Why Samantha Akkineni role in The Family Man season 2 breaks boundaries for women characters: I recently finished watching the second season of Prime Video’s web-series The Family Man and since then, I cannot stop thinking about season’s female lead, Raji. Finally, we have a complex female character that women working in the entertainment industry have long deserved. Yes, Raji’s brownface is an unfortunate outcome that the makers of the series could have completely avoided, but so well is the character written and performed, that one is willing to overlook this facepalm. How often do you get to see a female gorilla soldier snap necks and throw punches while dressed in a salwar kameez?
Some may want to call Raji the antagonist of The Family Man season 2. However, once you watch the show, you realise that labelling characters as black and white, heroes and villains isn’t that easy here, but then it never was, considering the care shown by makers Raj and DK while crafting their “bad guys” for the series. Like in season 1, this time around too, “TASC” agent Srikant Tiwari’s nemesis Rajalakshmi gets a backstory that makes you empathise with her. Here’s a woman who has known nothing but pain, trauma and oppression. The minute you set your eyes on her, you know she is doomed. And yet, when Raji is cornered, you cheer for her.
Telugu actor Samantha Akkineni deserves a hat tip for bringing a unique mix of restraint, rage with surgical precision to Raji – a woman who shares a strange relationship with her body. She endures numbly when a man caresses her hips and breasts on a bus, she lets her boss blackmail her into having sex with him, but watch her fight and you see a person who seems in tandem with every muscle and flex of her body.
Both these men end up dead, killed with bare hands by Raji, but only when they cross a certain line. What a curious but relatable portrayal of a woman. Don’t all women set limits to how much oppression or harassment we are willing to tolerate, no matter what the reason? Some of us let that catcaller near the gully’s tea stall go, we have stayed mum about that relative who always finds a way to touch us inappropriately, we may have turned the other way when we saw another woman in a similar situation, but then there are times we take a stand for ourselves or other women around us? We cannot judge women who don’t speak up, take a stand for themselves. But what about those who do go the extra mile as Raji does? Do we pass a judgement on them?
The unique selling point of Raji for me is all the hand to hand combat scenes that Akkineni gets to perform and aces. Raji gouges out an eye of a soldier with bare hands, she dismembers a body after killing a man by snapping his neck in a second. You see her bleed and draw blood. She punches and gets punched. How many women characters from Indian cinema can you recall doing that?
Even as antagonists, women are often reduced to caricatures or manipulative characters motivated by lust or desire for revenge. Their weapon of choice is either poison or manipulation. The only two exceptions that come to my mind are Kajol in Gupt (1997) and Urmila Matondkar in Kaun? (1999), but even in these two films, psychiatric conditions were used as a trope to justify their bloodlust.
The wheels seem to be turning slowly. Take this poster of Taapsee Pannu’s upcoming film Haseen Dillruba . A woman’s feet drenched in blood with a knife lying nearby. Will this film further the narrative of complex women in reel life? We will have to wait till the film releases, and knowing that the film has been written by a woman writer – Kanika Dhillon, one can hope that it does. Check out the cast, release date and streaming details of Haseen Dillruba here.
Why do we need dark, complex characters like Raji? The same reason we need a Thanos or a Joker. The world needs its share of Amy Dunnes, Harley Quinns and Nurse Ratcheds. To tell the story of “bad girls” and give us backstories that explain their sense of vengeance and thirst for blood that are a commentary on our society and politics. That commentary, which makes us question morality, our sense of good, bad and the worse – it needs a female gaze too.
The views expressed are the author’s own.