A seven-episode series, thanks to its melodramatic dialogues and casual insertion of Shakespeare makes the show tiring to watch and doesn’t offer anything but cliffhangers at the end of each episode, which later feel like they have been engineered to reach at the twist.
Bard of Blood directed by Ribhu Dasgupta, produced by Shah Rukh Khan, and adapted from a novel by Bilal Siddiqi is about an excommunicated Indian spy Kabir Anand who must return to Balochistan to avenge tragedies from his past and rescue Indian agents from Pakistan’s Taliban and the ISI (called ISA).
It’s a rogue operation, not sanctioned by the Indian agency (RAW as IIW), “off the books” in espionage language. The two agents other than Kabir Anand are Isha Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala), who often faces sexist remarks like, “Why would a girl be on a field mission?”, a trope that doesn’t change till the end. And Veer Singh (Vineet Kumar Singh), an undercover agent within the Taliban, who has been abandoned by the agency.
These three are shown as misfits when they’re recruited for this mission, and rightly so, one will feel that way about them throughout the series. The performances fall flat on every level. They find themselves in dumb situations, wherein they start quarrelling rather than escaping from the particular place.
Tracking them, is ISA agent/Taliban handler Tanveer Shehzaad (Jaideep Alhawat), who spends most of the time in a guesthouse with a female agent, who’s only role is to ask him questions so that we as an audience can know what his next move is.
From the beginning itself, the show feels dreadfully long. The plot and motives of the lead characters are established within the first few minutes, but then it takes an entirety of two episodes for them to actually begin their operation.
The show is so heavy with expository dialogues and use of the same mundane technique under the espionage template, that the characters in the lead don’t go through any arc at all in this long format, rather they’re demonstrating the genre for dumb viewers. “Without an exit route, this mission is as good as over,” says a character. “You give up too fast, don’t you?” replies another. Dialogues like these do nothing to the narrative rather than just showing the viewers how “agents” talk. Another example of the show being a misfit is when Emraan Hashmi is given this cool code name “Adonis”, which is rather mentioned only in the first few minutes of the first episode and then just forgotten about.
Bard of Blood takes forward this narrative with smartness where everyone from Pakistan’s ISI and Talibanis are mindless and paedophiles and are unable to contain three rogue agents. In terms of contemporary politics, the show boasts about the Indian superiority where three ‘misfit’ agents are able to effortlessly enter and infiltrate complex network and take on numerous soldiers in a gunfire on their own, even after being wounded themselves. Throwback to the action films in the past where the hero didn’t die before getting his revenge.
The writing falls flat within from the first episode itself, and it doesn’t get any better towards the end. Cliffhangers become a pattern and happen at the end of every episode wherein someone dies or someone is betrayed. These seem so inorganic that it feels like the episodes are written backwards keeping them in mind, just so the viewer can click on the next episode to feed his curiosity.
Sometimes good performances can save a badly written drama, but here even that silver lining doesn’t work.
Kabir Anand’s character plays an English teacher in his civilian life, which gives his character an urban accent, quoting Shakespeare casually, making him a so-called artist. This trait adds nothing to the character after that particular sequence. His character fails miserably in carrying out the baton of being rooted for because he’s busy playing Tom Cruise from the Mission Impossible franchise with last minute plan alterations, bikes and Sobhita Dhulipala plays the role of the tech person (because every rogue mission team needs a tech guy with nerdy dialogues). The only reason she is there is to answer to the sexist tropes, “Why would India send a girl on a mission?” A question, that doesn’t get its answer till the end, and is somewhat lost.
Vineet Kumar Singh plays the role of a reckless agent whose undercover past follows him in his present. He’s forgotten about in the agency and is told that this is his ‘last mission’ before he can go home.
The story, that opens up multiple subplots, through the use of heavily melodramatic and expository dialogues, makes no effort in trying to bury them. This results in a pale arc for each of the characters who at this point aren’t even ‘serving the nation’, but are charged up by personal agendas of revenge.
Bard of blood seems like a guide to spy thrillers for first time viewers, does no justice to Balochistan’s freedom struggle, and pulls off as a failure for Netflix India.