At a time when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is struggling to safeguard its interests in West Asia, writers of Hindi films and OTT series are fervently mapping the terror outfit’s activity in the country. The latest is Neeraj Pandey who has been actively negotiating the good Muslim-bad Muslim template in the global war against terror since A Wednesday. The politics of his work is debatable but when it comes to providing a thrilling experience backed by some solid research, Pandey usually delivers a compelling package.
However, this time, the idea doesn’t really take off, the punches don’t connect and director Bhav Dhulia fails to make the adrenaline rush. Part of the problem is that the platform has divided the series into two parts and has released only the first four episodes. It worked with The Night Manager but here the build-up is not stirring enough to make one salivate for the second part.
‘The Freelancer’ (Hindi)
Creator: Neeraj Pandey
Cast: Mohit Raina, Kashmira Pardeshi, Anupam Kher, Manjari Fadnnis
Episodes: 4 out of 7
Run-time: 35-55 minutes
Storyline: Avinash, a freelance mercenary, launches a rescue mission for Aliya, an Indian woman trapped in ISIS-infested Syria
Plus, the intrinsic logic doesn’t really hold. The series is based on Shirish Thorat’s A Ticket To Syria: A Story About the ISIS In Maldives. Here, writers Ritesh Shah and Pandey have shifted the core idea of radicalisation of Muslim families to India. This shift feels incongruous.
The story is about Aliya (Kashmira Pardeshi), the daughter of an ex-police officer Inayat Khan (Sushant Singh), who has just married a handsome young man from a business family that has interests in Southeast Asia. A female Muslim preacher radicalises the modern business family without much effort and the sensible-looking people head to Syria to join the Islamic State in quick time. While the rest of the family believes in furthering the cause of the Caliphate, Aliya begs to differ.
Somehow, Inayat could not see the clues that were easily visible and ended his life in front of the American consulate in Mumbai. It brings his long-lost colleague and friend Avinash Kamath (Mohit Raina) back to India and launches a search for Aliya. When they were with the Mumbai Police, Inayat and Avinash refused to bow to the demands of their political masters and were punished. Pushed out of the system, Avinash became an accomplished mercenary, a freelancer, who carries out discreet missions for money but this time the cause is personal. He is also battling his inner demons as he holds himself responsible for losing his child to a freak accident that sent his wife Mrunal (Manjari Fadnnis) into acute depression.
There are plenty of strings to work with but the makers could not hold them tight. The emotional tapestry fails to hide the formulaic and farcical turn of events that eats up a lot of screen time in explaining the workings and motives of ISIS and Aliya’s conversations with her mother and Avinash without being caught. The tension dissipates when action is deliberately delayed.
The writers admit that ISIS is on the back foot but try to create the fear that the organisation is preparing to fight back. Instead of telling us about their political masters and supplier of arms, the makers choose to focus on their regressive cultural ideas which has been told many times before.
Mohit looks the part of a stoic soldier and it appears that he means business but the makers want him to hold back his heavy punches for the last three episodes and we keep watching the predictable preparations for his Syrian mission where Avinash takes tips from security expert Arif Khan (Anupam Kher), who is nothing but a wine glass-holding Good Muslim stereotype. So are the two CIA operatives who much like the series seem to be surviving on borrowed lines. Eventually, it is left to the might of Mohit to salvage this arid mission.
The Freelancer is currently streaming on Disney+Hotstar