National Insecurity

How "The Family Man" champions the carceral security state

As a spy working for TASC, Srikant Tiwari, played by Manoj Bajpayee, has to juggle being an underpaid government employee as well as an absent husband and a perpetually late and distracted father. Courtesy Amazon Prime Video
30 June, 2021

The second season of The Family Man begins with Srikant Tiwari, a former intelligence officer of TASC—a fictitious intelligence agency akin to the Research & Analysis Wing—working at an IT company. He writes “TPS reports” for an overbearing boss who calls him the “minimum guy.” He has replaced eating vada pav at ungodly hours on the streets with overpriced salads. He drops and picks up his kids from school, pines for his old job and is concerned about the newly-formed government in Pakistan—all the while trying to salvage his crumbling marriage.

The Family Man has found tremendous success as a slick and funny espionage drama, particularly for its treatment of the protagonist, and even for “humanising” terrorists. As a spy working for TASC, Tiwari has to juggle being an underpaid government employee as well as an absent husband and a perpetually late and distracted father. Apart from his long-suffering wife, no one else in the family knows that he is a spy. To them he is a man who has settled into a job that has no future. However, at work, Tiwari is in his element. In the first season, when he and his team are tasked to thwart the terrorist attack “Operation Zulfiqar,” the plot moves from Mumbai to Kashmir. Along the way, we meet the men and women of TASC, dissenting students, ISIS terrorists and Pakistani military officers.

In season two, a quick flashback resolves the plotline from the previous season. The public is sold a lie as the “attack” is framed as a gas leak. The two officers who avert the attack narrowly escape death but are left with broken bodies and broken lives. Zoya, a young female officer, is now confined to her wheelchair, and Milind, who also makes it out alive, is seen at home with drawn curtains, battling trauma.

Even as the show tries to blur the lines between good and bad, right and wrong, early in the second season, a fresh set of “villains” and “heroes” are quickly established. The narrative arc is premised on battling “enemies” of the Indian state, both internal and external. Jihadists of all ilks are recycled to fit a new national-security narrative, all under the fear of growing Chinese power in the region. The “saviours” are Tiwaris, Kulkarnis and Basus, while the bodies to be targeted and destroyed are Kashmiri and Tamil. (Who the villains are in both the seasons is telling.) It is clear that it is only a matter of time before Tiwari will return to work “in service of the nation.”