The title of the web-series then seemed to me as very inaccurate. It should have been Wanna-be bard gushes blood or something to that effect. As Kabir does not show any other characteristics of being a bard, besides knowing some Shakespeare quotes
A lot of expectations were heaped upon Emraan Hashmi's debut web series on Netflix, Bard of Blood. A year back, I even heard a prediction from a friend that Emraan will take Netflix by storm. Produced by Red Chillies Entertainment, and promoted massively by Shah Rukh Khan himself, I was hoping for a nail-biting blockbuster. Or binge-buster if you will, since it is a web-series. Unfortunately, Bard of Blood season one did not entertain me as much as I had hoped.
The web-series suffered massively from a screenplay, that repeatedly wants to be too ambitious, but forgets to make sense of the developments in reaching those ambitions. How does that happen?
Lack of Shakespeare allusions
I received the first clue of the show being too ambitious for its own good was when I read the episode titles. Each episode of Bard is titled with a quote from William Shakespeare. You would then probably think that there will be many allusions to the great bard's timeless works in each episode. At least I thought as such. It turns out that Emraan Hashmi's character is a teacher of Shakespeare, who teaches the great playwright's texts in just one scene in the beginning, and quotes from them in two or three other instances.
Emraan's character Kabir Anand has a romantic tryst with a girl from Balochistan, who also happened to have illustrated books of Shakespeare in her house. The lovers exchange dialogues with some Shakespearean quotes. Also Kabir's codename is Adonis, which is an allusion to a narrative poem by Shakespeare Venus and Adonis. That is the end of the great bard's mention or allusions to him.
The title of the web-series then seemed to me as very inaccurate. It should have been Wanna-be bard gushes blood or something to that effect. As Kabir does not show any other characteristics of being a bard, besides knowing some Shakespeare quotes.
Emraan's Adonis is not a 'bard'
Kabir's real talent is apparently interrogation, and specialization in hostage rescue. Aside from one scene in which Kabir is himself interrogated, where he flaunts his past experience as an interrogator, there are no other interrogation scenes in which he shows those skills again.
Flashbacks reveal that due to a botched operation in Balochistan, Kabir had been dishonorably discharged from the Indian intelligence agency. So when four Indian spies are captured by the Taliban, Kabir's mentor in that Indian agency wants him back to lead an operation to rescue those spies.
For some inexplicable reason, the senior most person in the Indian intelligence agency does not approve of Kabir's return to the agency for rescuing those hostages, even though everyone seems to agree that he is the right man for the job. He would rather consider their deaths as sacrifices. Yikes! Therefore, Kabir's mentor sends a junior operative Isha, played by Sobhita Dhulipala, along with some other men to get Kabir.
Those same men, despite being intelligent agency operatives, tail Kabir in a very obvious way, who then temporarily gives them the slip. Then they catch up to him in a hospital, and without any attempts at trying to convince him about the gravity of the situation, they issue an open threat. "Will you come quietly, or do you want trouble?" Kabir proceeds to beat them up. I appreciated this first fight scene of Kabir, as it perfectly showed his lack of form in fighting, to signify his time away from such a work. But then, he successfully beats them up, and walks into an elevator, where Isha is waiting in a disguise. He does not get any indication of what might happen, for all his fame, which even Isha was preaching to junior operatives in her introductory scene. A simple taser is all that Isha needed to incapacitate the great 'Adonis.' It was realistic, but quite unjustified, considering the hype they built around Kabir's past career as an intelligence operative.
I do not think any intelligence agency would abduct one of their former operatives, who was also dishonorably discharged, to try to convince him to go on a rescue mission. But then, I do not really know much about the work of intelligence agencies. All I am saying is that these kind of spy moves must have looked great on the screen in the 60s, and 70s, but in 2019, it is hard for me to believe it.
Deus ex machinas galore
As for his hostage rescue, the whole operation is rife with deus ex machinas.
Kabir changed his mind at the last moment, before his flight departed, to go on the rescue mission, because his mentor called, and promised him with clarity, as to why the former's last mission went haywire. Kabir then finds that his mentor is dead, and decides to go on the off-the-books mission with Isha, whom he somehow identified as someone belonging to his mentor's inner circle. They contact an abandoned spy of India, stationed in Afghanistan. Second instance that indicated that India abandons their spies. Yikes.
After Kabir and Isha reach Afghanistan, and rendezvous with Veer Singh, the deus ex machinas start. The fight scenes may look impressive, but a closer inspection will reveal the excruciatingly bad choreography. Kabir’s team incapacitates so many soldiers with a single move, that the suspension of disbelief is irreparably lost in each fight scene.
They successfully kill a bunch of guards in a border outpost, an incident which is never mentioned in the subsequent episodes again. It was like their loud entry into Pakistan did not raise a single alarm.
Repeatedly we see shootout scenes between Kabir's team, and the police in Pakistan. Kabir's team always survive. This could either be a testament to their superior shooting skills, or the fact the Pakistani police is really as incompetent as storm troopers of Star Wars.
Furthermore, Kabir's team is never short of ammunition, food, explosives, and surveillance equipment, in spite of causing all the mayhem in Pakistan.
Kabir somehow miraculously manages to convince a local insurgent group of Balochistan to aid them in their fight against the Taliban. Sure, I get that the sister of the head of that insurgency is in love with Kabir, but how much influence could she really have in the violent patriarchal society of Balochistan? For Kabir's part, all he did was blow up an oil pipeline to make it look like the insurgent group he is seeking help from, is the one who committed the crime. It did not make any sense at all.
Near the end of the season, a US intelligence group in the area makes a deal with Kabir's team, that they will extract them in exchange for the capture of the head of the Taliban, "dead or alive." Kabir's team successfully kills the head of the Taliban, and escapes from Pakistan by giving them the dead body. At that point I screamed at the screen, "what would an intelligence agency do with a dead terrorist, whom they did not kill?"
As for other aspects of the web series, it had neither much sex, nor much violence, in spite of the parental warning by Netflix. Emraan did not have a single make out scene, so his early fans will be disheartened. I personally liked this new Emraan, who does not get as "touchy-feely" as before. However, this new Emraan also does not have much range in expressing emotions. Much like Keeanu Reeves. His co star Vineet Kumar Singh did justice to his character Veer Singh. So much so, that I think Veer could have rescued the hostages alone, if the agency contacted him.
Worse of all, a production by Shah Rukh Khan for Netflix has an elementary editing mistake in the very last episode; a missing shot in a rooftop parkour scene. As if the director finished editing it in the last minute before uploading on Netflix. So amateur!