as central to the plot as they were nor is the inchoate relationship between Suchi and her colleague Arvind (Sharad Kelkar).
Srikant has moved out of TASC and taken a 9 to 5 corporate job where he reports to a pesky 28-year-old CEO who keeps reminding him not to be "a minimum guy". He now has a bigger car - and more time for the family. Suchi, too, has quit her job. But is the Tiwari household any happier than they were in the past? Not a whit. The couple still has many issues that need immediate attention. A counsellor (Arif Basra), who steps in at the wife's behest, tries to help the duo but to no avail.
The domestic pitch is queered for Srikant by his rebellious daughter. As she, unbeknownst to her parents, begins to spend more and more time with a boyfriend (Abhay Verma), tension between her and her mother mounts, culminating in an incident that precipitates a family crisis that Srikant had always seen coming.
The Family Man S2 telegraphs a lot of its intent ahead of time, which, needless to say, undermines the essential element of surprise at crucial junctures. But that's only a minor irritant. Given the sustained quality of the production (cinematographer Cameron Eric Bryson does a fabulous job), the above-average writing and the superb performances from the key actors (Bajpayee and Akkineni deliver an onscreen duet to die for) and the supporting cast (Priyamani and Sharib Hashmi are once again in excellent form), this is nothing if not binge-worthy.