Bard of Blood review: Emraan Hashmi is most impressive in this thrilling, pacy and binge-able Netflix series
Emraan Hashmi is back in our lives, and after binge-watching 7 episodes of Netflix's Bard of Blood, I can say for sure that it's a good thing.
Emraan Hashmi is back in our lives, ladies, gents and everyone else. And after binge-watching seven episodes of Netflix's Bard of Blood, I can say for sure that it's a good thing.
The big-budget Netflix series, co-produced by Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies, is a taut, ambitious spy/espionage thriller. The source material is a book written by Bilal Siddiqui and it's intensely geopolitical in nature. But the Netflix series ends up holding your attention, even if you aren't clued into politics and current affairs. This is perhaps its biggest win: not having to resort to unnecessary humour or subversion to be engaging. It's true to its genre: a thrilling spy series — nothing more, nothing less.
Bard of Blood is the most un-Emraan Hashmi like series for him to make his digital debut with — especially if you go by the kind of films he has done in the last decade. (As I type this, I keep having flashes of a younger Hashmi from Murder. *shudder*). But Hashmi's earnestness in playing a no-nonsense spy, his eloquence, his subtle yet dramatic performance and his ability to sink into his character will surprise you. It took me all of 10 seconds to believe this character and world, after which Bard of Blood went by swimmingly.
Bard of Blood plays with the tropes of its genre well. There's action (loads of it), there's deceit, conspiracy, there's bombs and blood, love and lust, adrenaline-pumping scenes and genuine nail-biting moments. Four Indian spies are taken hostage by the Taliban in Balochistan and ex-RAW agent Kabir Anand (Emraan Hashmi) is called back to help rescue them. Kabir aka Adonis left the organisation after a previous mission failed (also in Balochistan) and he lost his friend. When the series begins, Kabir is an English Lit teacher in a university, specialising in Shakespeare (hence the name of the series). Kabir doesn't want to go back to Balochistan but he is forced to when he realises that his past mission is somewhere linked to this one.
Along with Kabir, Isha Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala) also heads to Balochistan. She's a desk agent who yearns to be on the field and is finally given the chance. They team up with a longtime agent, Veer Singh (Viineet Singh), who has infiltrated the Taliban for years undercover. Together, they must save the four Indian agents and stop the Taliban from whatever nefarious activities they are planning. Helping them are local Balochis who are fighting for their freedom. Kabir meets Jannat (Kriti Kulhari) there, and for once, apart from being his love interest, she also has a vital part to play in the scheme of things.
Netflix has the binge formula down pat. Each episode, even though 40-odd minutes, ends at just the right point, and you start convincing yourself to watch just one more. You start checking the time backwards, and rationing how many episodes you can fit in. Thankfully, Bard of Blood has only seven crisp episodes, so it's easy to watch the whole show in one sitting, or maximum two days. But you won't want to stop watching it, that's for certain.
The supporting cast works well, but everything centres around Hashmi and his character, Kabir Anand, in Bard of Blood. This can be a good thing — and a bad one. It's good because Emraan does a spectacular job as the lead performer. The worst thing to have happened to his career is type-casting because Hashmi is real performer. He looks and acts like a believable spy: someone who has no time to make friends, repeat things or explain himself. He carries pain in his eyes, but no fear of death. He loves and hates with all his heart. And even though he has a lean frame, when he punches, he punches hard.
On the downside, Bard of Blood has no memorable antagonist to counter Kabir. The Taliban leader has been modelled to be menacing but his "villainous" nature just doesn't kick off even though on paper we have more than many reasons to hate him. Enter Jaideep Ahlawat, playing Tanveer Shehzad, an ISI agent handling the Taliban. Ahlawat is a great actor (most recently seen in Raazi), and he could have been the perfect foil to Kabir, but the series is uneven when it comes to handling his character. I kept expecting there to be some major twist, but his track more or less ends up being flat and one-dimensional.
By the time you reach the last few episodes, there's a lot to keep track of and suddenly too much is squeezed in to race to the climax. Bard of Blood tries to pass this off as intelligent politicising, but it ultimately comes off being complicated and messy. And then suddenly everything seems to conveniently be working in Kabir, Isha and Veer Singh's favour. Maybe if the series had spent more time establishing these characters and how they bond in the face of death, we would have something to root for. As it stands, Bard of Blood is a one-man show. But it's a good show. It's also a good-looking show, and a well-edited one, thanks to Chirantan Das and Nitin Baid.
Of course the last episode ends on a solid cliffhanger, and of course it will compel you to go back for season 2. But the real realisation from Bard of Blood is that Emraan Hashmi ka time (phir se) aa gaya.
Rating: ★★★ 1/2
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