BOTTOM LINE: Partly Dull, Mostly Watchable Actioner
|Platform: Hotstar||Genre: Thriller|
What Is the Story About?
RAW officer Himmat Singh is asked to appear in front of an internal team to prepare an audit report that could clear the air surrounding the miscellaneous expenses cited for his several official operations over the years. While maintaining the anonymity of his agents, Himmat offers a peek into their edgy, thankless lives, often fraught with danger and how their contributions have remained invaluable in keeping terrorists at bay. The show traces the journey of several officers in nabbing the mastermind behind six terror attacks over two decades, Hafiz Ali. There’s very little that separates the personal lives of the RAW officers from their professional space and the series tries to be a befitting ode to their oft-ignored heroics.
Kay Kay Menon comes up with an immensely restrained performance that firmly anchors the show. A better emotional graph of his character could have given the viewer a solid context to many of his unpredictable decisions. But, as an actor, Menon is still in fine form and lends his heart and soul to the part unflinchingly. Vinay Pathak’s role as Shaikh may alone deserve a spin-off series – the dual-layered character comes with a rare mix of submissiveness, sudden aggression and a surprising sense of humour and it’s needless to say that Pathak’s a natural in this space.
Karan Tacker’s portrayal of Farooq is heartfelt but partly feels robotic as well, because of the character’s emotional detachment. Meher Vij is sparkling in a brief yet kickass role, while Saiyami Kher’s part lacks personality. Divya Dutta makes a decent impression in a hastily crafted role whose beats you don’t quite resonate with. Sana Khan looks like a dream and does what she’s expected to, ringing in a sense of style and oomph to her character. The supporting cast is memorable, but they needed a better story to unite for.
If Bollywood was asked to form the government in a country, no other individual would have been better qualified than Neeraj Pandey to head the Ministry of External Affairs (perhaps, Kabir Khan could give him tough competition?). After tactfully dabbling with issues of national importance and lending a fictional exterior to true incidents in films like Aiyyary, Special 26, Baby, his web debut Special Ops that he has co-directed with Shivam Nair is a project well-within his comfort zone. Though nowhere close to his best, the authenticity in the setting is almost palpable and organic.
From tracing the origins of the 2001 Parliament attack to the 26/11 massacre in Mumbai to demonetisation and the after-effects of revoking Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, Special Ops takes the viewer past some of the most significant events that have shaken the country, through the lens of a RAW veteran. Beyond the true incidents though, there’s very little personalisation or dramatic value in the story; at best, it offers the vibe of a glorified documentary. The fact-heavy storytelling lacks flesh and is more focused on cinematographic finesse, the slickness of the action sequences than the journey of its characters. Though the detailing is welcoming, it happens at the cost of emotional connect.
The subplot about Himmat’s teenager daughter and his insecurity about her growing independence is neither heartfelt nor does it fit into the plot seamlessly. One wonders if the narrative could have tapped more into the scandalous equation between Farooq and Sonya. The cop Abbas Shaikh is introduced with pomp and the grey shades in his character impress, but it’s a shame that the character doesn’t have a significant say in the proceedings. The portions revolving around the victims of the Muzzafarnagar riots are poorly written.
On the other end, none of the agents or the RAW officers appear vulnerable at any point – they barely miss targets. They are ‘unexciting’ people. Their patriotism is thankfully underplayed. Farooq’s journey is glorified in comparison to others, but the show provides little insight into him as a person. ‘What is he beyond his profession?’ is a question that the makers don’t pay heed to. The strategies he employs to win the trust of the heads of the terrorist organisations appear to have been oversimplified beyond necessity.
The mystery surrounding the identity of the terror group head Iklakh Khan is interestingly unravelled in the later episodes. The attempt to resurrect the loose ends of the show feels very delayed even as it realises to make space for narrative tension over the factual detailing. The aesthetic treatment of the sequences, the apt choice of locations distract the viewer from the problems of the show. The writers needed to have worked more on the evolution of the underwrought characters. Special Ops, despite the credibility it boasts with its starry cast, writing and directing team, lacks zing and fails to find the fine balance between fiction and reality.
Music and Other Departments?
Advair Nemlekar, the composer has a soundtrack that fits the tense and edgy ambience of the narrative exceedingly well. Sudhir Palsane, Aravind Singh as cinematographers are the lifeline of the show – they give Special Ops a rich visual texture that compels you to watch it despite the limitations in the writing department. Coherence and narrative consistency aren’t aspects that Special Ops gets right though. Praveen Kathikuloth, the editor, probably could have worked more on extracting a less-indulgent version of the show and made Special Ops more riveting and seamless as a viewing experience. Not all action sequences in the show convey a sense of danger or have any newness in their execution.
Kay Kay Menon’s performance
Authenticity in the backdrop
A well-mounted thriller
An empty, superficial narrative
The singular tone in the storytelling
A few poorly established characters
Did I Enjoy It?
Will You Recommend It?
Yes, with reservations
Review by Srivathsan Nadadhur
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