Bard of Blood
Director: Ribhu Dasgupta
Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Sobhita Dhulipala, Viineet Kumar, Kirti Kulhari, Jaideep Ahlawat, Rajit Kapoor and Sohum Shah, Danish Hussain
Spy stories are always pulse pounding, and the moment a director picks one to make a movie out of it, he is already there, several notches up. And Ribhu Dasgupta – who appears to be specialising in this genre with his 2016 Te3N (about a missing kid) and his upcoming The Girl on the Train (a remake of a 2015 Hollywood film adapted from a novel by Paula Hawkins) – has put his finger on yet another thriller, Bard of Blood, a literary adaptation as well. Dasgupta converts the words of Bilal Siddiqi in his 2015 novel into visuals, grippingly narrated in seven episodes and brought to the streaming platform by Netflix.
Actually, in a way, the title borrows from protagonist Kabir Anand's profession by the day, a teacher who. waxes most eloquently Shakespearean lines, which bores at least one student. But Emraan Hashmi – who essays Anand with all the gentle mannerisms of a school teacher – thinks that the Bard of Avon is still relevant in the times we live in, his own life running parallel to some of the tragic heroes that we find in the pages of the plays penned by Shakespeare.
But Anand, who has another name, and believe it or not, Adonis, has another part to play on the world's stage. A man who has a way with words, also toys around with guns. He is an Indian spy, who had disappeared into the literary world after the death of his friend and companion on the field. Anand is called back to help save four Indian agents taken hostage by the Taliban in Balochistan. With that part of the province in the firm grip of the Taliban supremo, Mullah Khalid (Danish Hussain/ modelled on Mullah Omar), and his fire-spewing son, Aftab, Anand knows that this will be no Shakespearean sonata. Undertaking the mission with Isha Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala), an analyst in India's spy set-up, and Veer Singh (Viineet Kumar), a forgotten undercover agent in Balochistan, Anand gets into battle gear. Helping him on the ground is his old flame, Jannat (Kirti Kulhari), whose teenage brother is part of a resistance movement seeking to free the area from Taliban's grip.
Bard of Blood – in fact every episode – is espionage in every sense of the term, thrilling and blood curdling. But nobody can miss the political games that are played, and the men on the ground are but puppets. Who pulls the strings: Is it Rajit Kapoor's Sajid Sheikh, the number two in the Indian spy agency, or the diabolical Pakistani secret agent and Taliban handler, Tanveer Shehzad (Jaideep Ahlawat), or New Delhi or Islamabad? We would never guess, and Dasgupta keeps the suspense alive and kicking – forever or so it would seem – and draws the curtain with Adonis on the edge of a cliff, imaginary or real.
We have to wait to find about this in the next season, but till then, what will remain with me is the marvellous piece of performance by Hashmi. He never steps beyond subtlety, but manages to keep us glued to his eyeball to eyeball confrontations. Bullets fly and blood is spilled, and we can see the verses of Hamlet and Henry VI playing out through the explosive steps of a teacher who comes out of the cold, guns blazing, to make his way through slimy statecraft. Dasgupta uses Shakespeare's most memorable tragedies most effectively to convey pain, pathos, victory and defeat.
A must watch. Bard of Blood starts streaming on September 27.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is author, commentator and movie critic)
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