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The Freelancer has potential but sacrifices logic, and hopes to get away with too many loopholes

Adapted from the book A Ticket to Syria written by Shirish Thorat, the series however has all the ingredients that could have made for compelling viewing

Priyanka Roy  Published 02.09.23, 03:07 PM
Mohit Raina (right) and Anupam Kher in The Freelancer, streaming on Disney+Hotstar

Mohit Raina (right) and Anupam Kher in The Freelancer, streaming on Disney+Hotstar Sourced by the Telegraph

For a series that aims to reflect and report the current geopolitical situation of one of the most volatile territories in the world — the systematic resurgence of ISIS along the Iraq-Syria border after the group’s near-annihilation a few years ago — The Freelancer calls for too much of a suspension of disbelief.

Cinematic licence is often the crutch that makers lean on when they need to resort to gimmickry in the form of entertainment, but for a subject as grave — and as potentially intriguing — as The Freelancer, there is too much liberty and way too many loopholes that the makers hope to get away with.

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Logic is sacrificed at the altar of thrills, consistency is not the show’s strong suit and what could have been a serious, incisive look at a mercenary’s daring and astute modus operandi in planning and executing a near-impossible extraction, ultimately adds up to nothing more than the niggling feeling of what The Freelancer could have been. This is a surprise given that the show comes from the stable of Neeraj Pandey, the man who has given us edge-of-the-seat thrillers like A Wednesday!, Baby, Special 26 and Special Ops.

Adapted from the book A Ticket to Syria written by Shirish Thorat, The Freelancer, however, has all the ingredients that could have made for compelling viewing. First, the series focuses on a region and its politics that we have seen little of on Indian screens before. Second, it makes an Indian mercenary (played by Mohit Raina) its protagonist and also gives him a backstory that makes his journey from a Mumbai cop to a gun-for-hire based in Morocco but in reality, a world traveller — whose skill and scope are definitely more than the average assassin — credible as well as heartfelt. And finally, it touches upon the thrilling theme of extraction and contextualises it in a milieu that doesn’t feel alien to the average Indian viewer.

With so much going for it, Pandey hands over the directorial reins of The Freelancer to Bhav Dhulia, who has previously explored the story of a man in uniform in Khakee: The Bihar Chapter. The series starts compellingly enough with a young woman (Aliya, played by Kashmira Pardesi) trying to escape from her captors. It then cuts to showing Raina and his mercenary peers executing a daredevil kill with ease and then shifts gears to a man (played by Sushant Singh) who seemingly attacks the American Consulate in Mumbai in what is later discovered to be a suicide mission.

The three threads are interconnected. Newlywed Aliya is betrayed and misled by her radicalised husband and his family to become a part of the Islamic ‘army’ on the Syria-Iraq border. Cue for Avinash Kamath (Raina), a mercenary known as ‘The Freelancer’ to kick into action to rescue the girl, for reasons purely personal. Even as he establishes contact with Aliya, now deeply ensconced in enemy territory with her husband and his family who have turned hostile, Avinash attempts to mobilise forces — including the CIA — to extract Aliya. All the while, he has the help and guidance of his guru Dr Khan (Anupam Kher), whose presence is largely ornamental.

For all its claims of authenticity, The Freelancer treats the members of the burgeoning Islamic State and ISIS think tank as a group of sitting ducks who are unable to gauge what’s happening right under their noses. Aliya’s phone with an Indian SIM works miraculously well in an area with the strictest surveillance. She is able to access computers with ease in a region where women have no agency and are lashed for the slightest ‘misdemeanour’. Also, the complete radicalisation of an entire family within just six weeks by just one person is a little too hard to believe.

The biggest problem with The Freelancer is the decision to split the season and drop only four episodes. Disney+Hotstar has done that previously with The Night Manager and has also resorted to episodic drops for Season 3 of Criminal Justice and its new show Aakhri Sach. In my opinion, it doesn’t work, especially for a thriller like The Freelancer. Will I go back for the remaining episodes? The jury is still out on that one. Only Mohit Raina — who, despite his stone-facedness, works even when the show doesn’t — will perhaps make me tune in to know what happens next.
Did you like/ not like The Freelancer? Tell t2@abp.in

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