Domestic disturbances collide with diplomatic tensions in the second season of Amazon Prime Video's The Family Man — a snappy, but slighter follow-up to 2019's terrific season one.
Manoj Bajpayee returns as Srikant Tiwari, who is struggling to assimilate into a life of corporate drudgery. Saving the world, as his buddy JK tells him in an early scene, is no longer his job. But when his marriage starts to split at the seams, Srikant gravitates towards the only safety blanket in his emotional closet — his old gig as a covert operative at a clandestine government agency.
Watch the trailer of Family Man 2
But this time, the stakes are personal. Srikant is caught in a web of geopolitical intrigue when a group of Sri Lankan Tamil rebels concocts a plan to assassinate the prime minister of India, and uses his teenage daughter as bait to get him out of the way.
In season two, creators Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK continue their commendable crusade of viewing conflicts both global and domestic through a humanist lens. At the centre of this experiment is Raji — an indoctrinated rebel soldier tasked with carrying out the assassination. Who knew that it would take a shot of Samantha Akkineni to reinvigorate interest The Family Man's long-delayed second season, but there you have it.
Raji is a fascinating character, played with great confidence by cast-against-type Samantha. Granted, she's been slapped with a thick layer of brown face, but the actor relies on the physicality of Raji than more traditional tools, such as words and facial expressions. Notice the change in her body language as she transforms from a demure young woman into a lethal killer, in the span of virtually a couple of minutes.
As dependably formidable as Bajpayee is — and he is very formidable, exercising nearly every acting bone in his body — Samantha more than holds her own as the show's primary antagonist. And what makes her journey so compelling is the very thing that makes The Family Man so compelling as a whole — the characters in this show aren't motivated by requirements of the plot, but personal goals instead. In that regard, Raji is a textbook 'villain'. Brainwashed as she might be, she is driven mainly by a desire to right the wrongs of her past -- it's a misplaced sense of righteousness, but as they say, the best villains are heroes in their own mind.
And one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist. Srikant understands this as he navigates another complicated political situation, armed, as always, with the belief that governments come and go; sentiments fluctuate, but people are people. This is an idea that the show embraced in season one, as it boldly pointed out that homegrown terrorism is perhaps as big a threat as external adversaries.
It's almost a given at this point that every mainstream series produced in India will invite some form of backlash or another, although for the life of me, I can't tell what the fuss is about this time. But while Tandav had only itself to blame for the insanity that followed its release — the show wasn't smart enough to skate over the heads of low-IQ trolls — The Family Man has wit and intelligence to spare. "If you shut up and do your job, you'll win a medal," Srikant says, self-aware to a fault, before dropping the punchline: "If you voice your opinion, you'll go to hell."
In this regard, The Family Man is an equal-opportunity offender — it wants to stress that terrorism isn't limited to one particular community, but can't seem to resist the temptation of putting militant-minded Muslims in antagonistic roles.
But what sets The Family Man apart from the dozens of other, more popular streaming series, is the playful tone that Raj and DK bring to the party. Who doesn't enjoy the antics of JK, who after a particularly memorable foot-chase asks a gruff colleague to rub some ointment on his back. Or another scene, in which Srikant's daughter interrupts an emotional moment to ask the meaning of a Hindi word.
Fans will also be pleased to learn that Raj and DK's fascination with single-take set pieces remains intact in season two as well. And although they share directorial duties with Suparn Varma this time around, they're the ones behind two of the season's biggest action scenes. The first is a jail-break sequence in which the camera glides up and down staircases, in and out of hallways; smooth as it covers the gunfight, and jittery as it comes in for close-ups. But the piece-de-resistance is the shootout and subsequent chase at the very end of episode nine. The less I reveal about it the better. It's so thrillingly crafted that you'll happily ignore some glaring shortcomings in the CGI department.
But that's true of the show itself — season two of The Family Man doesn't reinvent the wheel like Sacred Games did in its sophomore season, but neither does it rest on its laurels. It's breezily paced, impeccably acted, and charmingly unrefined. Perhaps this time they should keep fans satiated with a JK spinoff while we wait for season three.