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'Special Ops’ taut storytelling makes it a must watch

The espionage thriller from Hotstar goes where not many have before

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MUMBAI: Special Ops, Hotstar’s latest eight-part original series released on the platform on 17 March, is special. Really special. A fast-paced, gripping espionage thriller, inspired from true events over the past two or three decades of terrorist attacks in India; it is the tale of a Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) officer Himmat Singh (a role marvellously essayed by the 53-year-old stage, TV and film actor Kay Kay Menon) and his two-decade-long hunt for a terrorist who he believes has masterminded several of those bombings and dastardly acts. 

Like Jason Bourne – the CIA operative from the famed movie franchise, which has grossed more than $1.5 billion at the box office – he has the system ranged against him. A ragtag team of five agents operating in Istanbul, Tehran, Dubai, Sharjah and Tbilisi helps him track the movements of those close to the mastermind, in the hope that someday he will capture him. Along the way, he splurges close to Rs 28 crore on keeping the operation going in west Asia, which then leads to an enquiry commission being drawn up against him.

The series begins in the present with the two-men audit team – played by Parmeet Sethi (Mr Chadda)  and Kali Prasad Mukherjee (DK Banerjee) – probing Himmat Singh about alleged irregularities in his department’s accounts. Himmat Singh’s responses to the duo’s  questions helps take the story forward; a tack which is used over eight episodes, interspersed with flashbacks, introducing the various characters (both good and bad), about what happened over the years.  

Episode one then moves onto the attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi in December 2001. The attempt in real life was foiled, the five terrorists allegedly belonging to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed were killed, but at the expense of the lives of nine from the Indian side, including police, security personnel and a gardener. The special service cell of the Delhi police arrested four individuals Mohammed Afzal Guru, Shaukat Husain Guru and SAR Geelani in connection with the attacks.

In Special Ops, Himmat Singh believes that there were actually six rogues; a theory to which not many in his department, the secret service, the ministries and defence establishment subscribe to. The sixth terrorist who escapes at the end of the first episode was the lynchpin behind the attack.

It is then that Himmat Singh – who is married to Saroj (played by Gautami Kapoor) and has a daughter Pari – puts together his team and begins his vigil for Ikhlaq Khan, the mastermind which is chronicled over the next seven episodes.

Written by veteran scripter Neeraj Pandey (A Wednesday, Special 26, Toilet Ek Prem Katha), Deepak Kingrani and Benazir Ali Fida, who have effectively portrayed the inner workings, bureaucracy, politicos and the machinations of the government and secret service, while also showing Himmat as a doting family man committed to keeping his country safe from terror attacks as well as his own daughter during her first romance. Special Ops has gone where not many series from India have gone before.

Himmat Singh throughout the series has his home base in India where he is assisted by cop Abbas Shaikh (Vinay Pathak) and his assistant Karan (Karan Ashar) while his five agents - played by Farooq Ali (Karan Tacker), Balakrishnan (Vipul Gupta), Avinash (Muzammil Ibrahim), Juhi (Saiyami Kher) and Ruhani  (Meher Vij) race across continents to nab the elusive international terrorist Ikhlaq Khan. The latter is known to one Hafiz Ismail (Sajjad Delafrooz) who is known to Dubai-based businessman Ismail Hasan) who Farooq befriends in order to get to Ikhlaq.  

Adding to the plot is a character called Noor Baksh (SM Zaheer) (based in Pakistan  and he has been involved in terrorists acts along with Ikhlaq in India over the years) who has plans to do another bombing in India in the present moment through two Muzaffarnagar riot victims  Sadia Qureshi  (Divya Dutta) and Farah (Pakkhi Gupta).

The writing is taut, has enough twists and turns to keep you gripped over the eight episodes. Yes, at times, the over-extended focus on the personal lives of Himmat Singh and his agents tends to slow the pace down and distract from the main plot. But Pandey and his team probably thought that was needed to work as relief for the audience.  

Some of the characters, while finely chiseled, appear clichéd, especially like the one of Ismail Hassan (Rajat Kaul). 

The end, of course, turns out as expected because the writing leaves enough nuggets for you to guess who the real Ikhlaq Khan is.

Direction is finely handled with five episodes out of the eight being helmed by Pandey, with three by Shivam Nair.

The cinematography by Sudhir Palsane – who has worked with Pandey on other projects like Baby and MS Dhoni – has resulted in stunning visuals of the various locations, even as the editing by Praveen Kathikuloth keeps the story racy enough for you to want to binge watch Special Ops.

Special Ops is Kay Kay Menon’s Himmat Singh’s canvas and he paints it well with an extremely earnest performance as a RAW officer who is a master strategist. Tacker rises above himself in his essaying of the role of Farooq, by far his best performance. Pathak, Kaul,  Delafrooz  , Kapoor, Dutta and Sharad Kelkar (who plays security ops person) – all  have  brought realism to their characters. 

Overall, Special Ops is a series which is worth a watch. So if you are at home, subscribe to Hotstar to be engrossed for six hours of non-stop edge of the seat thrilling entertainment. It will be time well spent. 

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