What The Family Man shows us of groupthink: Phenomenon may not be as one-dimensional as it seems
As much as the story of The Family Man is about Manoj Bajpayee's character Srikant, it is also about two other significant individuals — young men who have turned to terrorism.
This post contains spoilers for Amazon Prime’s The Family Man.
Amazon Prime’s The Family Man is the story of a government agent trying to foil a major terrorist operation in India, while also attempting to balance his somewhat chaotic family life.
Manoj Bajpayee plays the titular character of this family man — Srikant Tiwari — who works for the Threat Analysis and Surveillance Cell (TASC) a branch of the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Chasing the elusive trails of individuals suspected of being involved in acts of terrorrism in India, takes Srikant from Mumbai to Delhi, to Kashmir, and ultimately to Afghanistan and back.
As much as the story is about Srikant, it is also about two other significant individuals: young men who have turned to terrorism.
The terrorists Moosa and Sajid (played by Neeraj Madhav and Shahab Ali, respectively) are shown to be part of ISIS, working on a plan that will wreal largescale devastation across India. Despite all their similarities — ISIS/IS agents, trained in Syria, easily able to deceive the authorities about their intentions, and brought together by the climax of the series — Moosa and Sajid are very different in their attitudes and persona.
Moosa is a youth from Kerala, whose entire family (except for his mother) has been killed by religious extremists. That serves as his own trigger to gradually turn to extremism in a bid to ‘teach a lesson’ to his family’s murderers. Because Moosa’s family has been a victim of religious violence, his motivations stem from wanting to avenge them, rather than proving his religion to be the most supreme, and punishing others for being kafirs (despite him talking about kafirs every now and then). The more we learn about Moosa, the more it becomes clear that he is primarily driven by a need for revenge and his association with IS is just a means to the end whereby he uses the organisation as a tool.
When first caught as a suspect for causing terrorist disruptions in Mumbai, the innocent-looking and soft-spoken Moosa is instantly able to plead innocence. His mild demeanour leads the people involved to believe that he went to the caliphate but soon realised they serve no one but themselves, and wanted to leave them and come back to India. He further deceives his interrogators, stating that he persuaded the head to send him to India under the guise of a ‘mission’, and was planning on going home (further convincing Srikant that he has dropped his terror plans). Moosa pleads to the police to not let any of this out, citing fear that his mother would be ashamed if she learns of him going to Syria, as she thinks he is in Mumbai for further studies. He is not afraid to callously use this as an excuse to free himself.
Soon after, it is revealed that Moosa was indeed involved in the plan to cause disruptions in Mumbai, exposing that he was using his mother’s name as an excuse to deceive the authorities. Moreover, while he and his partner are both in police custody and being treated at a hospital, Moosa instantly establishes a connection with his nurse, who speaks the same language as him, and charms and manipulates her to the extent that she trusts him entirely. She believes him to the extent of lending him her phone to let him call his mother, and does not raise an alarm when he uses her access card to enter his partner’s room, and kill him.
Callousness, being manipulative, a charming personality, impulsivity, and being able to lie convincingly to win others’ trust, are some of the characteristics exhibited by classic dark personalities falling within the Dark Tetrad (subclinical psychopathy, Machiavellianism, subclinical narcissism, and sadism). Although distinct, these personalities have several overlapping traits, and can often co-exist within an individual. Generally, manipulativeness and callousness lie at the core of these traits. Moosa evidently channeled such traits to get back at his family’s perpetrators, and going through the IS was the means he saw fit to do this. Thus, his motivations came not from contributing to the overall greater good for his religion, but from his own individual needs to punish certain people. The IS does weaponize him, using him to bomb innocents in Turkey; but Moosa’s own motivations are much different than religious domination. Essentially Moosa would be open to associate with any ideology so long as it was of use to him and helped channelise his anger.
On the other hand, Sajid, a Kashmiri youth, is shown to have a different association with the IS. This is a man who is keen to undertake as much work as possible for the caliphate. He is, in fact, keen to take on more and more responsibilities in order to prove his worth and do something for his ‘in-group,’ often getting anxious and impatient at the lack of orders or immediacy in undertaking actions. It is revealed that a bomb planted in Mumbai early on in the show is in fact the handiwork of Sajid, although someone else is blamed for it. He operates slyly, often keeping close to important people to gain access to elements that will help him complete his various missions. His only mission is to serve a greater purpose of contributing to his own group, and protecting it from everyone else who is deemed a kafir by them. His intentions for joining the ISIS are not selfish, but rather stemming from the thought of group benefit. This said, his constant need to assume increased responsibility indicates ambition, ego, and a desire for upward mobility; Sajid clearly sees himself as a potential leader.
Towards the end of the show, Moosa and Sajid both come together, tasked with releasing a lethal gas in Delhi to destroy the entire city and its generations to come. This is their Mission Zulfikar, the big boom that all the plotlines have been coming towards. It is in the hands of Moosa and Sajid to execute this and flee the city before the gas starts taking effect. In a bid to stop this, Srikant finds Moosa’s mother, and tries to blackmail him into not going through with this. Srikant’s strategy works, when a hitherto relentless Moosa suddenly becomes reluctant to go through with the plan and urges Sajid to postpone it, in order to save his mother, who is in the territory of the gas leak now. This is where both their ideologies are at war with each other. Despite having the same mission, and working so hard to achieve the end, Moosa is ready to back down for his mother’s sake; Sajid is only thinking of his ‘duty’ to undertake the greater good, and ends up killing Moosa because he becomes a threat to achieving it.
Even when The Family Man taps into the larger ideologies of what the Islamic caliphate in Syria stands for, it builds this reality through characters with varied motivations, leading us to introspect over whether or not group-think really is as one-dimensional as it sounds.
Sampada Karandikar is a research author in Psychology at Monk Prayogshala, a not-for-profit social sciences research organisation based in Mumbai
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