December 8, 2022

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Special OPS 1.5 Review: Death by Background music

Image Courtesy: Disney Plus

Himmat Singh, a RAW agent, is on the phone in Season One of Special Ops. He orders tersely, "Thok do" (kill him). Then, not long after, 'Chhod do' (leave him).

Himmat Singh, a RAW agent, is on the phone in Season One of Special Ops. He orders tersely, “Thok do” (kill him). Then, not long after, ‘Chhod do’ (leave him). ‘Maar diya jaaye ya chhod diya jaaye, bol tere saath kya salook kiya jiya’, sings a popular Bollywood song from the 1970s. Is there a character that is playing Russian roulette with various lives? That is what is referred to as an entry.

It’s a terrific hook, and it helps us get through the rest of the first season, which takes eight overly long episodes and several slow, lumbering detours to get where it wants to go: The Bad Muslim Terrorists are ‘thokoed,’ The Smart Indian Spy triumphs, and everyone returns home happy.

They don’t, however. There is no rest for the wicked, according to Special Ops 1.5, which premieres on Disney Hotstar this morning. Himmat Singh (Kay Kay Menon) is still in jail, and the interlocutors are the same clueless Tweedledum and Tweedledee duo of Bannerji Sahab and Chaddha Sahab (Kali Prasad Mukherjee and Parmeet Sethi), who are still curious about the spymeister who spends lakhs of’sarkaari’ funds on vague categories classified as miscellaneous. Who is this Himmat Singh, exactly? And how did he come to be known as Himmat Singh, the all-seasons man?

These are excellent questions. It’s always interesting to learn more about our heroes’ backstories, especially those who sit in hot chairs, press buttons, and save the world. Except that this sequel, prequel, or whatever it wants to call itself is never as engaging as its protagonist, falling tiredly into the seen-it-all trap at every turn.

One of my favourite scenes from Season One is when a character ties up another in broad daylight, atop a boat, in the middle of a bustling harbour. Clearly, neither the scriptwriters nor the person stringing with the purpose to murder are concerned about what would happen if someone appeared. Although logic and desi spy-sagas aren’t the best of friends, they can occasionally produce some amusingly weird scenarios: the second season doesn’t swerve into self-aware silliness frequently enough.

So it’s up to Kay Kay to save the day. Despite the fact that we largely see him in flashback (it is, after all, a type of genesis tale), he is still his keen, sardonic self, pushing back against crooked, inept seniors and catching the backs of the individuals he works with. This quality inspires endless admiration in Abbas Sheikh (Vinay Pathak), a conscientious cop and loyal collaborator who picks up the threads and tells us the storey of his hero’s ascension chapter by chapter. The best aspect of this season is also the interactions between two people.

The problem with the new season is that the opponent — a mole who happens to be one of their own — isn’t scary enough. We got a lot of exotic places last time – Baku, Dubai, Istanbul, and Tehran – as well as a lot of exotic baddies and a number of inventive executions. Farooq Ali (Karan Tacker), Himmat’s gorgeous blue-eyed kid, wears fine clothes and follows commands while cosying up to curvaceous molls. This time, we’re handed firangi ‘honeypots,’ who entice Indian envoys to suck out classified secrets with such a straight face that we’re supposed to believe it’s the first time we’ve ever seen something like this. Anyone up for some ‘espionage’? Yawn.

Himmat, who spent much of the first season creepily spying on his teenage daughter, is given a love interest, and this section of the storey has a couple of twists. Aftab Shivdasani appears as a fellow agent who is sincere and diligent, but has little impact. The climax is straight out of a horrible 80s Bollywood film, and if you’ve ever been afraid of death by background music, you’re in for a treat.

Just as things seem to be coming to a close, our friend Farooq appears, beating off four highly armed attackers. There is an immediate burst of energy. That’s a lot better. Please, no more kiss-kiss.

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