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Manoj Bajpayee’s The Family Man rises above roti, kapda aur makaan

by Sharmishta Guha, in Mumbai, Bharat Times

There is a growing trend in Bollywood of actors now going on the web as movie goers’ numbers dwindle and they have to re-invent theor careers through the maze of new age media and the potency of smartphone with which it holds the entire population on this planet by their neck and douses their minds into whatever the net suppliers can feed it.

Of late, a large number of actors and actresses both from films and TV have been boasting about having done one web series or another. No wonder talent like Manoj Bajpayee can make a big impact on any story and thus his lead in The Family Man, an Amazon Original Prime Video release.

Manoj has done a wonderful job and the viewers are loving the series which spans 10 episodes. Going with the times, it rises above the middle class clichéd issues of ‘Roti, Kapda aur Makaan’ and delves into issues which go beyond that.

Delivering a recurrent dialogue in the series, “Unhe ek bar jeetna hota hai. Humey har baar” (they have to win only once but we have to win every time), Manoj Bajpayee, who plays an Indian spy agent in the show, refers to the terrorists vs spies intelligence game when he says this. However, this also resonates with the Indian middle class, a section of people his character fittingly represents.

The Family Man is a cleverly written espionage thriller, which portrays Bajpayee’s risky turn as a spy agent still embedded in his normal life as a middle-class father and husband. Obviously he cannot disclose to his family that he is a spy, thus he lets them believe he is a regular government employee. Tracking down terrorists and preventing them from executing their plans in India, Bajpayee is naturally a busy man. But both his wife (Priyamani) and children blame him for not spending enough time at home.

Torn between his duty and family, Bajpayee’s character  finds it tough to juggle between the two roles. A character which is absolutely relatable to real life, delivers a very human series which at times is genuinely humours.

But what makes The Family Man interesting is that it explores the larger societal issues that snowball into middle-class lives. For example, there’s a scene where a man refuses to stand up for the National Anthem in a cinema hall. When asked, he attributes his action, or the lack of it, to the stressful situation in Kashmir.

Readers would know that the Indian Supreme Court, the highest court in India, has mandated that the National Anthem should be played before every public screening in a cinema hall, it has also stated that standing up to pay respect is a matter of personal choice.

But, in the series, the mob immediately labels the man as a Muslim and he is beaten up black and blue. This adds fuel to his already agitated state of mind, and prompts him to hatch a plan to seek revenge from a Hindu community-appeasing minister.

Another issue, which turns out to be a major plot twist in the 10-episode show, is the prejudice both TASC (the agency Srikanth works for) and the audience harbour against a particular community, Muslims in this case. Raj and DK show us a group of three agitated Muslims planning some sort of an attack in Mumbai. According to the ‘intelligence’ of the spy agency, they were planning a terror attack and intended to plant bombs in the city. The three Muslims, dressed up as food delivery employees, were presumably carrying ‘bombs’ in cylindrical tiffin boxes stored in a delivery van. When the agency tracks them down and catches them ‘red-handed’, they try to flee. Srikant orders his team to shoot the three men. However, a close examination of the tiffin boxes reveals the men were carrying beef, which they wanted a Hindu-appeasing minister to consume. This turns out to be a massive misfire on part of the agency, who assumes a group of men, who were merely transporting beef, were planning a terror attack, only because they were Muslims.

Getting further into its socio-political themes, The Family Man depicts Kashmir prior to the abrogation of Article 370. The show, particularly in a sensitive time like today, does not gloss over Kashmir by presenting it as yet another conflict-ridden territory. Gul Panag’s character is Kashmiri but employed in the same spy agency as Srikant. Her confessions to Srikant, of the state imposing curfews on the valley, brings to the fore her dilemma between her duty and her community. Her character lends an empathetic ear to the people of Kashmir, making them believe they are as much a part of the Indian middle class — and their struggles — as the rest of India.

According to one critic, “Instead of amplifying their struggles, The Family Man endeavours to remind the middle class of India how privileged they are, as they do not have to compromise their fundamental rights, and perennially live with the fear of death.”

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