If the first episode of Special Ops makes you nostalgic for Special 26 (2013) or you get flashes of A Wednesday (2008), then don’t worry. You are not the only one. The mammoth, eight-part show with 45-minute-long episodes will also make you second guess, wait is this is Bard of Blood (2019), or no wait, it’s Family Man (2019). Neeraj Pandey’s maiden venture into the web space has all the ingredients from his universe: a stellar ensemble cast lead by an alpha-male actor, Kay Kay Menon in this case, a sepia-tinted old world feel, the puzzling gamut of politics/greed/international terrorism and the antics needed to pull off a heist.
The show begins with Himmat Singh, a RAW intelligence officer, ‘whose reputation precedes him’, being audited by an internal committee for the expenses incurred by his team, which include business-class trips around the world among other things. Jokes are made about requisition slips by the auditors, which are juxtaposed by Menon’s tirade about these expenses incurred in the line of duty by those who protect the nation. It’s in the audit we get to know about Singh’s 19-year-long manhunt for an elusive terrorist, Ikhlaq Khan, the mastermind of the 2001 Parliament attack. The cat-and-mouse game between this know-it-all terrorist and Menon’s team forms the core of the show.
We traverse through Istanbul, Dubai, Kashmir, Baku, Jordan and Pakistan in this chase. We meet various assets of Singh, the slick Farooq (Karan Tacker), the sweet-talking housewife Ruhani (Meher Vij) who lives in Tehran, globe-trotting hipster Juhi (Saiyami Kher) and the master sniper Avinash (Muzammil Ibrahim). Menon is at the centre of it all, who with his earpiece executes all operations sitting in his New Delhi office. Vinay Pathak, as Menon’s able foot soldier Abbas from the Delhi Police, who lives with the adage of “Himmat Singh ke liye apni jaan bhi de denge’, is a delight to watch. We wish he had more screen time.
Menon is the saving grace of this rambling enterprise. His steely resolve in the face of bureaucratic red tape, the single-minded focus, which almost borders on maniacal focus, makes the show worth a watch. His poker-faced responses, “thok do”, “jaane do”, and the near teary-eyed quiver in his voice when one of his assets is compromised make it worth your while.
Special Ops would have been special had it restricted itself to a 30-minute episode length and tighter writing. Many a time it takes such a roundabout way to reach the point, that you almost lose your focus, but Menon and his scenes bring you back on track. Pandey, who wished to give us an insight into the tough world of being a spy, with their backstories and the feels of how alienating it can be, ends up giving us a meandering, long drawn out saga.
Care has been taken to humanise these soldiers, ‘jo ki wardi nahi pehante’. Menon trying to come to terms with his daughter dating and Pathak trying to take his family for Haj are some nice touches. But it’s not as tongue-in-cheek as Family Man was. Neither does it have the stunning cinematography of Bard Of Blood.
But aren’t we done with this whole Islamophobia as a story arc? We have lost count of the number of times we have seen bearded, pathani suit-wearing men, spouting religious verses as a justification for inhumane acts. Bollywood and by proxy, the digital medium, now needs a new villain to bash. Espionage-thrillers are tough to get on point, especially when the benchmark has been set high by international offerings like The Night Manager (2016) and The Spy (2019). We will wait for Family Man Season 2.
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