Neeraj Pandey: Espionage Extraordinaire
What makes Neeraj Pandey’s writing and the direction style so exceptional?
Neeraj Pandey is the creator and director of Disney+ Hotstar’s hit spy thriller Special OPS. He is also the writer of hit movies like Special 26, A Wednesday and Baby.
His stories revolve around a strong lead, with intelligent supporting casts, stuck in difficult situations that involve terrorism and spies. The dialogues are extremely subtle and are starkly different from the Bollywood staple of angry lines delivered with heaps of testosterone filled action sequences. Pandey’s leads are quiet but shrewd men who respect authority externally but never follow orders of their superiors like puppets.
Neeraj Pandey never compromises on his production setup and you are sure to see exotic locations in his spy stories.
The premise of his stories are very different from mainstream cinema’s cliche. In A Wednesday we see a morally grey antagonist from a humble background. This character is not a hot shot 20 something, but an old family man. Pandey manages to confuse his audience with an ethical dilemma; whether to support the hero or the villain. The same happens with Special 26 where you will find yourself rooting for Akshay Kumar’s band of misfits masquerading as CBI raid officers instead of the real CBI.
A Wednesday was inspired from 11 July 2006 Mumbai train bombings. Infact, Special 26 was also based on a true event, the 1987 Opera House heist. The preface of realism gives support to his stories and you find yourself evidently drawn to his world of suspense and thrill. What makes Special OPS different from other spy shows is that real events like the Parliament Attacks of 2001 or Demonetisation of 2016 is wound in the plot so efficiently and shared experiences of the audiences makes the story very relatable.
Not only does he know how to craft a script, but he also has expertise in fleshing out his characters.
Himmat Singh is not your average action lead moonlighting as a one man army. Though he is the main focus of the Special OPS, he handles the operation from his desk rather than fighting off goons. This style of making calm and composed characters that lead the show by decisions and strategies rather than fight has a peculiar charm. Farooq the young undercover agent provides the action to the show and makes it realistic. His character is reminiscent of what Jimmy Shergill’s character was to A Wednesday.
Anupam Kher, Jimmy Shergill and Kay Kay Menon, have played a vast range of characters for Pandey’s movies. This reminds you of how Nolan never lets go of his key players like Cillian Murphy and Michael Cain.
Let’s analyse a few of my favourite scenes from Special OPS that I found extremely remarkable.
In the opening scene, we see Himmat Singh taking calls every few seconds. He gives monotone answers alternating between ‘Kill’ or ‘Leave’. Within a few seconds we understand the power Himmat holds. In the next scene he baffles the committee by alreading knowing their names and positions. This is a classic example of showing the character’s dominance without coming off as desperate or arrogant.
In a scene where Himmat’s competence is under question, he is initially quiet but by the end of the discussion things get heated. He calms himself down and instead of trying to justify his actions he apologises and leaves. But before leaving he confides in the committee about an imminent bomb blast that they were not aware of. This makes the committee back down. Neeraj Pandey uses the element of surprise based on hidden knowledge for his character to win the argument, instead of relying on overused tricks like cool dialogues or patriotic speeches.
My particularly favourite scene in Special OPS is when a character’s cover is blown. The way this scene was written felt very unconventional and raw. I’m not embarrassed to say that I have rewatched the scene at least 5 times to bask in the utter glory of the writing expertise and direction it held.
Mostly people watch shows or movies for their favourite actor or actress. I recommend people should develop a taste for the content they watch based on who writes it too.