Review: ‘Special Ops’ Keeps Us Hooked Despite Its Uneven Pace
Neeraj Pandey has a natural flair when it comes to making films revolving around India’s internal security or tackling threats from neighbouring countries. Having directed films like A Wednesday, Baby, Naam Shabana (he wrote the screenplay), it’s a turf that feels like home to him. Having enlisted Shivam Nair as the director, Pandey’s latest offering is an eight-episode strong slow-burning espionage thriller Special Ops, that has released on Hotstar. With cinema halls shut across the country and all major film releases postponed owing to the coronavirus outbreak, it’s a good time to stay at home and watch what’s available on OTT platforms. So how worthwhile is it to spend time with Special Ops? That’s exactly what this review will proceed to explain.
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Created by Pandey and written by him along with Deepak Kingrani and Benazir Ali Fida, Episode 1 introduces us to the Indian agents who must nab the international terrorists for peace to prevail. It’s a familiar territory, but what’s refreshing is the non- Islamophobic tone that the makers adopt.
The agencies function as they are expected to, and neither the ‘bad’ Muslim stereotype is peddled nor the chest-thumping and flag-waving brand of patriotism is sold to the viewers. We are here for senior RAW officer Himmat Singh (Kay Kay Menon), who we meet right at the onset. An internal audit inquiry has been set up against him to find out how he spent Rs 28crore from the Secret Service funds in the last 11 years. The inquiry, conducted by senior officers Naresh Chaddha (Parmeet Sethi) and D.K Bannerjee (K.P Mukherjee), is a constant. While the first four episodes have a frustratingly unhurried pace because of the long-drawn conversations and frequent flashbacks, the series more than makes up for it in the remaining four episodes as both the action and urgency step up.
One of the scenes revisited is the fateful day of 13 December 2001, when the Parliament was attacked. Himmat has a theory - not just five terrorists, but a sixth mastermind was also present at the time of the attack. However, the only problem is that no one else believes him. So, his search for the elusive Ikhlaq Khan becomes a personal mission. As the spycraft dextrously tries to go about its work for the initial episodes, we acquaint ourselves with the network of agents who are part of Himmat Singh’s 'army’. His closest aide is a Delhi Police cop Abbas Sheikh (Vinay Pathak). Dubai- based Farooq Ali (Karan Tacker), Tehran-based Ruhani Syed (Meher Vij), Istanbul-based Bala (Vipul Gupta) , sniper Avinash (Muzzamil Ibrahim) and Juhu Kashyap (Saiyami Kher) are also trustworthy teammates of Singh. We understand not just the foreign threat but also the many internal roadblocks that must be negotiated from dubious politicians to get the funding.
But the writing sadly isn’t in the same league as say The Family Man, which depicted the personal and professional spheres of an officer’s life without once compromising with the pace or storytelling . Himmat Singh is also a family man, however his intermittent obsession with his teenage daughter, disagreements with his wife (Gautami Kapoor) or even the love interests of some of Himmat’s recruits slow down the pace of the show considerably.
It’s as late as the fifth episode that the proceedings command our attention fully.
Himmat is mostly on the phone taking risky decisions in a jiffy, and yet he can’t be as animated . Menon’s face then becomes a canvas and a testament to what a fine actor is capable of . In fact, from Vinay Pathak, Divya Dutta to Meher Vij and Karan Tacker, the fabulously put together ensemble cast put up flawless performances . Also, given the show’s overall resistance to over-the-top melodrama, even the principal villain Sajjad Delafrooz is measured and nuanced.
Special Ops is uneven in its pace and falters in between but it’s also a proof of Neeraj Pandey’s skill that despite these flaws he has created a series that has enough drama to keep us hooked .
Our rating: 3 quints out of 5