‘Special Ops 1.5: The Himmat Story’ Review: Kay Kay Menon yet again proves why he is one of the best actors in the country

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

Murtaza Ali Khan

Interesting things have been happening in the Indian entertainment space in the recent years. As far as the espionage genre is concerned, Neeraj Pandey has been making constant efforts to build a universe of sorts with an entire gamut of spy characters. It all started with “Baby” and then Pandey made a very interesting spinoff titled “Naam Shabana”. But somewhere he fell short of realizing his dreaming of building a universe. Following the colossal failure of “Aiyaary,” he headed towards the web with “Special Ops”. The spy thriller series has a vast panoply of characters—bureaucrats, politicians, cops, soldiers, spies, terrorists, brokers, hackers, terrorists, etc.—with many subplots spread across two decades and an ideal setup to build a major universe.  The best way to describe it is as a slow-burning thriller in the vein of John le Carré’s novels.

Now, at the centre of “Special Ops” is Himmat Singh (essayed by Kay Kay Menon) of Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), who draws similar patterns in various terrorist attacks carried on the Indian soil, starting with the 2001 Indian Parliament attack, and is convinced that a single person has masterminded  all the attacks. He sets up a team of five agents living in various parts of the world in order to nab him. The story is inspired by the actual espionage missions carried by the Indian agents over the last couple of decades.

Kay Kay Menon essays Himmat Singh with a scalpel like precision. Singh may even remind some of le Carré’s iconic George Smiley. Like Smiley, Singh first comes across as innocuously polite, unassuming, and someone you don’t easily feel threatened by. He is clever enough to hide his razor-sharp memory, inner cunning, spy mastery, and his ability to quickly detach himself from his human subjects if need be. In other words, he is the quintessential spymaster who knows how to get the job done Special Ops, which was released on Disney+ Hotstar back in 2020, days before the lockdown came into effect, turned out to be a huge success and now Pandey is back with a new chapter in the “Special Ops” saga titled “Special Ops 1.5: The Himmat Story”—a major step forward for Pandey in creating a full-fledged Special Ops universe.

As the title suggests, this time everything even more closely revolves around the character of Himmat Singh. Like most origin stories the focus is on addressing the all important question. How did Himmat Singh become the spymaster we know him to be? In order to achieve this, Pandey yet again goes back to the approach he employed in the first installment of Special Ops. Mr. Chadha (essayed by Parmeet Sethi) and Mr. Banerjee (portrayed by Kali Prasad Mukherjee), the members of the auditing committee, who were assigned the task to hold an inquiry against Singh, are back again. This time they have to submit a report about Himmat who is about to retire. Their observations and comments will have a direct impact on the retirement benefits that will be granted to Himmat by the government for his services.

Knowing well that Himmat isn’t the easiest person to tackle, they instead invite Abbas Sheikh (played by Vinay Pathak) for the inquiry. Those who have seen Special Ops are aware of the special relation that Abbas and Himmat share. And it’s through Abbas that we go back to the beginning of Himmat’s story back in 2001, following the Parliament attack. It goes without saying that while Special Ops which was plot-oriented, Special Ops 1.5 is more like a personal journey. This time, it is more about personal relationships than larger than life events. But the elements are all there. Kay Kay is one of the best actors working in the country and here again he brings his a-game to the table. As opposed to a wise and mellowed down Himmat who is on the brink of retirement in Special Ops, in the four episode long second installment he gives us a Himmat who is still in his 30s. He is youthful, intelligent and impulsive and lacks the judgment and wisdom of the veteran spymaster he would become in the due course of time.  

Writer-director Neeraj Pandey basically started a new trend with his debut film “A Wednesday,” starring Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher. Prior to it, Bollywood thrillers mostly had a noirish quality but it all changed thanks to Pandey’s brand of thrillers that varied both in terms of style as well as content. While “A Wednesday” can be described as a political thriller, his second directorial venture “Special 26” fell in the realm of what can be described as a heist thriller. “Baby,” the third film to be directed by him, was actually an espionage thriller. Although, in between, he did make the MSD biopic, it is making thrillers that seem to interest him the most. It’s quite evident from that fact that he chose a film like “Aiyaary,” an espionage thriller set in Lutyens' Delhi, as his fifth directorial venture. And he seems to have taken his passion for espionage to the next level by setting up the Special Ops universe. And it wouldn’t really be a surprise if more Special Ops sequels and spinoffs are in the offing.

A version of this review was first published at The Daily Guardian.

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