Special Ops 1.5 cast: Kay Kay Menon, Vinay Pathak, Gautami Kapoor, Aftab Shivdasani, Aadil Khan, Parmeet Sethi, Kali Prasad Mukherjee
Special Ops 1.5 creator: Neeraj Pandey
In Season One of Special Ops, RAW agent Himmat Singh is on the phone. ‘Thok do’ (kill him), he orders tersely. And then, soon after, ‘Chhod do’ (leave him). Instantly, the words of an apt 70s Bollywood song spring to mind: ‘maar diya jaaye ya chhod diya jaaye, bol tere saath kya salook kiya jiya’. A character playing Russian roulette with sundry lives? Now that’s called an entry.
It’s a great hook, and it helps us navigate the rest of the first season, which takes eight too-long episodes and several unhurried, somewhat lumbering detours to get where it wants to: The Bad Muslim Terrorists are ‘thokoed’, The Smart Indian Spy emerges victorious, and everyone goes home happy.
Except they don’t. Special Ops 1.5, which opens on Disney Hotstar this morning, tells us that there’s no rest for the wicked. Himmat Singh (Kay Kay Menon) is still in the dock, the interlocutors are the same clueless Tweedledum and Tweedledee duo of Bannerji Sahab and Chaddha Sahab (Kali Prasad Mukherjee and Parmeet Sethi), and they are still curious about the spymeister who happily spends lakhs of ‘sarkaari’ funds on vague categories classified as miscellaneous. Just who is this Himmat Singh? And how did he become Himmat Singh, the man for all seasons?
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Good questions. It’s always nice to know the backstories of our heroes, especially those who inhabit hot seats, push buttons, and save the world. Except this sequel or prequel or whatever it wants to call itself is never as interesting as its protagonist, falling tiredly into the been-there-seen-it trap at every step.
One of my favourite parts in Season One is when a character strings up another in the middle of a busy marina, atop a boat, in broad daylight. Clearly, neither the scriptwriters nor the person doing the stringing, with an intent to kill, is bothered about what would happen if someone popped up. Logic and desi spy-sagas may not be the best of pals, but sometimes can throw up some entertainingly bizarre scenarios: the second season doesn’t veer into self-aware silliness often enough.
So, it’s down to Kay Kay to rescue us. Even though we see him mostly in flashback (it is a sort of origin story, after all) in the most distracting hair-do, he is still his sharp, sardonic self, pushing back at corrupt, incompetent seniors and catching the backs of the people he works with. This quality evokes undying admiration in Abbas Sheikh (Vinay Pathak), diligent cop and faithful collaborator, who picks up the threads, and gives us chapter and verse of his hero’s ascent. The interactions between two are the best part of this season too.
The trouble that besets the new season is that the antagonist — a mole, one of their own — is simply not menacing enough. Last time, we got lots of exotic locations – Baku, Dubai, Istanbul, Tehran — and many exotic baddies, and a couple of nifty executions. Plus, there was Himmat’s dashing blue-eyed boy Farooq Ali (Karan Tacker) who wears sharp suits, and follows orders, while cosying up to curvaceous molls. This time around, we are given firangi ‘honeypots’ who seduce Indian envoys to suck out classified secrets with such a straight face that we are meant to believe it is the first time we are seeing this happen. ‘Sexpionage’, anyone? Yawn.
Himmat, who spent a great deal of the first season creepily spying on his teenage daughter, is given a love interest, and there are a couple of twists in this part of the tale. Aftab Shivdasani shows up as a fellow spy, and is earnest and hard-working, but leaves little impact. The climax is straight out of a bad 80s Bollywood flick, and if you ever feared death by background music, well, welcome to the party.
Just when things are about to end, up springs our pal Farooq, fighting off four heavily armed men. Immediately, there’s a surge of energy. This is more like it. More bang-bang going forward, please, no more kiss-kiss.