In an episode towards the end of the Hotstar series Special Ops, an officer from the Research and Analysis Wing likens the intelligence-gathering organisation’s service and relationship with the country’s rulers to a game of chess. He speaks of pawns and officers, kings and protectors. Several episodes of this eight-part thriller, created by Neeraj Pandey (A Wednesday, Baby, Aiyaary), are spent placing the players on the chessboard.
In 2019, two auditors are questioning RAW agent Himmat Singh (Kay Kay Menon) about irregularities in his department’s accounts. His explanation for transferring money to cities around the Middle East tracks back to the terror attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. Himmat believes the mastermind is still at large, and he’s determined to nab him.
Gradually, and rather tediously, each strategically placed “asset” is introduced, in particular Himmat’s Dubai-based protege Farooq (Karan Tacker), who is hot on the heels of public enemy number one. The others are Ruhani (Meher Vij), Juhi (Saiyami Kher), Bala (Vipul Gupta) and Avinash (Muzzamil Ibrahim) – all clearly dispensable as their recruitment, training, and skills are barely etched out.
The series, directed by Shivam Nair, creates scale by excessively using establishing shots. The script (Pandey, Deepak Kingrani, Benazir Ali Fida) resorts to repetitive dialogue and sweeping conveniences. Suspense is built while forsaking logic and humour. The best joke comes in episode three – the only notable moment in an otherwise comatose episode – when Himmat recalls a poor innings by Sourav Ganguly that leaves the Bengali auditor flabbergasted.
Kay Kay Menon, with a crafty performance that balances mischief with method, leads from the front. Vinay Pathak, as a local police officer and Karan Tacker’s eager spy lock into their parts too. Sana Khan, Sharad Kelkar, Sajjad Delafrooz, Parmeet Sethi and Divya Dutta play other significant roles.
Set in the world of spies, intelligence gathering and failure and terrorism, Special Ops lands on the better side of Bard of Blood, but doesn’t match the entertainment value of The Family Man. The action is uneven. While the Parliament attack is well executed, the hand-to-hand combat scenes are unmistakably choreographed. The production design too is exiguous.
Shorter introductions for every asset managed by Himmat, his family life, and the parodying of investigating officers might have helped maintain intrigue and engagement. That would have been preferable to a series about a 19-year chase that takes forever to get to the point.