Special Ops 1.5 review: Kay Kay Menon's towering portrayal of Himmat Singh dwarfs all signs of mediocrity around
It is understandable that Special Ops 1.5 is a detour to make Himmat Singh more personable, instead of the maverick he was shown in the first season, but the story is too disjointed to pull this narrative heist off.
In a scene from the second episode of Special Ops 1.5, a minister tells our protagonist Himmat Singh, “Tum mano ya na mano, tumhare jese log hi humare yahan santulan banaye rakhte hain” (whether you believe it or not, people like you maintain the balance here). It is a doting compliment delivered by a minister for a suspended RAW officer. In many ways, it is also metaphorically relevant to describing Special Ops as a whole — an uneven, partly great, partly mediocre series sustained by the continued, almost furious brilliance of Kay Kay Menon.
In this somewhat curtailed second season of just four episodes, the series harks back to old tropes and dopey espionage clichés in a more intimate view of Himmat Singh, the mysteriously austere RAW officer who can do no wrong.
In this short season, the narrative sprawls for the sake of telling Himmat’s fragmented personal story, which though doesn’t quite add up at times, remains watchable for Menon’s ability to transcend everything and everyone around him who is mediocre and uncomparable.
Espionage thrillers are like chewing gum — biting harder does not make it any sweeter or last any longer. Amazon Prime Video India’s successful series The Family Man chose to infuse sarcasm and self-aware humour into its world of underpaid agents and their conflicted personal lives. Special Ops has always been the richer, quite literally of the two. There is a keen sense of pride in what the agents do here, and little self-deprecation in service of an unempathic audience. The notion being that espionage itself is so thrilling a genre, peppering it with social and economic hurdles does not achieve as much. Even though Himmat was being investigated for his expenses in the first season, the series itself chased scale in a continent-hopping narrative that could, at times, flatter to deceive. In the spin-off, this continent hopping continues apace with an edition that again seems glad it is getting to strut its espionag-y stuff.
In this season, we meet Himmat Singh, roughly a year after the events of the first season. This time, he is being evaluated by the same two officers for what kind of retirement package he should receive (do retirement packages really work like this?). The narrator for this particular instalment is Abbas Sheikh, Vinay Pathak as the cocky Delhi police cop, who for some reason, gets to work on the cases he likes. Sheikh proceeds to tell Himmat’s story, or the one that is supposed to be his ‘origin’ story (with some amazing prosthetic work). As previously, Himmat pursues dangerous international criminals in this one too, but is supported not by subordinates but an equal in Aftab Shivdisani’s Vijay. Both join hands after Himmat is suspended by RAW to catch a bunch of criminals who are mere tools to arrive at the point of just how Himmat ended up as his uncompromising, obsessed self.
Though this season’s ends are personal, the series remains rooted in its enactment of stormy intel and spy shiz. Terms and information are thrown at you with the speed of a tracer bullet, so hard to follow you kind of forget it needs to make sense. Ironically, this rather intimate telling of Himmat’s story is pillared by a popular but rather serviceable mode of espionage called 'honey trapping.' Basically, women luring esteemed men into naïve decisions that ultimately lead to the compromise of both valuable intel, and subsequently, the country. Told with typical Delhi chic, Pathak narrates these stories colourfully, only for Himmat to enter and add some sort of sense and weight to a situation that seems at times too comical to belong to this world of espionage – at one point, also referred to as 'sexpionage.' Double agents and betrayals are a thing of this world, and here you find them galore. Because it is a story being told in another story, the twists keep coming.
Shivdisani’s aptly restrained role is proof that a lot of actors are just waiting for good scripts and parts to fetch them. Here, he is adequately believable alongside Menon, who effortlessly dwarfs everyone in his presence. There are some false notes, a political party angle that fails to convince, and a few twists that, by the end, seem more forced than organically woven. It is perhaps telling that the creative team behind the show opted to do four episodes this season because there was evidently not enough meat on the table. It is understandable that this is a detour to make Himmat Singh more personable, instead of the maverick he was shown in the first season, but the story is too disjointed to pull this narrative heist off.
None of that, however, can diminish Menon, his towering portrayal of Himmat that really ought to be the toast of the OTT space in India. How has this man not been poached by bigger, more grandiose projects? Even in a season as hurriedly assembled as this one, he stands out, audaciously composed and thoroughly aware of his value, both within and outside the world of Special Ops.
Special Ops 1.5 is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
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