Film: The Freelancer
Director: Bhav Dhulia
Cast: Mohit Raina, Anupam Kher, Kashmira Pardeshi & Navneet Malik
Decades ago, while accompanying my father to the Eidgah, I managed to give my chaperone a slip and stood right in front of the congregation as they offered Eid’s namaz. As I stood there transfixed, I was gently nudged by a gentleman to sit down facing the direction towards the Kaaba. Later, I was reprimanded for my action. I was too young to know that I came in between the devout and the Almighty as I stood there.
I wonder what that gentleman would have to say to this particular scene in ‘The Freelancer’ in which a group of women are taught namaz by the women team of the ISIS. The lady leading the namaz faces the new recruits as they follow the steps. I have yet to see a congregation in which a person leads a prayer while facing his/her fellow devotees. Coming from a fundamentalist group like ISIS, it looks blasphemous to even a religiously challenged person like me.
But then, for argument’s sake, Neeraj Pandey’s ‘The Freelancer’ is not about the ways of Islam but an extraction thriller with the dreadful and dastardly world of ISIS for the backdrop. The show, which is directed by Bhav Dhulia and adapted from Shirish Thorat’s bestseller book ‘A Ticket To Syria’, for reasons unknown, has been divided into two parts. So, we get to see only four episodes currently that tell us about Aliya, the young Mumbai girl, who marries Mohsin. We also see the love story turning into a horror saga as Aliya is tricked to accompany her family to Istanbul and then Syria.
The reason? The once ultra-modern family, based in Malaysia, has been brainwashed by one Farhat khala, to ‘return to the right path of Islam’. It does not take much effort to radicalise the family. Just a few sermons and the transition from a good Muslim to a bad Muslim is swift and complete.
Running parallel to Aliya’s story is Avinash Kamath’s transition, from a suspended Mumbai cop to the sought-after mercenary, The Freelancer. He can kill and even manipulate the CIA to his advantage. He is in demand with the Mossad too!
Kamath gets involved with Aliya’s situation as Inayat Khan, Aliya’s father, pulls off a suicide mission in front of the American consulate. Just to attract Kamath’s attention, his long lost friend. It might ruffle the logical lobe of our brain, but he gets what he wants. Kamath comes to know about it, and takes it upon himself to rescue Aliya.
Right from the opening scene, that captures Aliya running barefoot through the narrow alleys of Turkey, ‘The Freelancer’ shows the grim reality that’s associated with radicalised Islam. So, we find many grim faces — the dreaded terrorists, gullible people willing to give up life for a place in jannat, sadistic women of the All Khansa group who would beat up women if they are found without the hijab or dare to laugh in public places. With Iran’s Mahsa Amini’s case still fresh in mind, it all looks convincing. But what’s not convincing is how living in an area where any kind of communication is under strict surveillance, Aliya manages to keep in touch with her mother through her secret mobile phone.
Dhulia rushes us from one place to another. One moment we are in Syria, next in Tajikistan, then Tel Aviv, Morocco…
With events from different timelines fleeting in and out of frame, it adds to the confusion. In comes the character of Anupam Kher as Dr Khan, Kamath’s mentor, to simplify the complex political scene as well as the now-past, now-present narrative. It would have helped if Dr Khan’s know-it-all attitude was not off-putting.
Mohit Raina plays his part earnestly, but he doesn’t have an interesting arc to play with. With a stoic face and brawny demeanour, he just does the tasks assigned to him. Even his backstory that involves a tragedy and a complicated relationship with his wife fails to stir us emotionally.
Sushant Singh does justice to his cameo role, and so does Balaji Gauri as Farhat khala. The rest of the cast — Ayesha Raza Mishra, Navneet Malik, Manjari Fadnnis — fails to make much impact. The surprise package here is Kashmira Pardeshi. With her expressive face, she outshines everyone.
Though ‘The Freelancer’ is offered to us as an action thriller, it is yet to spring into some serious action, rendering the thriller thrill-less.