The Freelancer Review: Yet Another Version Of The Kerala Story

The Freelancer has been made with workman-like efficiency, but the subject of Islamic terrorism could do with a break, Deepa Gahlot points out.

A young Mumbai woman, Aliya (Kashmira Pardeshi), finds herself trapped in Syria with her husband and in-laws, who have been radicalised and thrown in their lot with Islamic State.

The Freelancer, created by Neeraj Pandey, now an expert of sorts of the shadowy world of intelligence operatives, and directed by Bhav Dhulia, could be seen as a much more sophisticated version of The Kerala Story, at least in spirit.

In this series, a character, Dr Arif Khan (Anupam Kher), analyses the reasons for why young people are attracted to the cause of a militant Islam that tends to devour its followers.

Still, it is difficult to understand how members of a prosperous family give up everything to become cogs in a ‘Khilafat’ machinery, and how two of them calmly blow themselves up in a suicide mission.

In this crazy, violent world, Avinash Kamath (Mohit Raina), former cop, functions as a mercenary, with a group of people who carry out covert missions for the world’s intelligence agencies, when they for political or other reasons, cannot carry out those assassinations, extractions, or ‘extraordinary renditions’ themselves.

The series goes globe-trotting, like most such thrillers do, and Morocco gets good tourist-bait visuals.

Some of the show’s run time is devoted to Kamath’s missions, including one in which a target in Kabul is assassinated right under the noses of NATO forces but most of the plot is about rescuing Aliya from IS-infested Syria.

She is the daughter of Kamath’s friend, also former cop, Inayat Khan (Sushant Singh) and he had promised to look out for the family.

Inayat makes a terrible sacrifice to help his daughter, and Kamath has to respond to his cry for help.

Aliya’s husband Mohsin (Navneet Malik) has transformed from a loving husband to a controlling monster. She has a phone hidden away, and manages to contact her mother (Ayesha Raza Mishra), who reaches out to Avinash.

Scripted by Ritesh Shah and Benazir Ali Fida, based on Shirish Thorat’s book, A Ticket To Syria, the action shifts from the Maldives to Mumbai, but the mission remains the same.

Aliya turns out to be courageous and calm enough to help send out information that would enable her rescue.

While the series tends to meander into flashbacks, digresses into Kamath’s private life — his wife (Manjari Fadnis) is in a mental institution — and sets about crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ of the operation, the scenes of Aliya’s incarceration in the backward hellhole where women are treated worse than chattel, are the most horrifying and affecting.

The woman (Balaji Gauri), who is the instigator for the recruitments in Mumbai, is a really scary figure.

The CIA would be most unhappy to see how they are portrayed as a bunch of inept clowns. Not that India’s Intelligence Bureau comes off looking any better.

Kamath, of course, is just short of being superman, going about pulling at every thread that could help him get Aliya out, but in the process, the pace slows down and there is too much information thrown up. At the same time, everything from safe passage to fake papers are easily managed by obliging contacts.

This is not the kind of series in which performances take precedence, except for Kashmira Pardeshi, whose Aliya moves from happy bride to betrayed wife to a young woman desperate to get out.

Mohit Raina is suitably granite-faced and others do what is required by the script.

Going by the four episodes sent for review, The Freelancer has been made with workman-like efficiency, but the subject of Islamic terrorism could really do with a break.

There is not much to add to what has already been portrayed by multiple projects before.

The Freelancer streams on Disney+Hotstar.


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