‘The Freelancer’ Review: Disney+ Hotstar Series Starring Mohit Raina Is Boring, Hollow, & Exhausting


There was a time in the history of Indian cinema when mainstream films could critique, or at least point the finger at, everything that was wrong with politics, the judiciary, law enforcement, the armed forces, and religion. During that period, Neeraj Pandey made his outstanding debut with A Wednesday!, where he held the system accountable for the atrocities that took place in Mumbai while also highlighting what a common man can pull off. He followed that up with Special 26, which did play out like a heist film, but it essentially exposed the inefficient nature of the government bodies and how corruption is festering right under their noses. But then came Baby, and instead of doing a balancing act of giving us a grounded perspective and doing something extraordinary with the premise, Pandey dove headfirst into glorifying surveillance and extrajudicial killings on the small screen. The Freelancer is no different, and, on top of that, it’s beyond boring.

Based on Shirish Thorat’s A Ticket to Syria: A Story About the ISIS in the Maldives, Neeraj Pandey’s The Freelancer is centered around the abduction of a girl named Aliya Khan. She’s the daughter of Inayat Khan and Sabeena Khan. She married Mohsin Fazal, and they planned to visit Kuala Lampur with Fazal’s family. But around the time of the marriage, Fazal’s entire family got “radicalized” by a woman known as Farhat Khala, and Aliya and Mohsin’s honeymoon vacation was diverted to Syria via Turkey. Why? Because that’s where ISIS operates from, and Fazal and his family believe that they can help the terrorist organization rule all over the world or something like that. As a former member of the Maharashtra Police, Inayat tries everything to bring the administration’s attention to the abduction of Aliya, but he fails. With no other option left, he stages a terrorist attack in front of the U.S. Embassy in India to spring his old friend, Avinash Kamath, into action.

Before talking about what’s wrong and what’s very wrong about The Freelancer, here’s a little primer. Around the mid-2000s and all the way up to the mid-2010s, Hollywood flooded the market with celebratory movies about invading Iraq and Afghanistan, a war that went on till 2021. These sentiments fueled discriminatory behavior in the United States of America, although the South Asian and Middle Eastern communities residing there had nothing to do with the terror attacks. When the general sentiment shifted, Hollywood films became about the PTSD that American soldiers suffered from after spending years in trying conditions. After they were done with the self-victimizing act, Hollywood films finally began to meditate on their bigoted reaction to the understandably devastating 9/11 attacks, and the one that probably illustrates this the best is The Covenant. Bollywood films and shows are beginning the cycle that Hollywood started with films like The Hurt Locker, Green Zone, and American Sniper. So, on the surface, The Freelancer is about the war against ISIS. But if you dig a little deeper, Thorat, Pandey, and Ritesh Shah are merely trying to stoke the communal fire that has been set ablaze by the political, cultural, and societal changes in India.

To make things a little more apparent, we all know that ISIS is bad. We all know who bombed the hell out of Syria, which is surprisingly a thing that The Freelancer doesn’t really address in order to show Kamath’s collaboration with the U.S. military forces, I suppose. The audience members who are smart enough to have a Disney+ Hotstar account and access The Freelancer aren’t stupid enough to be radicalized. And those who are probably radicalized don’t have the time to watch The Freelancer. So, who is this show for, and what is this show’s actual intention? The writers are so busy presenting various international anti-terrorism services in the most sophisticated ways imaginable that they forget to make them sound like actual human beings. The plot doesn’t have any sense of urgency, but all that anyone can talk about is the plot, which is unbearably boring and goes nowhere in the aforementioned four episodes. Any attempt at generating any form of emotion comes off as disingenuous and performative. There’s no depth or insight when it comes to the reasoning behind the actions of the heroes and the villains. The writers want us to assume that this is how things happen, and we don’t need to know anything beyond that. Well, this may work for others, but not for me.

Bhav Dhulia, the director of The Freelancer, seems to be a fan of long-ish takes, which is a welcome sight. But he and cinematographers Arvind Singh, Sudhir Palsane, and Tojo Xavier probably don’t know how to employ the technique in a meaningful or impactful way. And I would’ve given it a pass if Dhulia and his team hadn’t called too much attention to it by moving the camera to and fro as if to indicate that the take was still going on. But they do it so many times that you are forced to ask whether this method is achieving anything or if it’s a case of style over substance, and spoiler alert: it’s the latter. The action sequences are horrendous. There’s no sense of geography. They are over-edited to hell by Kathikuloth Praveen. I mean, he isn’t any good during the conversational scenes. However, the action sequences are unbearable. The blame isn’t entirely on him because the director, cinematographers, and action directors are there to share it. I have no clue what is going on with the music. I know a composer has been credited, and I am guessing there’s a team of musicians and sound designers involved. So, why does everything sound like it has been picked out of a list of “generic tense sound effects from 2000s soap operas”?

Coming to the performances, I am well aware of the fact that Mohit Raina has a huge fanbase because of his work in Devon Ke Dev… Mahadev. I used to watch that as well. But he isn’t giving a good performance as Avinash Kamath. He speaks in a very monotonous way and then occasionally shouts very loudly to show his “range.” His action scenes are incredibly unconvincing. His character’s cockiness isn’t palpable. And the fact that these shortcomings are overlooked and portrayed as enviable traits by the supporting characters is hilarious and embarrassing at the same time. I don’t know why Anupam Kher is on this show. I guess he’s a good friend of Neeraj Pandey’s, and that’s it. He sternly talks into the camera, and it gets boring almost instantly. The otherwise amazing Sushant Singh’s talents are wasted. The brilliant Ayesha Raza Mishra’s abilities aren’t visible because she’s made to sit in front of a phone and text! Manjari Fadnis does what she can with the “mentally unstable wife” act. Sarah-Jane Dias is there. Kashmira Pardeshi cries a lot. Navneet Malik and Balaji Gauri try to be very intimidating, but it doesn’t work. The same can be said about the rest of the cast. I am sure they’re all great actors who are stuck in a bad show with a horrible script.

Even though The Freelancer loudly claims that it has no interest in the political ties between different countries and even features a scene slapping a politician, the political inclinations of its creators are more than evident. You just have to look at the right places (hint: the Twitter profile of one of the writers), read into the tiring dialogue, analyze the bland imagery, and understand the form of entertainment it is echoing because of the tumultuous times we are living in. I don’t think movies and shows should be held responsible for anything that they do, and they should be treated as a form of entertainment. But movies and shows should be held responsible if their makers have any kind of malice and are subtly or obviously spreading hate. At the end of the day, it’s up to you if you want to consume stuff like this or not. What you have read is just my opinion on The Freelancer. Feel free to tune into it on Disney+ Hotstar, form your own opinion, and share it with all of us if you want to.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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