Netflix has Bard of Blood. Amazon Prime has The Family Man. And not wanting to feel left out, Hotstar brings us its very own espionage thriller, Special OPS.
On a macroscopic level, all three series are similar. India has a problem. It has come from you-know-where. Our country’s best pledge their lives to save us from a threat we might never even hear of, because that’s how covert they are. These commonalities aside, Special OPS does have enough juice to stand out.
The series is centred on near-retirement R&AW officer Himmat Singh and his 19-year manhunt for a man that no one believes even exists. Despite having such an explosive premise, Special OPS has a rather tame start, which is somewhat similar to the opening scene of KGF Chapter 1.
If there we got Anant Nag sitting in front of an inquisitive journalist with a camera, hyping up a near-mythical Rocky Bhai, here, we have a rather sombre Himmat Singh investigated by two auditors, who are there to decide if his team should continue to function or not. It is through their questions about the financial irregularities of Himmat that we are introduced to his team of spies stationed in the Middle-East.
One moment we are in Dubai. The next, Baku. Then, we reach Istanbul via a pit-stop at Tehran. The settings change frequently. Thankfully, these aren’t just attempts at showboating but genuinely well-thought-out and impressively mounted. Be it a camel race doubling up as a murder in the dusty expanses of UAE or the cramped-up spaces in Delhi, Special OPS’ production value is on point.
What sticks out though are the action sequences that look painfully choreographed. But despite the stunt sequences lacking authenticity, the writing ensures that the thrills are effective enough to warrant a binge-watch.
Writers Neeraj Pandey, Deepak Kingrani, and Benazir Ali Fida weave a tale that begins with the Parliament Attacks of 2001. It includes some of the most dreaded terrorist attacks on India, including Mumbai 26/11. The usage of the real names of terror accused and references to the recent revoking of Article 370, keeps the series rooted in reality.
The other factor that keeps Special OPS, a series that literally goes all over the world, rooted, are the performances of the lead cast, especially the ever-reliable Kay Kay Menon.
Himmat Singh in this series is what Srikanth Tiwari was to The Family Man. Both are bloody good at protecting the country, and are equally inept on the home front. If Srikanth had issues with his wife, Suchitra, Himmat has problems trusting his teenage daughter, Pari.
The similarities continue in how both these characters balance their personal and professional lives. Kay Kay Menon brings in a necessary sense of gravitas to the proceedings without compromising on the fun factor. Kay Kay’s Himmat has a wry sense of humour and the uncanny ability to say the most unlikely things at the most inopportune moments. Take, for instance, the hilarious exchange between Himmat and his auditors.
It begins with the latter questioning the talent of Himmat’s team, and ends with the recollection of the 2002 Lord’s Test where Ganguly scored a duck and Agarkar scored a century. This sudden laugh-out-loud moment hits us out of nowhere, and this isn’t a one-off thing either.
While there is no doubt that Himmat is a well-rounded character performed by one of India’s best actors, the other characters don’t get that kind of spotlight. Barring the Indian agent Farooq Ali (Karan Tacker) stationed in Dubai, none of the other spies, including proven actors like Meher Vij are given anything to do. The same applies to the non-spy characters played by Vinay Pathak and Divya Dutta.
However, despite the supporting cast being underwritten, a few setbacks in the pacing, and the oh-so-convenient twists, the show gets a lot right. This isn’t too much of a surprise considering the show is created by Neeraj, who has time and again proven his proficiency in making nail-biting espionage thrillers (No, I am not looking at you, Aiyaary). During that audit over financial irregularities, Himmat gets a call, and the auditor asks if it is bad news. A calm and composed Himmat replies, “Nahi sir, regular crisis hai…” Well, the Dubai crisis might be resolved for now, but for sure, Himmat and his team have earned their right to stay… a bit longer… at least for a second season.