The Family Man Review: The Manoj Bajpayee starer needs a better grip

Family man Priyamani Priyamani The family man Amazon India

The Family Man – Amazon's newest original series from India, now on Prime Video – Really wants you to know that it is inspired by real events. That is why it is not happy to have only one title card that says so much. In order to shed more light on this point, the first episode ends with (somewhat unnecessary) newspaper clippings, in which the various sources of inspiration are presented that focus on Islamic radicalization, Hindu nationalism, vigilantism and lynching, mass surveillance, logistical problems of the intelligence services and financial worries and the abuse of power by his agents. Part of the story deals with the uprising in Jammu & Kashmir, a timeless theme that has been given an extra touch in the wake of recent political decisions.

But just knowing which relevant issues need to be addressed is not a good series. As with any other entertainment, television shows are about presentation and execution, and The Family Man is more than acceptable. The Amazon series wrestles out the window, and the first two episodes fail in terms of pace, narrative, and character work. On these fronts, it has improved slightly since the third episode, but there are other issues as well. Multiple scenes in The Family Man – we've watched seven of the 10 episodes in total – feel both weightless and emotionless due to stilts and hasty direction or editing. It is almost as if the actors have to attack the dialogues on site and then be asked to spit them out on the screen. Strange that the creators didn't understand that.

Speaking of creator: The father of the family comes from the heads of Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. – better known as Raj & D.K. – who also acted as the show's producer, director, and co-author, the last to stand alongside stand-up comedian Suman Kumar. (D.K. also has a cameo appearance.) Raj & D.K. have had almost everything under control in their careers so far, which has resulted in more failures than hits. These include the zombie comedy Go Goa Gone and the action comedy A Gentleman. They did not direct their most successful screenplay, the horror comedy Stree. The Family Man follows the pattern of their filmography and ends with more mistakes than hits.

The Family Man is largely competent in dealing with the above-mentioned political material, but occasionally stumbles when it comes to serving his action thriller chops or navigating on the lies negotiated by Jingoist governments. This brings it closer to the territory of a show like Kiefer Sutherland's leading actor 24, which essentially justifies the approach of anti-terrorists and intelligence agencies and thus delights many conservative fans in the United States. The father of the family is nowhere so alarming, mind you. But it doesn't help that it justifies the wrongdoing by the police by suggesting that their methods lead to results and that the good guys don't report it correctly.

Manoj Bajpayee (Gangs of Wasseypur) plays the title character of The Family Man, a government agent named Srikant "Sri" Tiwari, who works for the fictional threat analysis and surveillance cell that reports to the very real anti-terror agency National Investigation Agency. But his family – his wife Suchitra "Suchi" Tiwari (Priyamani, from Paruthiveeran) and their two children – believe that he is only a pusher. This threatens to turn into a parody of its own, as Srikant always walks around at odd hours and is very curious about someone who is supposed to "push files" during office hours. The father of the family never really accepts this, since his reasonably successful sense of humor is largely based on everyday situations that involve rebellious children, spouse conflicts and his own insecurities and failures.

Thanks to 10 episodes, each lasting about an hour, the father of the family can also devote time to Suchi's life, which exists outside of Srikants. Suchi has spent nine years teaching in the same college, mainly to make sure that she can look after the children, while Srikant avoids his responsibilities. Now Suchi wants to try something else that excites her professionally, and she finds this opportunity thanks to a start-up that was co-founded by her former colleague Arvind (Sharad Kelkar). As a self-centered man, Srikant turns against him. He not only asks Suchi for a breath of fresh air, but also imagines that she may be cheating on him with Arvind, even though she has a loveless marriage and does not respond to her wishes in any way. It is not a symbol of toxic masculinity, but the colors are clearly there.

Family man Priyamani Priyamani The family man Amazon India

Priyamani as Suchitra Tiwari in the father of the family
Photo credit: Amazon India

In short, Srikant is not a family man. The family man makes this clear as a day just before the middle of the season when Srikant gets into a heated argument with Ms. Suchi, reflecting on his anger and disappointment at her failing to work. Then he turns into a hypocrite before dissolving in self-pity and portraying the mother as crazy in front of the children. The family father's character study also extends to the other side – the antagonists – although it is not so consistent. It gives us a character we can identify with just to kill him, and then sticks us with a cardboard villain as part of a turn. His counterpart is much better positioned for what it is worth, as it gives a long-standing Bollywood trope a rare twist.

Unfortunately, the family man's moderately good work in this regard is affected by the various problems that arise elsewhere. The Amazon range has no idea how to skillfully deliver their exposure, and it ends up turning characters into exposure machines, especially Srikant. Bajpayee's job is to provide the audience with a context in which to announce how this and that character is on the most searched list of the FBI and the CIA. It is ridiculously ridiculous that his colleagues would not already know that. And at some point, she hires Gul Panag's NIA agent Saloni Bhatt to summarize the entire geopolitical situation in Kashmir in less than 30 seconds. Instead of summarizing a history lesson, the family man should have alluded to it through his events.

Though far from James Bond, Srikant does it late in the season when he ruthlessly storms into a hostile area against everyone's advice to catch a suspect if everything could go wrong so easily. In fact, his approach is the same as that of Bond: go through the front gate. And just because he's the hero of history, Srikant is always the one who has the say and knows more than the others, even at the expense of the intelligence agency. All this is in addition to the logic at the expense of drama. As with most spy shows, The Family Man naturally shows a dismissive disregard for how technology works, be it hacking or encryption, and points to Darknet without understanding what this means.

The family father's creators have it all and make a more thorough action thriller series

Family man Gul Panag Gul Panag The family man Amazonas India

Gul Panag as Saloni Bhatt, Manoj Bajpayee as Srikant Tiwari in the father of the family
Photo credit: Amazon India

In addition to the difficulties in performing, the family man also suffers from presentation problems, with the sound being the main culprit. The background noise is particularly bad, and the background music by the composer Ketan Sodha (Talvar, Stree) does not all too often match the tone of the series. The graphics convey the feel of a cable TV drama, not what you'd expect from a series made on Amazon's budget. The only real technical craft on display is the many long shots, two of which take five and eleven minutes each. The former creates real excitement for The Family Man for the first time, while the latter is a bit yielding and unnecessarily slows down the scene. It only feels worthwhile in the second half, but when it works, it grabs.

Everything that comes together to make a show that is less than the sum of its parts. On the one hand, the father of the family is very socially and politically aware, but his inelegious handling of exposure and the inability to be tonally coherent leave him in the lurch. His humorous attempts are welcome because they are a change from the lackluster drama, but it rarely happens that these attempts work and act as a sign of incompetence in the professional environment. And it never feels as if its stars – especially Bajpayee and Priyamani – are given enough to cut their teeth. In fact, the show could use a better grip overall. To paraphrase the series' own slogan: The Family Man has (almost) world-class ideas, but (decidedly) middle-class craftsmanship.

The Family Man is now streaming worldwide on Amazon Prime Video.