Friday, July 02, 2021

The Females in The Family Man





Indian Productions on Netflix and Amazon barring the odd exception, have been disappointing. The Family Man, however boasts of slick, high – octane action, authentic characters and most importantly, really good writing. Srikant Tiwari, played by the always marvelous Manoj Bajpayee is an antiterrorism agent who is overworked, underpaid, and bent over with the burden of unrelenting personal and professional pressures. His best friend JD helps him cope with delightful doses of humor and wisdom doled out over vada pav. Sharib Hashmi is superb in this role. Much has already been written about The Family Man, particularly its culpability in portraying one too many Muslims as minions of unmitigated evil, oversimplifying the Eezham issue and its unwieldy portrayal of love jihad, and I will concede that these are valid concerns but The Family Man, warts and all has a lot of good things going for it. 

It is so immensely satisfying to see the Malayalis and Tamilians on the show portrayed with accuracy and realism. And of course, Manoj Bajpayee’s Srikant, who comes across as a regular guy dealing with extraordinary situations is at once steely in his determination to do his duty, achingly vulnerable when he tries to keep things together on the home front and hilarious when he is ribbing his buddy, being confounded by his daughter’s propensity for getting into trouble and getting blackmailed by his son. He alone, is reason enough to watch The Family Man.

While the show itself has been at the receiving end of more love than criticism, the same cannot to be said about its female characters who have come in for more than a fair share of vitriol. These are regular characters who are not perfect and yet given the amount of scathing condemnation directed their way, it makes you wonder why the female of the species are always reviled for not being perfect and why it is so hard for so many to forgive women for minor errors in judgement while of course, traditionally men are allowed to get away with murder.

Wife is not Synonymous with Saint

Take Suchitra Tiwari (Priya Mani) for instance. She is the long – suffering wife who is sick of picking up the slack for her husband who is always off saving the nation and can barely make time to take his kids to school or his wife, to the hospital when her water breaks. It is a thankless task to play the petulant, dissatisfied spouse of a national hero, but Priya Mani does a good job with what she is given. Her Suchi is a complicated character who wants more out of life (surely, there is nothing wrong with that as it is a woman’s prerogative to choose satisfaction over sacrifice!) and seems to have developed feelings for a colleague (Cue loud gasp!). Naturally, the denizens of social media have taken to slut – shaming her, never mind that she is just a frustrated human being who is doing the best she can for her family as well as herself. Is that such a terrible thing? This is not an endorsement of extra – marital relationships but why are there so many out there who are so hard on feminine desire and unconventional choices made by women for their own personal reasons? It is a troubling mindset and I await the day when we are as forgiving of female foibles as we are of toxic male misconduct.

An Imperfect Daughter is not the Devil Incarnate

Dyuti Tiwari (Ashlesha Thakur) is an interesting character and not the typical sweet Daddy’s little girl. Smart as a whip, rebellious and impatient with both her parents, Dyuti is determined to do her own thing even if it is stupid and reckless (as demanded by the script which insists on making life complicated for its protagonist). The teen falls for a guy she meets over the internet and it turns out to be a stupid idea since the entire ill – advised romance has been masterminded by her father’s nefarious nemesis. Dyuti is forever sneaking off to meet this dude and making out with him. Folks have been registering their outrage over her actions which have been deemed as unworthy of our culture and traditions.

This again begs the question as to why we insist on pretending that childhood is a time of unsullied innocence which should be preserved even at the cost of knowledge and development. Teenagers are restless, hormonal creatures with a natural curiosity about their bodies and are keen to explore the adult world. Surely we need to educate them about sexuality and safety, encourage communication of their doubts and feelings, instead of judging and shaming them over the assorted foolishness of youth? I have no doubt that it is the adults who need an attitude transplant in order to ensure that children grow up with a proper understanding of all things pertaining to their bodies, become adept at expressing themselves and form healthy attachments.

Feminine Rage, Righteous or Otherwise is not always the Answer

Raji (Samantha Akkineni) is one of the most divisive characters on The Family Man. Let us talk about the brown face first. I am all for creative liberty, but it is hard to get why the makers insist on doing ridiculous things like apply dark make – up on an originally dusky actor who became suspiciously light – skinned over the years simply to adhere to existing audience perceptions of what a terrorist hailing from the Dravidian South might look like. It is impossible to get over this, despite a gutsy performance from Samantha who does an impressive job of selling her character’s prowess as a trained Commando capable of killing with her bare fists.

Leaving the brown face aside, let us talk about some of the other issues with this character. Raji has been through a lot having lost loved ones to the depredations of the Sri Lankan army and is herself a victim of gang – rape. Rescued by Bhaskaran, the leader of the rebels, she reinvents herself and emerges as a killing machine who has weaponized even her sexuality and body for a cause she fanatically believes in. Her rage is understandable but it is also a cautionary tale, for anger can be addictive and empowering but this emotion is corrosive and it burns everything within indiscriminately till there is nothing left but the destructiveness of righteous rage. Worse, it can always be manipulated by others for personal or political gain.

The script does not have anything good in store for Raji, but it is interesting to note that she appears heroic and villainous in turns, which again is such a typically problematic way of portraying women – If you are not the Madonna then it means you are a whore. And it boggles the mind, that the many faces of the feminine remain unacknowledged by most.

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