Macho isn’t just for men

Two recent Indian crime thrillers, She and Special Ops, bring forth two tough and heroic but diametrically different protagonists

Macho isn’t just for men

Kay Kay Menon in Special Ops

Aradhika Sharma

Without doubt, crime is a favourite genre for directors to experiment with, especially when the character and the plot have the scope to evolve over a few episodes, and they are delighting the viewers by contributing a whole galaxy of leading men and women.

A still from She

Two limited episode series that were recently released gave the viewers diametrically different leading persons. Both serials offer thrills and chills, but the leads could not have been more different. While Hotstar came up with the offering of the eight-episode long espionage thriller Special Ops, with macho heroes, supermen of R&AW (Research & Analysis Wing) who, in secret operations, worst dreaded international terrorists. The other serial, She (seven episodes) on Netflix introduces us to the very antithesis of these masculine protagonists, where the ‘hero’ is a timid young female constable, who is pushed into the dark underbelly of the criminal world in Mumbai with its tentacles surrounding the world of international crime to infiltrate a dangerous drug cartel.

The remarkable thing about the Imtiaz Ali and Divya Johry authored She is that whereas the genre is usually overwhelmingly macho, and is played out by in the ultra-masculine male domain, the hero of She is a timid young policewoman, played by Aditi Pohankar, interested only in earning her salary that enable her to support her family consisting of her ailing mother and voluptuous younger sister, who live together in a small chawl. There is nothing remarkable about Bhumi. She is plain ordinary. Her work is mediocre, her looks commonplace and she keeps her mouth shut, never reacting to any aggravation or insult — overt or covert — that is lobbed her way.

Bullied by her creepy husband, her conceited sister and her co-workers, mostly men, she doesn’t trust that she has either any capacity nor beauty nor sexuality until she’s picked up by the special ops division to go undercover as a sex worker to ensnare Sasya, a drug lord. The metamorphosis of Bhumi is, in fact, the most fascinating aspect of the series. The story is formulaic, and the direction patchy, but Bhumi shines as the woman who gains strength and confidence as her once-dormant femininity gets awakened. As Bhumi dons her makeup and trashy clothes, so does her persona change — from a timorous little kitten into a sleek, defiant, hissing feline creature, who, full of assurance in her own infallibility, proves to be an irresistible honey pot for hardened predators.

Written by Deepak Kingrani and Benazir Ali and directed by Neeraj Pandey, Special Ops, on the other hand follows the story of a highly trained team of five agents lead by Himmat Singh (note the super-masculine name) of R&AW. Himmat is convinced a single person is behind all terror attacks in India since 2001. In a series of slick operations, he tracks this mastermind all over the world for nearly two decades. Incidentally, two of these agents are women, but the actual daredevilry is left to the males, especially to Farooq played by Karan Takar. There is nothing either timorous or under-confident about Himmat Singh, played to perfection by Kay Kay Menon, who is in top form as he goes out to destroy the enemies of the nation.

Both serials have their own merits and demerits. The most convincing statement that She makes is of Bhumi becoming more assertive in life as she gains control of her own sexuality. The seven-episode series is an interesting enough police procedural, but lacks a compelling plot and controlled direction.

Special Ops tends to lose steam and drags and becomes predictable from time to time but perks up in the end. The best, though, are the two protagonists — so different, but so tough and heroic that leave the audience looking forward to more seasons of macho — male and female — heroes.

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