Netflix’s firm belief that India will help them battle the incoming onslaught of new streaming services has resulted in them profusely producing Indian web series. And although the series they’ve made have taken Indian television into a bold new direction, Netflix’s latest offering, Bard of Blood, disappoints on many levels.
The Shah Rukh Khan produced web series centers on an excommunicated RAW agent Kabir (Emraan Hashmi), who has to travel to the depths of Balochistan to rescue other Indian agents captured there. If the premise of the show sounds nauseatingly thinly veiled propaganda, then you’d be right on the money.
The show unabashedly propagates the kind of ridiculous anti-Pakistan nonsense that even some of their action flicks have dropped, in what it hopes is prestige packaging. Netflix shows usually come with big budgets and superior scripts, especially in comparison to the kind of content that is produced on television networks.
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Here, however, a good location scout is all that the show has to offer. Emraan Hashmi’s exaggerated machismo and flat acting make the show a bore to get through, even if there isn’t much to be interested in anyways. There are flickers of good performance here and there.
However, largely, through the entirety of the show’s eight episodes, he is never charismatic enough to make the viewer have any interest in his character. His character Kabir has the age-old Indian movie problem of having no personality. Although more capable actors have been able to do something with poorly written roles like this, Hashmi doesn’t possess enough star-power to make his appealing.
The supporting cast isn’t given much to do. Not only is it obvious from the way the show is written that the two writers of the series, Tewari and Siddiqi, have no idea about the region their show is based on, but it also becomes evident quite quickly, that they don’t know how to write female roles. The two female characters are used either to provide exposition or to further the arcs of the men around them.
Sobhita Dhulipala, who has proven that she has enough chops to lead her own show through her other films and TV ventures, is given a character that has no story of her own and is consistently left floundering amidst the action. Veer Singh, who plays a sleeper agent, is gifted with a bigger storyline, but weak writing makes his character’s actions and the team’s forgiveness towards him bizarre.
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What’s incredible about Bard of Blood is how lazy the writers and showrunners have been towards depicting the Baloch. Indian movies have never learned to create good & bad guys, and this show is perhaps the best example of how their writers are incapable of creating nuanced antagonists.
In fact, nuance is something that is missed dearly, repeatedly hitting us on our heads with whatever point it is trying to make. The show callously demonizes all Muslim people, and its xenophobic portrayal of Pakistanis and the Baloch quickly makes the show lose any integrity it might have had.
The showrunners repeatedly make mistakes such as calling the people of Balochistan “Balochi” rather than “Baloch”, not knowing that the former is a language and the latter used to refer to the people of the area. The romance that takes place there, not only seems shoehorned at the last second but also feels hard to believe given the openness with which they go around Balochistan without care.
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The writers of the show also failed to research the militant groups in the area, instead made a bunch of sword-wielding maniacs with no particular agenda the center of their show. Bard of Blood also fails as a spy thriller.
There’s nothing new and inventive about this show. While the problematic portrayal of Pakistanis in the script is a big issue, the show is also a mess because of the weaknesses it has in every other department. The first episode features a scene ripped from the latest Mission Impossible movie, only worse, and the remainder of the show is filled with poorly choreographed shoot outs.
Worse, the show is a slog to sit through, never having much to say. At its best, Bard of Blood is a mediocre action thriller with nothing of value to add. Mainly, the show is a reminder that even the likes of Netflix can’t salvage a script riddled with so many inconsistencies and laced with so much malice.