Bard of Blood Review: Netflix's new Indian original is bad, and Shah Rukh Khan should feel bad

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In late 2017, Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings flew to Mumbai to sign an agreement with Red Chillies, founded by Shah Rukh Khan, for their first partnership: Bard of Blood, a multilingual action spy series based on a largely unknown book, "The Bard of Blood ", by the first-time writer Bilal Siddiqi. For Netflix, it was the second big swing in India – Sacred Games had been announced, but it wasn't yet premiered – and possibly one of the biggest, considering Khan's stature in the Indian film industry. Though Khan wouldn't be in Bard of Blood himself, Netflix hoped that the 53-year-old actor-producer's bond with the series as (uncredited) executive producer would win legions of new Indian subscribers to the streaming service.

Only there was no guarantee that Bard of Blood would be good. Red Chillies has not produced a series since shutting down its lackluster TV arm in 2012, and its film department has not had a real critical hit since then. (My Name is Khan, staged by Karan Johar, is the closest, and that says something. That was almost a decade ago.) Netflix can take comfort in the fact that most of Red Chillies' efforts have been commercially successful, but it is don't apologize for the irresponsible travesty that Bard of Blood shows. For a show in the troubled Pakistani province of Baluchistan that deals with cross-border terrorism and that are malicious Indian agents who deal with Pakistani intelligence agencies, it's ridiculous that the Netflix series makers are not political.

Even worse, the authors – newcomer Siddiqi is the creator alongside Red Chillies & # 39; Revenue Head Gaurav Verma, and he wrote the show with Mayank Tewari (Newton) and director Ribhu Dasgupta, who is uncredited – reveal dizziness and Carelessness in portraying the region and its people. Bard of Blood plays with xenophobic stereotypes and Islamophobia by portraying most of his Pakistani and Afghan characters as barbarian bad guys, some of whom abuse or impulsively chop off heads. This is a simplified method to demonize them instead of concretizing them, ensuring that the viewer can only relate to and root for the morally upright Indian characters.

And forget that authenticity is its strength. Bard of Blood is geographically uninterested. Texts like "Imam Cyber ​​Cafe, Balochistan" are displayed on the screen, which corresponds to the writing of "Pandit Cyber ​​Cafe, Uttar Pradesh" in India. The sign for the Kandahar International Airport in Afghanistan is only in English, although this is not the case in a country that mainly speaks Pashtu and uses the Arabic alphabet. With Google Maps it took us five seconds to confirm this. This may seem minor in the large scheme of things, but points to a much bigger problem.

His female characters are no better off. Your presence on the field is laughed at by the responsible men, and if you hoped the authors would begin to undermine the rampant sexism of his male characters, this isn't such a show. Women are largely helpless on Bard of Blood, while men act as heroes, even if the odds are stacked against them. (One turns into a superhero and defeats 10 opponents in a single shootout.) In the meantime, the only strong female character is "chilled". In addition, Bard of Blood's narrative approach is that of a subtle hammer that pulls down a story that is so unnecessarily complicated and based on convenience and stupid twists, and the packing of plot armor with which we started tuning ,

Bard of Blood is also shameless enough to try to clone better action spy films. At the start of the show, his lead actor enters a bathroom where he is cornered by two men who are supposed to arrest him. The scene is a complete B-movie rip off of a similar bathroom fight scene from Mission: Impossible – Fallout with Tom Cruise and Henry Cavill, except that the hero is the target. It copies several shots and punches, including the attackers who have to wait for someone to leave the bathroom, Cruise who is a sink away, and three people who swap punches in a urinal cabin. But, as you'd expect, Bard of Blood doesn't have the skills or humor that Mission: Impossible shows.

The Netflix series begins with the Taliban capturing four Indian Secret Service agents somewhere in Baluchistan. The quartet was caught trying to convey confidential information to its superiors. While the terrorists intend to behead them, the Taliban leader of the Inter Services Agency – the fictional equivalent of the Pakistani secret service ISI – Tanveer Shehzad (Jaideep Ahlawat) enters and begs its leader, Mullah Khalid (Danish Husain). to spare them for the moment because he has a plan. At home, Sadiq Sheikh (Rajit Kapur), Special Director of Indian Secret Service (RAW), commissioned Balochistan analyst Isha Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala) with a potential rescue mission that routinely refuses after her application for field missions.

Sadiq asks Isha to recruit retired agent Kabir Anand (Emraan Hashmi), who left duty on a southbound mission in Baluchistan and suffers from PTSD as a Shakespeare-centered English professor in Mumbai. (That's why the book is called The bard of Blood, and this manifests itself on Bard of Blood with Shakespeare references in all episode titles and selected lines.) Kabir naturally hesitates to return, but is drafted in after someone is murdered. In search of answers, he starts an unauthorized mission with Isha's help and fetches sleeper agent Veer Singh (Viineet Kumar Singh), who lives in Afghanistan and was ignored and almost forgotten by the agency to bring his knowledge and work to the country.

Bard of Blood Cast and Crew on (Filming) Challenges and Changes (From the Book)

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Viineet Kumar Singh as Veer Singh in Bard of Blood
Photo credit: Aditya Kapoor / Netflix

Future episodes add more characters and elements to the story, including the Baluchistan cause for an independent state by the Baluchistan Azad Armed Forces – a fictional equivalent of the many Baluchist separatist groups – youth leader, Nusrat Marri (Abhishekh Khan) and his older sister Jannat Marriage (Kirti Kulhari Sehgal) who wears the pants in the house. Bard of Blood also brings Mullah’s son and Taliban # 2 Aftab Khalid (Asheish Nijhawan) as an additional villain, but the Netflix series suffers from not having a unique threat that feels imposing. When it tries to portray one of its many antagonists as the primary schemer late in the season, it sometimes feels unconvincing.

Bard of Blood attaches great importance to the (fictional) expansion of the Taliban in Baluchistan, from its headquarters in Quetta – the provincial capital of Baluch – to the Kech district, which is far south of it and closer to the border with Iran. Every time a character learns about it, he is shocked. It's strange to focus on something that cannot be personified, and annoyingly, it is repeated on the show so many times that it sounds like a broken record. In fact, the bard of the blood sucks at the exhibition in general and sometimes lets his characters say things that people in the room should know. Characters also act stupid, essentially for the sake of the conspiracy, and it feels incredible that so-called spies would trust so easily.

Complementing the bad writing is a bad direction that forces actors to unnatural notes and forces them to deliver moments in a tone that doesn't fit the scene. No matter how disbelieving Bard of Blood becomes, Singh – who was praised for his work in Anurag Kashyap's sports drama Mukkabaaz, a film he also co-wrote – does everything and is one of the few aspects of the Netflix series to watch , Dhulipala is a credible actress, as she showed in her previous series role at Made in Heaven, but she works very little here. And finally, the combined maneuverability of directing and editing grinds all this good work into the dirt of Balochistan.

Bard of Blood also sometimes feels disconnected, almost as if multiple scenes have been chopped off. (Runtimes aren't a problem with streaming services, so the reason can't be.) This has the effect that characters don't appear to follow the statements of an earlier episode. And to eliminate possible gaps in other scenes, the editors appear to have made several post-production dialogue inserts to compensate for what was removed in between, which further adds to the above-mentioned unnaturalism of the Netflix series.

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Sobhita Dhulipala as Isha Khanna in Bard of Blood
Photo credit: Aditya Kapoor / Netflix

If it wasn't bad enough that some scenes give the completely opposite impression of what is intended, Bard of Blood exacerbates these problems due to a contradiction in logic with his staging. Characters teleport from the back seat to the front seat while armed guards are pointed at the car, others are waiting for more important characters to resolve their conflict before trying to kill them, vehicles come out of nowhere without making a sound , and heroes shoot out of open spaces while taking fire from multiple attackers and miraculously not getting shot. In fact, people who catch fire and are still alive without cover may be the only running theme of Bard of Blood.

In second thoughts, Bard of Blood has a different running theme: his ignorance of technology. A Pakistani secret agent who is claimed to be a sniper is in fact so stupid that he attaches an enemy USB stick to a machine that is connected to the Internet. It's ridiculous that in all his years of spying, he hasn't heard of an air gap computer, let alone the intelligence to use it. The authors also believe that you need to turn on a phone to erase the data stored on it, and throw in a darknet reference without any real understanding. Bard of Blood doesn't even have a bit of self-knowledge to get any of it – like Delhi Crime did before it went on anyway – and that ignorance permeates the rest of the story.

At best, Bard of Blood is a general, listless, action thriller that performs well in murky waters that otherwise show no signs of life. In the worst case, Bard of Blood is irresponsible with its characters, themes, messages and politics and not only contributes to xenophobia, but also ignites the existing gap between the two countries. (According to a 2017 BBC survey [PDF](85 percent of Indians viewed Pakistan negatively, 62 percent viewed it somewhat lower.)

When Netflix – and other streaming services – arrived in India, they hoped to usher in Bollywood 2.0. Last year's critical assessment of Sacred Games' debut season reinforced this belief. Unfortunately, Bard of Blood is proof that Netflix is ​​only interested in expanding itself, which means working with people like Khan – and Karan Johar among others – to reach as wide an audience as possible with stories that are just that have the lowest common denominator. Basically, Netflix is ​​just the same: it's Bollywood 1.0.

Bard of Blood is now streaming worldwide on Netflix.