When Emraan Hashmi's Kabir Anand is not fighting enemies on dangerous territories, he is teaching William Shakespeare, and his importance which he himself did not know of when he was a child, to school-going students.
The series Hashmi is acting in, however, is no Shakespearean play, for it suffers from major issues -- more dramatic that the titles given to the seven episodes in the first season, all borrowed from the bard.
'Bard of Blood', based on Bilal Siddiqi's largely unknown novel of the same name, derives much of its inspiration from the 'Bard of Avon' for it calls its hero -- the battered Anand -- Adonis (code name: Ado). Early into the first season, in one scene, he walks into the bathroom only to be outdone by a handful of men -- a complete rip-off from a Bollywood movie scene. That the entire series looks like "ripped off" from a lacklustre Hindi spy thriller is a different matter altogether.
The locales are beautifully shot -- Ladakh becomes Balochistan -- and the long-drawn shots are examples of good cinematography (by Chirantan Das).
Same cannot, however, be said about the direction. Director Ribhu Dasgupta employs a rather messy style when it comes to handling the many issues emanating from the series. There are multiple threads. But they are irresponsibly intertwined, with no sight of getting detangled any time soon (at least not during the runtime of the first season). In Dasgupta's defence, however, it can be safely said there is little he could have done with the material (Siddiqi is the creator alongside Red Chillies' revenue head Gaurav Verma) he had.
There is a lucid carelessness in depicting the region. And the people. There are no kohl-eyed Muslims in the worlds of 'Raazi', and Amazon Prime's 'The Family Man'; and not every other person of this community is a wretched villain waiting to molest children and women. What 'Bard of Blood' could have taken a chill-pill with would be Islamophobia and Xenophobia -- especially in today's day and age where the world, especially the East, is demanding for more progressive cinema.
More progressive, and surely not more stupid. In one scene, a Pakistani intelligence agent plugs an enemy pen-drive into a machine connected to the Internet. Air-gapped computer, anyone? Then there is the pointless romantic track; it did not exist in the book (I confess I haven't read the book but have been told the book did not have involvement of any ex-flames). The characters talk a lot (uff, they do), but tell us nothing. There are scenes which could have been shot better -- depicting scenarios and situations by just them and not by words, but the characters are asked to speak, and tell irrelevant information.
Coming to editing, 'Bard of Blood' feels disconnected at times, and it feels like scenes have been chopped off in places. There's a scene where Vineet Singh, who plays a sleeper Indian agent in Balochistan, (and I am quite sure of it) must have re-dubbed his lines. The track looks off, and it's glaringly visible.
Emraan Hashmi -- aah, the actor, the star and the man -- is unfortunate to have been getting roles where only his lip-service (pun intended) was highlighted, and perhaps, appreciated. This man is one under-rated actor. The way he carries Kabir Anand on his shoulders, and face, with subtlety and grace is commendable -- only if he was gifted with a better part to play. Anand is subsumed with guilt, and remorse, for not having been able to help his partner and friend leading to his death. His inner struggles and subtle portrayal of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are immaculately portrayed on screen -- in terms of direction too.
Sobhita Dhulipala, who plays the rookie Isha Khanna, has set the benchmark so high with Amazon Prime's 'Made in Heaven' that a fan in me was left a bit disappointed. Her non-glam avatar is recklessly beautiful though.
Vineet Singh's misrepresented accent plays a deterrent to his confident portrayal of a forgotten spy. Kirti Kulhari lends a certain gravitas to Jannat -- courtesy the dual life she leads. The other cast members -- Rajit Kapur, Shishir Sharma, Abhishekh Khan, Asheish Nijhawan, and Danish Husain -- are equally praiseworthy.
Jaideep Ahlawat, as the barbaric Pakistani agent Tanvir Shehzad, deserves a special mention -- he is flawless. Superb casting in terms of all its characters -- and the only plausible thing that works in the favour of the series.
'Bard of Blood' suffers from major flaws -- sloppy writing, a script totally devoid of humour, listlessly directed sequences and irresponsibility when it comes to politics -- major enough to drown performances by Hashmi, Dhulipala and Singh in deep waters. As mentioned earlier, the series looks more like a movie, and with Netflix collaborating more and more with Bollywood top-guns, it's justified too (read: pun).
All is not that bad with the series though. On a second thought, if you haven't watched many spy thrillers and espionage dramas, 'Bard of Blood' can strike a chord with you. Watch it for a committed Emraan Hashmi, Sobhita Dhulipala, and the beautiful Ladakh.
Our verdict: 2.5 stars