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Special Ops 1.5: Is Himmat The Desi Bond We Have Been Waiting For?

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With the freedom provided by OTT (over-the-top) platforms, director Neeraj Panday masterfully used Kay Kay Menon’s excellent acting skills and combined them with a brilliant screenplay. The resultSpecial Ops. It is a series about Indian spies i.e., intelligence officers, and all the things they get up to.

The series received mostly positive reviews, from both the viewers and the critics. A prequel to the series was released this month, “Special Ops 1.5: The Himmat Story”. It dives into the story of the brilliant RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) agent played by Menon, Himmat Singh.

Kay Kay Menon as Himmat Singh in the series, Special Ops.
Kay Kay Menon wowed everyone with his performance as Himmat Singh, much like all his other performances. Photo credit: Disney+ Hotstar, via Scroll.

It is a four-episode-long mini series, which does not drag its feet at all. It is tightly written and keeps the viewer hooked until the very end. It has also garnered a lot of praise from fans online; and has many of them going gaga over the spellbinding combination of action and dialogues.

Via: Ramesh Bala, Twitter.

Unfortunately, even the creative liberty provided by OTT platforms did not help this series escape the curse of overused clichés like: personal tragedy wreaking a male super genius, otherwise decent men getting honey trapped etc.

Let us now put our reviewer’s glasses on, and go through each episode. Fair warning: spoilers ahead!

Aandhi

The first episode of the show will send blood rushing through your veins. You see the name of the episode and wonder if it will turn out to be as fascinating. One expects to understand the ticks of Himmat Singh—the unravelling a complicated character.

One wonders if it will it finally put an end to the question about the absence of a desi James Bond? As someone who recently binged the show, it seems to me that before looking for an answer to that question, we need to look at the idea of spies and espionage in pop culture.

More often than not, it has been a recurrent theme across film industries to mystify intelligence agencies and shroud them in a blanket of secrecy. This obscure and whitewashed narrative legitimises espionage as patriotic and a necessity in today’s world.

The idea of spies as “the good guys” is also repeatedly sold, to glorify jingoism and foreign interference to the detriment of several countries across the globe. The idea of Bond was very much in line with this and so is the entire series of Special Ops.

Keeping this in mind, one can see that Himmat is a brilliant tactician and as street-smart genius. You see a man who has lost almost every important thing in his life and still soldiers on… that too, with a single-minded relentlessness towards his mission.

Kay Kay Menon and Aftab Shivdasani in a still from Special Ops.
A still from Special Ops 1.5: Kay Kay Menon and Aftab Shivdasani play honest intelligent officers in the series. Photo credit: Disney+ Hotstar, Facebook.

The episode focuses on the honesty, fearlessness and dedication of a few officers like Himmat, Vijay and Abbas, in contrast with the other corrupt ones. This, again, leads to the same old squaring up of good officers versus the corrupt system.

Via: Zaffar, Twitter.

But, instead of seeing a Sherlock-esque hero finding loopholes in the system, we see him giving in to the future prime minister’s demands. We don’t see him reforming anything, but conforming rather. This obedient streak of Himmat’s didn’t sit well with me!

Mere Apne

Following the trail of honey trap missions, Himmat stumbles upon the shards of his own life. We see a beautiful medley of emotions from him. We also dive into the individualities of men who have been played in such a way.

We also see a mention of “sparrows”, the controversial, KGB, female spies who were specifically trained in the art of “sexpionage”.

A woman and a man are lying on a bed. She is holding his glasses in her hand, as she looks at him.
The theme of honey traps leading to powerful men compromising on important information, is an overused one in espionage series. Photo credit: Disney+ Hotstar, via ScoopWhoop.

Instead of seeing a hodge-podge of back-to-back chase and action sequences, we get a sneak peak into the mental state of the so-called “cloak and dagger” heroes. These snippets add a nice balance to the otherwise fast-paced thriller, where incidents take place one after the other.

The humanisation of these spies is an essential part of the series. 

Lekin…

This episode is a roller coaster of emotions. From loss to happiness, from success to the crushing feelings of failure and guilt—we see everything here. But, there is another thing which is hard to miss: the almost non-existent female cast.

The only women we see are either love interests or in negative roles in contrast with men in exceedingly positive ones. Such (not so) subtle sexism leaves a bad aftertaste in one’s mouth. 

Another thing which struck me was the complete absence of even a passing reference to the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and the Mossad—the American and Israeli counterparts of the RAW—while mentioning other important intelligence agencies.

Aadil Khan as Maninder, in Special Ops.
Aadil Khan plays Maninder in the series, a former Indian intelligence officer, who defects. Photo credit: Disney+ Hotstar, Facebook.

It has been documented that the RAW has worked alongside the two in the past, Also, an MoU (memorandum of understanding) was signed between the US and India calling for further collaboration between their intelligence agencies. Historically, RAW officers have also defected to the CIA

Another lekin (but) in the show is the shackles of cliché the show could not break out of. The protagonist’s best friend dying and leaving behind a pregnant wife; a personal relationship turning out to be another stab in the back; and a devastated protagonist gaining closure by exacting revenge. 

According to me, while all the actors’ performances were impeccable, the show slowly began to lose its charm towards the end and became almost predictable.

Ijazat 

In the last and arguably, the second best episode, we see Himmat getting his hands on the leaked information, under the nose of the devil himself, and neatly tying all the loose strings.

He gets his job back and decides to do what he thinks his best friend would have wanted him to do. The emotional turmoil one sees coursing through Himmat is enough to make one’s stomach turn. Thus, it leaves one with a sense of bittersweet satisfaction.

The series is unable to break free of this old cliché: if he is smart and dedicated, he will be emotionally stunted and his relationships will take a hit.

The idea that you cannot be good at your job, while also being available in your relationships, has turned almost central to the spy trope, to the point of it seeming rather unoriginal and boring.

And yet, I impressed by the on-point execution of the dialogues, as well as the perfect blend of grief and thrill. In my opinion, we should let our writers have a freehand so, they can break out of the cocoon of restrictionsexplore new genres, blend styles, create unique forms of art and tell new stories, while we cheer them on!

Featured image is for representational purposes only. Photo credit: Kaykay Menon, Facebook.

Note: The author is part of the Sept-Nov ’21 batch of the Writer’s Training Program

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