Netflix India’s new original series, Bard of Blood, stands out for its gritty realism, well-choreographed action sequences, solid performances and intriguing plot twists, writes Rishita Roy Chowdhury.
Netflix India’s new original series, Bard of Blood, is an impressive and engaging spy thriller. Sensitive politics, well-choreographed action sequences, highly convincing actors and great cinematography form the backbone of the series, which released on Friday, 27 September. The first season has seven episodes that manage to hold the attention of viewers throughout, despite some predictable plot points.
It was in 2015 that actor Emraan Hashmi launched the 20-year-old author Bilal Siddiqi’s debut novel, Bard of Blood. Four years down the line, Hashmi is seen as the central character in the book’s screen adaptation. The cast also includes Viineet Kumar Singh, Shobhita Dhulipala, Kirti Kulhari and Jaideep Ahlawat among others, who are seen essaying roles that are different from their earlier works.
In the opening scene, we come across an anxious Kabir Anand [played by Emraan Hashmi] gasping for air after having had a nightmare. These are flashbacks from his days on the field as an Indian intelligence officer. Of course, there’s a suspenseful back story here. Anand’s days as Adonis, his spy codename, are far behind him. After things went awry on a mission ten years back, Anand was disgraced and expelled by the agency. He is now a professor who teaches Shakespeare.
As fate would have it, he is thrust back into the cloak-and-daggers world of spying, because of an urgent situation which calls for his skills and expertise. Four Indian spies have been captured in Balochistan and are about to be decapitated by the Taliban. This is just before they can relay crucial intelligence of international significance to India. Anand is persuaded by his mentor from the agency to rescue these agents through a dangerous and off-the-books mission. The former agent picks up his old boots again after an unexpected tragedy occurs.
About his decision to sign up for this Netflix original, Emraan Hashmi told Guardian 20, “The original book was very engrossing and simply a great read. It had all the right beats, engaging and conflicting characters etc. As a Netflix series, a lot of things could be retained and enhanced. The challenge was to sort out the confusion as so many things were happening in the story. Then physical stuff was tough—the agility you require when using the kinds of guns found in a war-torn region. Some of the guns were rusty, but that brought authenticity.”
Going back to the story, Anand now has to form a team for this clandestine mission. One of his team members is Isha (played by Shobita Dhulipala), a brilliant analyst is frustrated with her desk job. She yearns for an opportunity in the field but her requests are turned down by the agency, on the grounds of this clichéd explanation: “The field is too sensitive for a female officer.” Over the course of the show, it is interesting to see how her character develops—from hesitating to fire a bullet initially to becoming fearless on the battlefield.
Shobita Dhulipala spoke to us about playing the role of Isha: “When we consume stories about spies, agents and missions in books, movies and news, it all remains such a distant reality. While playing the part of a spy, I got a closer view of what it’s like to be in that situation. It made me a little more sensitive to the human aspect of their lives. I had to learn some basic movements and body language. Emotionally, I just had to surrender to the story. The emotions my character goes through are the ones I have felt in real life—anger, jealousy, wanting to be given a chance but not finding the window. They are relatable. I enjoy conflicted characters.”
Another interesting character in the series is the forgotten Indian asset in Balochistan, Veer [played by Viineet Kumar Singh]. One can’t help but appreciate the genius of his performance as Veer, as he seamlessly blends in with the Balochi people—embracing their lifestyle and dialect with perfection—during his undercover operation. He goes back and forth between vulnerability and determination, which makes us understand the plight of agents posted in sensitive areas. On the one hand, he is desperate to return to India, and on the other, he keeps performing his duty with honesty, despite no contact from the agency.
About preparing for this character, Viineet Singh said, “Veer is addicted to opium, so I had to watch those videos to get that behaviour right. Then my character survives in a different land. So I got an opportunity to go deeper into the details and work on myself. I memorised Pashto songs and learned their way of talking etc. It gave me an opportunity to experiment.”
So these three agents join hands for this mission. They not only have to rescue the hostages, but also uncover what the captured agents know, secret location of Mulla, Taliban’s supreme leader. He is the villain who is as creepy as he is terrifying. He exploits young boys by having them commit gruesome acts and also by making them dance for him in private.
Bard of Blood stands out for its honest portrayal of Balochistan. There is an atmosphere of war, where rebels constantly demand freedom. One voice of resistance is that of Jannat Marri [played by Kirti Kulhari], daughter of a martyred Baloch leader. She is strong, affirmative and works for the wellbeing of the people. This character was specifically written for the show. Marri finds peace in painting. It is revealed that she has a history with Anand. Her nuanced performance evokes awe and sympathy for her character. For instance, once Anand points out that her art doesn’t have value in Balochistan. To this, she smiles and responds, “But who can explain that to the artist?” For Kulhari, playing Marri was a “beautiful experience”. She said, “Jannat personifies strength. As a woman, it’s in her nature to think bigger than herself. That’s Jannat. She is a leader of her own accord.”
Let’s come to the main antagonist of the show now. Tanvir Shehzad [played by Jaideep Ahlawat], a Pakistani agent, makes an impact even with lesser screen time than the other actors, thanks to his brilliance as an actor and the well-written sequences given to him.
The art directors have certainly done a great job with the show. The action sequences are convincing, unlike what we are used to seeing in Indian cinema. Each episode ends with a cliff-hanger which works well for this genre.
What worked for me was the way Emraan Hashmi embodied the broody lead character who has to be a saviour, but also deal with his inner demons and keep his act together.
Director Ribhu Dasgupta has certainly managed to come out with a believable, running-against-time spy thriller which is worth bingeing on.
The show has been made keeping the global audiences in mind and produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment. Bard of Blood is proof enough that Bollywood has woken up to the power of the digital medium. With this series, Netflix India has lived up to the high standards set by their previous big original, Sacred Games.