STAR Networkâs streaming platform Hotstar doesnât really get credit for what it tried to accomplish back in 2019. With the release of sports documentary Roar Of The Lion, it kicked off its own homegrown, Indian web series platform with Hotstar Specials. Since then, weâve seen the network test the waters with crime thriller after crime thriller - stumbling hard on itâs attempt to pull off the mockumentary-style humour of The Office.
This week, Hotstar has released Kay Kay Menon starrer Special Ops - a slow burn espionage thriller that certainly has a lot going for it - with Neeraj Pandey, director of Baby, A Wednesday!, Rustom and Special 26 at the helm, expectations are pretty high. Letâs see how well the final product matches them.
The series opens on establishing shots over New Delhiâs Connaught Place and Red Fort - zooming into our main man Himmat Singh (Kay Kay Menon). In 2019, the grizzled yet seemingly focused RAW agent finds himself across the table from two auditors, claiming that his department has financial irregularities. The premise is explained right from the get-go. Himmat elaborates that his investigations took his team across the Middle East over the last two decades, on a high-stakes manhunt to find the supposed mastermind behind the 2001 Parliament attacks. Naturally, the villain is still at large.
All of this is presented in the first episode with varying levels of accuracy and directorial skill. Menonâs performance as Himmat is nuanced and balanced well. The story flips between his life in the early 2000s and 2019 with nuanced portrayals of a young agent with something to prove, contrasting with his more confident, relaxed older self. The parliament attack itself is recreated in a ten-minute sequence thatâs surprisingly close to the real deal.
Most of its cast (and budget, therefore) are given the task of not fleshing out their characters, but simply advancing the plot. While this works well in Neeraj Pandeyâs feature-length films, a web series' success depends far more on how engaging and enjoyable its cast is to watch on screen, especially when you consider the sheer volume of runtime.
As the series progresses, we get to see Himmatâs determined, by-the-book philosophy erode as he becomes obsessed with tracking down his enemy. We see him lock horns with departmental heads, fail to share his burdens with his family and even resort to cloning and tracking his daughterâs cell phone. It all works great and is performed masterfully, until you realise that most of your runtime is spent waiting for Menon to return on screen.
Along with Tacker though, Iâd like to highlight Vinay Pathakâs performance as a police officer and informant - the veteran actor brings a heap of much-needed charisma and personality into what would otherwise be yet another forgettable role.
The clearest and most obvious comparison within Pandeyâs filmography is 2016âs Baby, which coincidentally happened to feature Menon as the main villain. The film tackles similar themes of terrorist conspiracies, elite task forces and high-stakes drama, but does so much more effectively. The biggest reason for this is, simply put, Baby keeps the pace running with more-or-less the same ultimate message for viewers, but does so with far less time between itâs setpieces, giving you the idea of urgency and thrill that Special Ops misses out on.
Allâs not bad though - the series is certainly worth a watch if youâre a fan of Menon or Pandeyâs work, and props go to the latter for avoiding jingoism and the kind of opinion-pandering thatâs taken over Indian media in recent years, despite the subject matter of terrorism. Thereâs very little Islam-alarmism, and perhaps while Special Ops is not perfect, itâs certainly a special addition to Hotstarâs lineup.Rating: 3/5