special ops 1.5

The poster for “Special Ops 1.5.” (Publicity photo)

You have got to hand it to Neeraj Pandey: he’s emerging into a spymaster of immense caliber, never mind “The Family Man” that operated on a different level. In “Special Ops 1.5,” Pandey crafts his thrillers with a rare cinematic vision; the “realness” is augmented with a grand sweep in the narration, loads of a different kind of humor and a terrific canvas and scale in locations and overall presentation. This leads to a bonanza of entertainment that the other series cannot hope to match because of its style and content.

“Special Ops” (2020), arguably, was the finest homegrown espionage thriller seen on the web. “The Family Man Season 2” came later in 2021 to rival it to a good extent, Season 1 being average. In that series, Indian R&AW agent Himmat Singh (Kay Kay Menon) was being interrogated by two colleagues, Chadha (Parmeet Sethi) and Banerjee (Kali Prasad Mukherjee), for his inordinate use of official funds in over 19 years, largely for a pet theory that no one else believed in regarding the 2001 Parliament attack.

In this immensely well-conceived prequel, policeman Abbas Shaikh (Vinay Pathak), unofficially a loyal aide to Himmat all along, is also questioned by the same officers regarding Himmat Singh, now about to retire, on how the agency should look at his unconventional approach as applied to his retirement benefits. Why did Himmat Singh become what he is? The series is set AFTER Season 1 in effect, but the narration goes to an era before it, as Shaikh explains everything in graphic detail.

Himmat has become what he is because of some personal scars and scores in his past career, and these aspects are succinctly narrated in a 4-part series of about 170 minutes. In fact, on rumination after the series is over, we come to realize the subtle intensity of the storyline and the creation of an agent for whom nothing matters other than the nation. This is underscored also by lines by various characters about how politics decide or interfere in security work, and the devastatingly stunning final line by Banerjee about what his professor once said, that comes as a superb climactic expression.

A renegade agent, Maninder (Aadil Khan), and Karishma, a ruthless woman set on honey-trapping Indian officers (Aishwarya Sushmita) are to be tackled by both Himmat and his friend and co-agent Vijay (Aftab Shivdasani). Then there are other malefic forces, and Himmat’s girlfriend (Shivjyoti Rajput) and Vijay’s wife (Gautami Kapoor) also for the romantic angles.

Laced with dry yet often uproarious humor, the action moves from Delhi to Ukraine, London, Dubai, Serbia and more as the series packs in dollops of crackerjack thrills, exciting twists and intense yet underplayed emotional highs, all adding up to a ruthlessly dramatic and gripping experience for the viewer. You sense Pandey’s hand when the atmosphere resembles “Baby” (2015) and “Aiyaary” (2018) in many ways. The first was very successful, but the second film was inexplicably a no-no at the b-o., and probably the progenitor of Pandey’s web series where he could continue with a detailed narration!

Kay Kay Menon’s essay is probably a shade more stunning than in the earlier season—he has clearly sunk deeper into his character. Vinay Pathak’s expression and tone are killers. Parmeet Sethi and Kali Prasad Mukherjee are brilliant as in the last season. Aishwarya Sushmita, Shivjyoti Rajput, Aadil Khan and the rest of the support are good, and Gautami Kapoor superbly natural. The background music is as masterly as the script and Sudheer Palsane’s and Arvind Singh’s astounding camerawork. Shivam Nair’s direction is flawless.

Don’t miss this one. It’s a perfect binge-watch.

And best of all, it urges you to go watch the original season as a sequel AGAIN. What else can you want from a great prequel?

Rating: ****1/2

Created by: Neeraj Pandey

Produced by: Shital Bhatia

Directed by: Neeraj Pandey & Shivam Nair

Written by: Neeraj Pandey, Deepak Kingrani and Benazir Ali Fida

Music: Advait Nemlekar

Starring: Kay Kay Menon, Vinay Pathak, Parmeet Sethi, Kali Prasad Mukherjee, Aadil Khan, Aishwarya Sushmita, Shivjyoti Rajput, Gautami Kapoor & others

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