Two Decades of Terror Summarised, and More Reasons to Watch Neeraj Pandey’s Special Ops

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Two Decades of Terror Summarised, and More Reasons to Watch Neeraj Pandey’s Special Ops

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

About thirty minutes into the first episode of Special Ops, there’s a moment you’ll wonder whether you’re watching a top-drawer international show. The scene shifts between four scenic backdrops — in New Delhi, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Jordan — within the span of a few minutes, as we’re introduced to R&AW agent Himmat Singh (Kay Kay Menon).

Through these flashes, we’re also given an idea of what to expect from Hotstar Special’s latest espionage thriller — a RAW agent, who suspects that a “sixth terrorist” was involved in the 2001 Parliament attacks, has assembled a team of Avengers in different parts of the world to investigate. The show then thrusts viewers headfirst into the action, as this ensemble cast attempts to trace down this “mastermind”, and also coincidentally summarising the following 19 years of terror in India.

It’s a staggering task, sure, but one that clearly needed the talents of co-writer and director, Neeraj Pandey, to bring it to life. Pandey has, in the past, given us the thrilling films, A Wednesday, Baby and Special 26, to name a few. While the plot itself is overall a work of fiction, Special Ops goes a step further by intertwining very real events into its narrative, making for exceptional content.

But Special Ops is far from a one-man show.

The show specifically stands out for the way it ties together the story of Parliament attacks, the 26/11 attacks, the Uri attack, Pulwama, the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombings, and even the Muzaffarnagar riots, through this global chase for a “sixth” mastermind. While semi-fictional, the fact that it is based on years of research into previous attacks on our soil is evident. It also allows viewers to get a better understanding of the modus operandi followed by enemies of the state. There are moments when fiction and reality blur, highlighting how complex intelligence operations really are, while making you believe that even the most loony conspiracy theories could have a shred of truth to them.

Kay Kay Menon’s performance is exceptional, and one that has had heads turning, ever since the first season dropped on Hotstar VIP last week. While Emran Hashmi and Manoj Bajpayee have played similar roles in the past  – in Family Man and Bard of Blood, two recent shows that fit in the same genre – neither have earned the accolades Menon’s Himmat Singh has. His intensity when interviewing terror suspects is just as disconcerting as his banter with his wife (Gautami Kapoor) is pure.

There’s no greater example of the former than the scene in which Himmat Singh interviews 26/11 terror convict Ajmal Kasab, and no greater proof of the latter than the many scenes in which Kay Kay Menon adopts the role of a bumbling father.

Still where Bard of Blood flounders, and Family Man is charming in its own right, Special Ops manages to take it a notch higher with the way it ties together the sequence of events.

But Special Ops is far from a one-man show. As a team is put together to trace mastermind “Ikhlaq Khan”, we’re treated to more solid performances from a cast that features names like Karan Tacker, Saiyami Kher, Muzzamil Ibrahim, Divya Dutta, and Vinay Pathak. The camaraderie between Vinay Pathak and Kay Kay Menon, specifically, is one to look out for. Pathak plays Inspector Abbas, Himmat Singh’s sidekick and walking set-up for one-liners, adding a quirky charm to a show that otherwise has you on the edge of your seat in anticipation. Meanwhile, Divya Dutta’s performance as “Sadiya” (we can’t tell you more without giving out spoilers!) is bound to leave a lasting impression.

In the past, shows like Family Man, or Bard of Blood have shown that there is a hunger for homegrown thrillers, set in India. The characters have to deal with uniquely “it happens only in India” kind of problems. These shows are evidence that there is a keen interest in desi espionage. Still where Bard of Blood flounders, and Family Man is charming in its own right, Special Ops manages to take it a notch higher with the way it ties together the sequence of events. This makes it more comparable with international shows like Homeland.

Overall, Special Ops seems like a solid option to binge during our three-week lockdown. While the season itself has a seven-hour run time, it’s developed backstory and source of material is sure to stay in your head a lot longer.

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