Special Ops: A Spy Thriller Lacking Thrill

By Asif Khan & Arbeena

As the world is under lockdown because of Covid-19 pandemic and people remain glued to their digital screens to kill boredom, spies are invading Indian homes. From the mainstream Indian cinema to Netflix or Amazon or Hotstar, Indian audiences seems to be liking espionage cliff-hangers these days. Earlier we saw Manoj Bajpayee, as an intelligent agent, who is in quest of saving the world and at the same time has to deal with his family in The Family Man. Then Emran Hashmi was seen in a spy whodunit, The Bard of Blood. He was seen rescuing agents captured by Taliban. Special Ops is no different.

With Special Ops, Neeraj Pandey is making his debut on online streaming platform, an eight-part web-series which began streaming on Hotstar from 17 March 2020. The web series bears an acute resemblance to Bard of blood and The Family Man. Neeraj Pandey’s passion whirling around what has been depicted as terrorism in the Indian cinema is evident from his first film, A Wednesday (2008) to Baby and then Aiyaary (2018).

The story of Special Ops is the search for the missing sixth terrorist in the 2001 Parliament attack incident. Five attackers get killed in an attempt to strike parliament of India. Himmat Singh (Kay Kay Menon) who plays a senior RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) officer strongly believes that the sixth terrorist is the mastermind and had fled from the spot. Himmat Singh then forms a team of five undercover agents, Farooq Ali (Karan Tacker), Ruhani Syed (Meher Vij), Juhi (Saiyami Kher), Balakrishna Reddy (Vipul Gupta) and Avinash (Muzammil Ibrahim), who are then sent to different countries in West Asia. We also see Himmat Singh (Kay Kay Menon), being called up by the internal auditing committee to justify expenditures of a colossal Rs 28 crore which he had approved under category "miscellaneous."

Neeraj Pandey has co-written Special Ops with Deepak Kingrani and Benazir Ali Fida. It was expected that the story would shovel deep into its subject of terrorism and unearth its unknown dimensions. Unfortunately, there is nothing of that sort in Special Ops.

It’s a simple story like any Bollywood thriller showing a fight between good and bad. Those who want to destroy India form the bad group and later, who are in quest of tackling them are among the good guys. At some instances one feels like watching a Bollywood masala film. Platforms like Netflix demand more than what this series has shown, both in quality and quantity. Its comparison with a Bollywood thriller sums up its failure in delivering upon the expectations of the niche audience.

Though Kay Kay Menon’s strong acting grabs attention but the poor research in the secret services field has only managed to perceive things from the surface rather being able to go deep and empathize with the actions complementing the subject. All the agents successfully reveal their identity with the stiff body language. The action scenes aren’t spontaneous and easily reveal the role of stuntman behind them. The agents are emotionally distinct and don’t have any sort of linkage. Well, that might be true for agents but we would have liked to see them bit close if not in appearance but emotionally. Himmat Singh’s family is given a fair show but it’s hard to find their relevance with the main story. Though Kay Kay Menon seems to be in full control of his character but other characters are almost the opposites of him.

The series is moreover less invested in realism; Himmat Singh’s wife seems cool and collective contrary to a typical Indian mother. It’s always good to be friends with your daughter especially when you are a mother. But, given the way, Himmat Singh’s wife treats her daughter is beyond the boundaries of realism. The makers could have matched the family part with the main story by showing Himmat’s daughter drifting towards bad company due to the lack of attention by her father.

Again, Indian cinema and the people associated with it need to act responsibly at such a critical time when Muslims are facing an existential threat in India. Kashmir is again given a numb treatment and fashioned the way makers of the series have wanted to. Here, the makers are again found guilty of stereotyping Muslims and satisfying the popular notions of their country. Late Afzal Guru’s name surfaces after the attack but nothing about the treatment he met has been discussed. Hafiz, who is a merciless villain in the story, is shown praying at different instances. Even when he goes to kill the younger brother of Ismail (He looks after the business transactions of Hafiz), there also he is shown praying before ordering the camels to run over him. It clearly sends out a wrong message and portrays Muslims as fanatics and merciless and praying as something cruel men do.

The Rawalpindi blast which is executed on the guidelines of RAW in the story with no civilian causalities is again unrealistic. Such perfection is contrary to the logic. The series moves with uneven pace. Initially, it is too slow but by the end it goes very fast. The story also lacks power-packed action scenes. The story at the climax shows glimpses of Muzzaffarnagar violence but doesn’t say anything on it.

Sudhir Palsane and Arvind Singh's cinematography is eye catching especially with some establishing shots of a wide stretch of the desert. They take you to different places like Tehran, Dubai etc.

This is again one such series guilty of lack of research and unfair treatment to the Muslims. It is a moral obligation upon all the artists to do an independent research before adapting to any such roles. Otherwise, they make themselves vulnerable to questions raised by the represented communities.

Well, at last we would say that this series can be a good time-pass but not in one’s wish list.

The reviewers are the students of Mass Communication and Journalism at University of Kashmir

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