Special Ops and State of Siege 26/11 review: Where Delhi's eagles dare
Just like it is with Special Ops for Hotstar-Disney, Siege 26/11 is also Zee5's flagship Indian military-thriller inevitably with Islamic terrorism as the arch-enemy.
creator: Neeraj Pandey
Cast: Kay Kay Menon, Karan Tacker, Vinay Pathak
State of Siege 26/11
creator: Abhimanyu Singh
Actors: Shoaib Kabeer, Arjan Bajwa, Mukul Dev
Frankly, gimme some time to get used to this. Ever since Indian originals began pouring on to OTT platforms — or what can only be described, content-wise, as the web/digital revolution, no less — I've been quite awestruck by the quality of visuals — lighting, shot-taking, and the generally world-class look, and feel of it all! Of course number one in this field, especially with respect to the production design, might well be The Forgotten Army (on Amazon Prime), and Sacred Games (on Netflix).
Do State of Siege: 26/11 on Zee5 (directed by the American Matthew Leutwyler), and Special Ops on Hotstar-Disney (created and co-directed by Neeraj Pandey) — having dropped online at around the same time — make the same visual high-grade? Hell, yeah. This leaves me pleasantly stunned foremost.
Whether that be for the collective storm plus assault, indoor scenes in Siege, or the majestically executed climax over an oil-field in Special. Both eight-episode shows/season, of the same genre, aimed at mass production of cortisol (fear/anxiety hormone), are set against two epochal events — Mumbai's 26/11/2008 terror attacks (for Siege), and the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament as the starting point (in the case of Special), which is perceived as a failed precursor to 26/11, anyway.
Watch the trailer of Shoaib Kabeer, Arjan Bajwa, Mukul Dev starrer Stage of Seige 26/11 here
What's the key difference with the concept/treatment between the two though? The same as there would be between a piece of long-form reportage/non-fiction — sincerely sticking to sacred facts (for Siege) — and a WhatsApp forward, deliberately designed to exaggerate, and entertain (with Special)!
And this isn't a surprise. Given that Siege is based on the solid India Today journalist Sandeep Unnithan's book Black Tornado: The Three Sieges of Mumbai 26/11 — concentrating on the assault and rescue mission by the National Security Guard (NSG) commandos at Cama Hospital, Chabad House, and the Taj (competently led here by actor Arjan Bajwa).
Special, on the other hand, helmed by the director of sufficiently realistic, yet masala thrillers, Special 26, Baby, Aiyaary and A Wednesday, re-imagines India's secret-service agency RAW as the sort of deep state, with such long legs, that it's just casually caused a major blast in Rawalpindi, pinned the responsibility on the leading terror outfit, Jamaat, which in turn can now do nothing against abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir!
Honestly? I'm impressed! Whether that makes one feel better about India's vulgar defense budget that leaves little for health and education is another matter. The budget of the series though — as it unravels through chapters, cleverly named after films as diverse as Shatranj Ke Khiladi and Sholay (season finale) — allows it international locations; purportedly traversing between Azerbaijan and Turkey, Russia and UAE, somewhat still sticking within realms of acceptably 'filmy-realism'.
This is mildly gratifying for those who've grown up (and that's pretty much all of us), witnessing white spies with bow-ties, only saving Britain/America, for/from the world. This isn't to suggest there's only show-sha going on here. That's not true for both shows, actually. Where they primarily score is keeping their eyes on the script, rather than playing it by the ear. And in that sense, in fact, Siege gets grippy, not from get go, but as one gets deeper into the show. I felt the opposite for Special.
And that's just because of the level of detailing in Siege. You could look at the delayed movement of NSG troops, while they'd already reached Delhi airport by 1.30 of the night of 26/11. By measures of Indian preparedness for emergency situations, isn't such a bad score. One could take a quick peek at a television newsroom, looking to up its ratings through the tragedy. Or, you could learn (as I did) about how there were actually negotiations going on between a Jewish interlocutor in New York and the terrorists inside Chabad House. Hmmm.
Watch the trailer of Kay Kay Menon, Karan Tacker, Vinay Pathak starrer Special Ops here
We've already seen a few movies on 26/11, starting with Ram Gopal Varma's The Attacks of 26/11 (2013), which was a 'V-grade' film of its own! There's the more recent, Hotel Mumbai (2019), that played out almost like a zombie-attack picture, set entirely within the Taj. Between the three, I'd go Siege>Mumbai>Attacks.
Just like it is with Special for Hotstar-Disney, Siege is also Zee5's flagship Indian military-thriller — inevitably with Islamic terrorism as the arch-enemy. Its equivalent on Netflix, and Amazon Prime would be Bard of Blood, and The Family Man. No doubt, Family>Bard.
At the same time, Siege=Special (for opposite reasons). There are so many performances as well to pick — from Mukul Dev as the villain in Siege, to Vinay Pathak as the Delhi cop in Special. But towering over all has got to be Kay Kay Menon as the straight-talking, sorted sleuth Himmat Singh — sharp as a frickin' blade. He's special. Has always been!
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