Oh, what a pleasure it is to watch an actor like Kay Kay Menon get a character and material that enable him to sink his teeth into. His performance stands head and shoulders above the many delights that Special Ops 1.5: The Himmat Singh Story offers. More than halfway through the narrative, a character tells Himmat Singh, ‘Tum maano ya na maano, tumhare jaise log hi humare yahan santulan banaye rakhte hain.’ (Whether you agree or not, people like you maintain the balance here.) She could well have been talking about Kay Kay Menon who is brilliant enough for the film to balance its occasional lulls and give it dynamism and credibility.
But Special Ops 1.5 is not about Himmat Singh alone — and that is what gives the series such a well-rounded feel. There’s Vinay Pathak (always a delightful actor) who is in great form here, returning as Abbas Sheikh — and Kay Kay’s performance benefits immensely from feeding off Vinay. There’s Aftab Shivdasani who probably has the best role of his career as Himmat’s college friend and RAW operative Vijay Kumar. And there’s Aadil Khan, who leaves a lasting impact as Maninder Singh, the daring and charming agent gone rogue Himmat is tasked with tracking down.
There’s enough well-choreographed action and intrigue in locales as diverse as Colombo, Dhaka, London and Kiev to keep you invested. The writing has a certain chutzpah about it and, limited as it is to only four episodes, the sequel (or is it a prequel — an origin story) overcomes the at-times meandering nature of the first season.
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The second season opts for the same structure as the first, where Himmat Singh was called by a two-member enquiry board, Chaddha (Parmeet Sethi) and Banerjee (Kali Prasad Mukherjee), to investigate unaccounted expenses incurred by him and his operatives. Here, it is Abbas Sheikh who is called upon to depose on Himmat to enable the authorities to decide his retirement package. The deposition gets off to a colourful start as Sheikh asks, a hint of exasperated resignation in his voice, ‘Ab kya kar diya inhone?’ (Now, what has he done again?)
No sooner has the inquiry begun than Abbas gets a call on his mobile — one that does not have either a switch off or a mute button (therein lies a delectable aside). It’s Himmat calling, and the exchange between the two sets the tone for much of the film. To Himmat’s question about where he is, Abbas mutters he is at the bank for some work. Pat comes Himmat’s response: ‘Banerjee and Chaddha Cooperative Bank? — mind you, don’t go about breaking the fixed deposit we have.’ It’s the first time we see Kay Kay, and the silky insouciance of his delivery is enough to charm you.
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It is through this interrogation that we witness the early days of Himmat Singh as an operative. His run-ins with the police. Kay Kay is a treat telling off a three-member team of senior officers investigating a botched operation. It is a convoluted universe, deadly and full of intrigue — a world of shady operatives, mysterious international intelligence experts and wheeler-dealers, and lethal honey traps. There’s also a strong emotional track, wonderfully understated, about Himmat’s friendship with Vijay and his wife Saroj (Gautami Kapoor) and his romance with a journalist, which has tragic consequences and shapes the man Himmat becomes.
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However, in this device — Abbas Sheikh narrating the Himmat story — also lies the film’s one almost fatal flaw. How is Abbas privy to everything that Himmat experiences when he is not around, and when a lot of it happens in private to Himmat? Yes, Abbas does offer a throwaway line early on — that he is in the ‘intelligence’ business and hence aware of things not in the public domain. Nevertheless, it does strain credibility, but the filmmakers keep the proceedings pacy and whip up enough excitement to enable the picky viewer to let this pass and go with the flow.
It’s tough to follow up on a well-made film and Special Ops 1 remains one of the better ones we have had. It is to the credit of the filmmakers and Kay Kay Menon that Special Ops 1.5 manages to top that and, with that encounter involving agent Farooq Ali in Nepal in the closing moments, keep you waiting for the next season.
Title: Special Ops 1.5
Cast: Kay Kay Menon, Vinay Pathak, Gautami Kapoor, Aftab Shivdasani, Aadil Khan, Parmeet Sethi, Kali Prasad Mukherjee
Director: Shivam Nair
Platform: Disney+ Hotstar
Rating: 3 and ½ stars
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