Bollywood movies and shows have already stoked a lot of nationalism based on “the threat within.” Even though they didn’t have the courage to show that the rise of a threat within the borders of a country is an indicator of its failing defense capabilities and intelligence, you could project the unintentional subtext onto those films and web series. Earlier this year, Gadar 2 set most of its narrative in Pakistan to show how awesome India is and its neighboring country will always be inferior to it. Recently, Tiger 3 did the same by going to Pakistan and showing how India can solve other country’s problems. It even played India’s national anthem in its entirety during the third act (I’m being generous here because Tiger 3 doesn’t care about the three-act structure) of the film. On the small screen, The Freelancer went all the way to Syria to give us a homegrown version of Tyler Rake (from Extraction) in the form of Avinash Kamath and also show how capable India is of tackling ISIS. The one thing that’s common between all of them is that they’re horrendous.
In the first part of The Freelancer (which is made up of four episodes), we saw a girl called Aliya Khan getting married to a guy called Mohsin Fazal. And instead of taking her to their honeymoon destination, Mohsin took Aliya to ISIS-controlled Syria and held her captive there, while Mohsin and his family carried out dangerous operations for ISIS. Avinash Kamath, a disgraced officer of the Mumbai police, learned about this abduction because he had known Aliya and his family ever since she was a child. So, he took it upon himself to rescue Aliya. He tried to rope in the CIA, but as soon as they heard that ISIS and a terrorist pilot were involved, they decided to bomb the house of the Fazals. Kamath couldn’t let that happen because Aliya would lose her life in the process. Therefore, he bypassed every national and international protocol for Aliya’s safety. In Part 2 of The Freelancer, Kamath rescues Aliya. That’s it. What else were you expecting? It’s part 2 of a 7-episode show.
Okay, let’s talk about this two-part nonsense. Back in the days of cable TV, shows used to have a mid-season break. These shows used to have 15–20 episodes per season. That’s why they used to get to the midway point and hit pause. And that mid-season break was usually a cliffhanger in order to build anticipation for the rest of the episodes. It’d allow these shows to not clash with IPs from big networks and even televised events—it could be sports-related or something of national interest—that’d take away the focus from said show. In addition to all that, I assume the break would give the creators the opportunity to gauge what was working with their target audience and what wasn’t and fine-tune the show according to it. Now, what the hell is the reason for a mid-season break for a web series that has seven episodes?! If The Freelancer was released on a weekly basis and ended up clashing with the men’s cricket World Cup or some other world event, I’d understand cutting it in two halves. But that wasn’t the case at all. Disney+ Hotstar released the first four episodes on the same day and then waited around 3 months for 3 episodes, which will be released on the same day, too. All this for what? To create hype?
Let’s talk about The Freelancer’s brand of hype and pay-off. The momentum of the show is a flat line. Dhulia, Pandey, and Ritesh Shah spend the entirety of the first part establishing that the damsel-in-distress is in Syria and his rescuer is jumping from one country to another to, well, rescue her. They imbue Kamath with a vulnerability associated with his son’s death and the mental illness of his wife. But that has nothing to do with his mission. He doesn’t face any mission-based setbacks that put a dent in his attitude. He just monotonously does his job and conveniently finds a solution whenever he faces a hurdle. How can that create any kind of doubt regarding the success or failure of his rescue? And if there is no doubt, how can one be hyped? We all know Kamath is going to succeed because that’s how blandly he is written. Dhulia could’ve hidden his narrative issues by delivering on the promise of some high-octane action. Unfortunately, he and his team falter in that department as well because the gunfights and fisticuffs aren’t competent. The stunts, the sound design, the VFX, the special effects, the choreography, the editing, and the cinematography are straight-up bad. I’m trying to imagine the thought process behind putting out such shoddy work—that too in the year where we’ve seen some amazing action—and I’m drawing a blank.
What can I say about the acting in The Freelancer Part 2 that I haven’t already said while reviewing Part 1 of the web series? Mohit Raina is dull. There’s no other word to describe his performance. He is given multiple chances to show his range, if he has any, and he confidently says, “I’ll pass on that.” Due to the “abundance” of action sequences, he gets several opportunities to put his physical presence to good use, and it’s borderline embarrassing to see what he does in those “action-heavy” sequences. I think actors should be cast according to their ability to pull off action sequences. It shouldn’t be the other way around, where you cast an actor and then hope that they have some sort of expertise in make-believe hand-to-hand combat or shootouts. While the supporting cast got some of the limelight during the first part of the web series, they are mostly sidelined to show how awesome Mohit Raina is (he isn’t). The only memorable aspect of this second part of the web series is that they randomly bring in a doppelganger. For the sake of spoilers, I won’t reveal who has a double role. All I will say is that they’re equally bad while playing both of the characters.
The Freelancer, as a whole, comes very close to figuring out how the United States of America is the reason behind the destruction of so many countries and why certain countries have to take up arms to protect themselves. But Neeraj Pandey and his team are so busy stereotyping their antagonists that that aspect of the narrative becomes a mere footnote that’s brushed aside by the protagonist in the name of heroism. Hence the title: The web series could’ve been an email. I don’t know about everyone else, but I didn’t need seven episodes, which are divided into two parts, to hear a bunch of dudes scream about nationalism. A single-line email would have sufficed. If I want my monthly dose of nationalism, I can switch on any news channel and get my mind melted. These OTT platforms are expensive as hell, and I am paying to avoid the aforementioned nonsense. The least I should be getting is quality storytelling and entertainment.