Bard Of Blood (2019) Netflix: 11 Critical Observations
Bard of Blood is a Hindi language Netflix series starring Emraan Hashmi, Sobhita Dhulipala and Vineet Kumar Singh in pivotal roles. Directed by Ribhu Dasgupta this espionage thriller focuses on an ex-agent who returns for a covert mission to Balochistan to rescue four Indian spies who have been captured whilst on duty. Bard of Blood is a quick watch and doesn’t drag if one enjoys the action genre. It has no hesitation in paying tribute (ripping off) scenes from other spy movies whilst largely following established guidelines of espionage thrillers.
I wasn’t taken by surprise at any point in the 7 episodes spread across 319 minutes. Also, it has no qualms in changing the established Orientalist mindsets of the audience whilst moving to the expected Indian victory. I learned that teenagers have more suspicions and are less trusting of each other than International spies are of their contemporaries.
Here are some of the things I would like to talk about.
1. The protagonist
He has been dishonorably discharged and is now a literature teacher in a school. He loves throwing in Shakespeare quotes whenever possible. This has been his life for the past 5 years, yet he hasn’t lost the instincts developed by him in his years as a hostage rescue specialist. Calling him back for a mission proves to be too mainstream and we see him beat up people in a toilet brawl get captured and kidnapped anyway and taken to the powers that be. His mission if he chooses to accept will be related to his past mission where he can banish his demons. This man whilst on the mission blows up pipelines and runs away from burning buildings. What’s missing? The Mission Impossible theme…. oh wait this isn’t Ethan Hunt. This is Kabir Anand.
Played by Emraan Hashmi, he is the anchor of the show. This man steps into the field with a bulletproof vest which proves to be a complete waste of the production budget for he never seems to be struck in battle. Not even when he has to take a chance and move whilst being fired upon. Not once in 7 episodes. Yaaay! We root for him as he is the only character we know more about but is it believable that the bullets just missed him. Like they missed Roy in Shanghai Noon. That certainly was incredible. That was put down to divine intervention, this is sheer dumb luck?
Also on Netflix: Anurag Kashyap’s Sacred Games
2. Lack of backstory for the supporting leads
Usually, audiences need to know a little more about the character to get invested in them. Some sort of backstory is expected. We get a whole episode on Kabir Anand and we know his motivations for getting into this unsanctioned and off the books mission (it had to be right, that’s an unwritten rule of a spy drama, more on that later) this backstory is crucial for this is a character who holds the show together and allows us to emotionally invest in him right from the start.
Along the way, the makers decide that it would be too bland for his co-agents to not have backstories and we do get provided with simple stories for them. These worked for me as these simple minute reasons served as an explanation for their behaviour and reactions to external stimuli and situations.
3. Strong female lead
Isha Khanna played by Sobhita Dhulipala manages to make the audience believe in her as a hardened agent. Her character could have been used as the damsel in distress towards the end but mercifully Bard of Blood Netflix avoided this. Isha is an agent who has repeatedly been denied in her requests for field assignments and is reduced to the role of a lecturer. Her first assignment is in the dangerous Balochistan and is met by incredulity from Veer. The Pakistani agent too registers his surprise at India sending a woman agent.
Isha’s rawness in the field is tested and she trembles at the prospect of shooting the enemy. She learns quickly and shoots confidently in the pipeline factory as well as in the encounter just minutes after she is untied by Kabir. We see that Sadiq Sheikh (Rajit Kapoor) was not wrong in earmarking this to be her first mission and not merely an impulsive decision.
4.The Clumsy Spy
Veer is a spy who has been in the field for 7 years straight and has avoided all goof ups of any sort. When his partner has trained a gun barrel in his head he manages to turn on the spot yet appear about an arm’s length away from the gun. This man begins to make blunders the moment he learns that has not been forgotten by his agency. His seemingly safe and checkpoint free route to smuggle Isha and Karan in Pakistan has guess what??? You got it right.
He then manages to come up with an atrocious howler quite unbecoming of an agent, they are human of course, but Veer’s backstory makes it believable. We too know how tricky the end is and are prone to silly mistakes. Mercifully for the team, he does manage to get his act together as they band together as a team to defeat the evil people.
5. Lack of an imposing villain
This worked for me as it set the region as the villain. A collective enemy that cannot function without the other as they aren’t powerful enough to be autonomous. First, the villain was the unknown cross border intelligence agent, then it was the mulla, then the BAF guys. The way I was able to separate the villains was the duration of time they were able to hold off Kabir.
The concept of a boss, underboss and minions seem to work here. The minions were taken down quickly, but the old mulla was able to engage with and prove a formidable opponent to Kabir before… (show always needs the good guy to win so you know what I’m getting at right?) The longest fight scene was between Kabir and what Bard Of Blood positions as our main villain. Kabir has the chance to shoot him, but why would he do that when he has a much more effective option in his bare fists. It makes total sense to have a man with a stab wound take on a man with a gunshot to the soldier. At no point, it even felt as though the enemy will win, why? The villain wasn’t imposing and the heroes’ victory didn’t feel sweeter.
6. Who has Amnesia?
The story has Veer’s father suffering from amnesia due to which he is to be extracted from the field. The same could be said about the director and the writers of this show who forgot about Kabir Anand’s PTSD after they used it in his introductory shot. He is only affected by this whilst sleeping peacefully in Mumbai and seems immune to the sound of gunfire and explosions whilst on the field.
I agree that featuring PTSD in crucial scenes would have just been overdramatic and by refraining from doing so the makers have deviated from established espionage shows but why did they even include it? This is so like Game of Thrones where the show-runners kind of forgot about stuff in their efforts to conclude the series quickly and commence work on their Star Wars Trilogy.
Similar to Bard of Blood Netflix: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
7. Absence of common sense
Bard of Blood takes Remus Lupin’s, “It is not the quality of one’s convictions that determines success, not the number of wands” from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 to heart and makes the ones with pistols have the ability to outgun the ones wielding Ak-47s.
Bullets seem to be repelled by our leads especially Kabir. I support this wholeheartedly that our side should not get hit but at least make it believable… have him attack with a rocket launcher or some ingenious ploy. There is a limited number of times we can accept that a human can step into the line of fire and escape ungrazed.
I’m still struggling to wrap my head around the fact that Kabir, who was running from law enforcement that had opened fire behind enemy lines chose to run past the right rear door around the front of the vehicle before getting in. It seemed such a weird time to claim shotgun. At one point in the series, Veer and the opposition agent had their guns trained on each other and I was thinking, “shoot the damn woman.”
Orientalism, as defined by Edward Said, is the way people of western cultures imagine and interpret the differences between themselves and people of eastern cultures. This show is American and would have the east represented as a dangerous place. But what do we call Orientalism when we are part of an eastern culture? The media has a history of viewing beards and the Pashto script and the colour green as evil.
It’s just what it is and Bard of Blood Netflix shows no sign of wanting to change anything. The board of Kandahar airport is in English but across the Eastern border of Afghanistan, there is an inundation of Pashto script. Xenophobia and Islamophobia are what people are bound to expect whilst watching this show which makes no effort to change our existing mentality.
Those of you who have read the book Bard of Blood would recognize that the letters ‘na’ have been added to Isha’s surname making her Isha Khanna as opposed to Isha Khan. Another thing to be noted here is the analogy which says that the bigger the ‘bindi’ the eviler the person. This holds for beards in Bard of Blood.
It is a plus point in this film and can make one fall in love with the brutal desert landscape and the largely mountainous terrain. The rivers too are framed brilliantly and accompany the feeling portrayed during the protagonists’ journey in Afghanistan. Set largely in the Balochistan region of Pakistan these majestic locations are all in India.
I did criticize this earlier, but the shots of Kabir Anand running away from an explosion are cool. Gore is avoided we get long shots to follow a close up utilizing a jump cut when be-headings take place. DOP Chirantan Das manages to make the audience focus on the small things such as the young kids trembling hands as they are ordered to shoot the captured Indians to mark a rite of passage from boys to men. Unfortunately, the writing doesn’t even manage to hold a candle to this.
10. Convenient plot
As mentioned at the start, Bard of Blood Netflix falls under the established rules of espionage dramas. The protagonists are invincible to exaggerated levels. They can’t be touched or hurt. Veer’s injury didn’t seem to impair him whatsoever. This series also has the former disgraced employee whose months-long mission went south as a suspect. This man is initially reluctant but will go rogue due to a deep personal loss. He will endure another deep personal loss along the way. Also when Kabir was cornered at the end of an episode did you believe that that was that? That he wouldn’t be rescued somehow to leave the episode on a cliffhanger like every single episode was left. Who is the woman in the hijab? Will so and so be betrayed? etc.
It’s just so convenient that the answer is in the next episode. (Eventually and most infuriatingly, the answer is in the next season) Perhaps that is the one flaw of streaming services. A weekly drama would have let the big reveal stew in our heads for a week before progressing rather than let us wait and come up with umpteen theories. The wait is just about 10-15 seconds now. Let’s hold onto the viewer like that or else they can easily click the back button. The 10-15 seconds of thought is natural human behaviour and an incredible way to hook the audience from start to end credits.
11. Poor lines
The word bard may draw a few literature aficionados towards this series considering that it is a synonym for poet more so lyric poet. The title of every episode is derived from Shakespearean plays and our lead character has a habit of spouting poetical dialogues quite often even in the heat of battle. Now, this comes across as showing his ice-cool demeanour in every situation to some whereas completely pointless and aping at intellectuality for others.
These lines most annoyingly they come at moments where one’s mind would be far away from anything other than unreal panic. The Shakespearean quotes do manage to summarize the entire episode or at some point something of the next episode (cliffhanger ending effect). Scripts aren’t key to making these shows as a success as they can be adjudged as so on their action and stunt choreography and giving the audience those cool moments. The ones which do have good scripts manage to get the audience invested in a character to such a great extent. However, this show relies purely on pre-existing pathos to provide the audience a means for catharsis.