Platform: Disney+Hotstar

Release Date: 12/11/2021

Cast: Kay Kay Menon, Aftab Shivdasani, Vinay Pathak

Creator: Neeraj Pandey

The first season of Special Ops was entertaining, intriguing, and had one of the most inspiring protagonists in a web series in 2020. People were quoting Himmat Singh (Kay Kay Menon) in their day-to-day lives and it didn’t come as a surprise when I learned that the makers of the series were rolling out an origin story of the character. The story here isn’t about Himmat’s brought up or how he got into R&AW but about a few specific years in his tenure with the department that shaped him in a certain way and made him the man that we saw in Special Ops.

The story of Special Ops 1.5 begins right after the events of Special Ops. Himmat Singh is on the verge of retirement. Banerjee and Chaddha who had carried out the inquiry against the man in Special Ops are entrusted to conduct another inquiry and dig into Himmat’s past and come out with achievements that may not have been on the papers for reasons of secrecy. This was being done to ensure that Himmat not only gets a respectable send-off from the R&AW but also ends up with a sizeable retirement package. The men start interviewing people who had been associated with Himmat throughout his years in R&AW and the first man they interview is Abbas Sheikh (Vinay Pathak), the Delhi police cop who had been by his side in a sizeable number of cases and was ferociously loyal to him. Through the course of the inquiry, the men learn about certain aspects of Himmat’s life and work that shock them to the core and also give them a better understanding of the man and what he had done for the country.

As is expected, Special Ops 1.5‘s biggest strength lies in its protagonist played by Kay Kay Menon. The actor has to essay the character at a younger age in his life when he was a little naïve albeit was still a dangerous and unforgiving man. Menon has to put up with a lot of makeup that is done to have the desired de-aging effect on him. Even from behind the thick veil of makeup he successfully conveys subtle emotional nuances through expressions and sometimes simply by how he looks at a certain character. The character reminds us of certain sequences from Special Ops and enables the viewer to draw parallels between the two shows. This works in the favor of the series. I just loved the natural camaraderie between Menon and Aftab Shivdasani. The sequences that they share feel believable and their friendship and love for each other feel real.

I had no idea that Aftab Shivdasani was a part of this series and I have to admit that he has done a fairly good job with the character. He is someone that I associate with playing mostly comic characters but here he is able to bring a sense of seriousness to the character that was absolutely critical to its success. He works well in tandem with Menon and elevates the sequences that they share by holding up his side of the deal with authority.

Vinay Pathak is someone who can turn mediocre characters to great simply by how well he essays them. Abbas Sheikh is written with a lot of care and has some interesting facets to it. Hence it is no surprise that Vinay Pathak catapults the character to the heights of likeability with his gullible charm and impeccable comic timing. I also enjoyed certain moments of his essay where he literally fights for the sense of respect and importance that he wants for himself. Aadil Khan as the principal antagonist of the series does a good job. The problem with his character is not so much about how he essays it as it is with how it is written. The only issue that I had with his essay was in his enactment of the torture scene where he is beaten to a pulp in Serbia. The ease of his escape from captivity and how he enacts this bit raises some serious questions about realism and logic in the said sequence. This bit should have been better handled by the director who should have known better. But Aadil too should have raised his apprehensions as an actor as this portion feels grossly superficial and farcical.

I liked the story of the Special Ops series. I feel it is one of the most densely written series to have come out this year and it has a lot of different story elements and subplots to it that make the narrative gripping. The fact that the series has only 4 episodes and everything happens in quick succession only adds to the intrigue of the tale. However, the series is marred by a lot of lapses of logic and realism. R&AW officers are shown doing things and behaving in ways that question their competitiveness and sanity. They are shown doing things that even I wouldn’t do while shadowing a character or on a covert mission.

The next thing that bugged me about the series was the sheer number of honey trappings that are shown. There came a time when every female character in the series felt like a threat in some way or the other as almost every attractive woman turned out to be in cahoots with the villains. Also, the targets of these honey traps who were supposed to be top officials and bureaucrats behaved in such over the top and cringe-worthy fashion that the seriousness of these bits was lost in the stupidity of the characters that are shown falling for such traps so easily and for behaving like such love-struck idiots. The action sequences of the series were also questionable. It felt like a lack of budget and resources that rendered some of the action sequences quite amateurish. Even the blood on the characters in certain sequences felt fake. These things could have been dealt with better.

I had a good time with Special Ops 1.5. It felt like the perfect filler before the second season of Special Ops drops. The last scene of the series also works as a lead-in to the next season and sets us up for an interesting mission that in all eventualities will take place in Nepal. This series also develops the ever likable character of Himmat Singh and gives us interesting and shocking forays into his life and certain circumstances that made him even more interesting and intriguing. Only if the makers could polish the material further and done away with the campiness and the lapses of logic and further improved the action sequences and visual effects, this series could have ended up being one of the best of the year. Unfortunately, that is not the case and that is why Special Ops 1.5 falls short of its mark by some margin.  

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)

Also read: Now, combative Kangana Ranaut asks ‘which war took place in 1947’

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