‘The Family Man’: Propagating Muslim stereotypes in a run-of-the mill plot

From the beginning to end, it showcases umpteen disturbing images similar to what the Hindu right and Bollywood has been propagating - Muslims are terrorists, Christians are promiscuous

Neerav Madhav playing  the role of a Muslim terrorist
Neerav Madhav playing the role of a Muslim terrorist

Zaheeb Ajmal

There is a sense of déjà vu as one watches The Family Man. From the beginning to end, it showcases umpteen disturbing images similar to what the Hindu right and Bollywood has been propagating - Muslims are terrorists, Christians are promiscuous. The 10-episode web series wanting to be seen as ‘presenting the truth’ claims in the beginning itself that it was 'inspired by daily news stories'.

Soon enough, the web-series shows three Muslim men from Kerala, who have terrorist plans for India. They are captured and two are killed. The series then apprises us of ‘Mission Zulfiqar’, which is a plot to attack Delhi. This is being done with the help of ISI and their men in India are Kashmiri Sajid and Malayali Moosa, both of whom have returned from ISIS.

All of this is being uncovered by Srikant Tiwari played by Manoj Bajpayee, who is an employee of the TASC branch of National Investigation Agency (NIA).

It’s needless to discuss the plot but there are certain points which prodded me to respond to the series. Web series have gained popularity because they claim to portray ‘original’ stories, which ‘creatively’ break the stereotypes usually projected and made popular by Hindi films and television.

The series has one too many stereotypes which the Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK have again perpetrated. Instead of pointing towards terrorism, as a social evil, the writers are obsessed with our nation’s past-time - Pakistan and Muslims.

Terrorism has no language or religion. But, the Hindi film industry is not ready to accept it and neither are they willing to show the militant Hindu right, which have also been accused in several terror plots in the country.

While the series also shows incidents of hate speeches and mob lynching but they are just sporadic incidents, nor meant to convey any substantial idea. The perpetrators of these crimes are never booked or brought to justice, because that is not part of the theme you see.

The show is based on the premise that Moosa’s family was attacked, murdered and burnt in the 2002 Godhra riots. His sister and mother were brutally raped and set on fire, but his mother escapes with severe injuries. This is what prompted Moosa to seek revenge. While violence is not an answer for violence, the show adamantly stays clear of showcasing the horrors of the carnage. They have given this incident three lines in the entire show.

What is quite chilling is that the three software engineers associated with criminals are also Muslims. So, is the idea that Muslims cannot be trusted to be engineers as they will also switch over to the dark side. Is the show advocating that Muslims remain uneducated and not integrated in society like everyone else? This will only add to the perpetration of stereotypes.

If you thought those were the only things wrong, think again! NIA or TASC is shown to be headed by upper castes such as ‘Tiwari’ and ‘Kulkarni’ and they are the heroes of the show. There are no lower-caste Hindus working in the organisation either. So, is NIA an upper-caste bastion?

The only Muslim associated with NIA in the show is Pasha and he is killed despite being the only person from a task force attached with NIA. So, essentially he was just a foot soldier and not an agency guy.

Then, the show moves to the Valley. Here too it is a Kashmiri Pandit, Saloni, who is handling the show. And there is a Major Vikram too!

The series has several cringe-worthy moments — one where a young police officer in Kashmir gets an earful from his senior Major Vikram after he calls the killed militants ‘martyrs’ and his senior asks him to stop calling them martyrs.

The young officer goes on to say, “Kitni baar apni wafadari ka sabut dena padega (How many times do we have to prove our loyalty?) To which Major Vikram responds, Agar dena pade toh dikkat hai kya” (What is the problem if you have to prove your patriotism every time?)

That is not the end of it. Tiwari (Manoj Bajpayee) is married to a Tamilian woman, Suchitra (Priyamani). And in a birthday party scene where Suchitra’s father insists that their children should know their mother tongue, Srikant’s mother caustically says that they should know Hindi, the national language.

Suchitra’s father corrects her and says that there is no national language. The question here is why should it be a Tamilian stating facts and not a north Indian? Doesn’t this again show the rigidity of north Indians who refuse to acknowledge that Hindi is not a national language? Surely, there must be intelligent and smarter Hindi wallahs who understand this basic matter.

It still doesn’t end there, the so-called ‘Family Man’, Tiwari is hardly bothered about his wife and children. He provides absolutely no emotional support to them and puts the entire responsibility of running the household on his wife, who is also a working professional. He doesn’t even want her to change her job because that would make his life uncomfortable. He shows absolutely no sensitivity. In fact, he abuses his access to technology by tracking his wife’s and daughter’s phones. When his daughter refuses to share the details about whom she has been chatting to, he decides to snoop using some app that he has. Isn’t this quite scary and a blatant breach of privacy? Is this what NIA officials do?

Tiwari gets uncomfortable and uneasy about finding out that his wife is working with a male former colleague of hers and their exchange of messages annoys Tiwari. But, he sees absolutely no contradiction when he goes to Kashmir and shares the same bond with Sonal, played by Gul Panag. She was, in fact, his former girlfriend. Some doublespeak this is.

The series, shockingly, goes on to show how the investigative agency tries to cover up a blunder where they kill three young Muslim on mere suspicion of an attack. This cover is done in the name for the ‘greater good’ and in the interest of national security! So, this begs a question if such biases are inherent in all those working in these organisations.

It shows that even Srikant Tiwari, who is liberal enough to marry a Tamilian and rolls his eyes at the term anti-national, will still buy into the ‘Muslim is a terrorist’ theory. It’s as if Muslim students cannot have another political identity.

We need to remember that The Family Man also shows the only Christian nurse as promiscuous. This is again another idea that has been done to death by the Hindi film industry. (Remember Julie? )

Well, people may say that this all is about artistic freedom and freedom of expression, but these writers are hiding under the garb of newspaper reports to give it a cloak of truth.

Shouldn’t artistic freedom mean breaking away from stereotypes, projecting truth and shattering myths?

It’s high time Hindi film industry, especially directors and producers understood and took responsibility for contributing and propagating to this already hate-filled society.

There can be artistic liberties and freedom but it should come with humanity and sensibility as well as an effort to create ‘original’ shows. If the producers and directors have the courage to take up sensitive topics, they should also have the guts to project ‘reality’ and not propagate stereotypes while saying that the web series is ‘inspired by daily news stories.

It almost seems that the only reason for this show was to justify the existence of the National Investigative Agency.

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Published: 9 Oct 2019, 7:30 PM