Hats off to Zeba Bakhtiar and her son Azaan Sami Khan for producing Operation 021, a fast-paced action thriller, which gave the audience a glimpse of the sordid world of espionage and intrigue. Based on a screenplay by the Australian writer and director Summer Bodhi Nicks, places, periods and people are conjured up in depth and detail as the throbbing engine of the drama pulsates through closed rooms and open spaces at a fast pace. On closer examination, the film appears to be part documentary, complete with dates and timings, part adventure story with traitors and double agents; and part indictment of the greed of a superpower, whose operatives will stop at nothing to achieve their ends.
The theme is quite simple. An Afghan national named Abdullah, played to perfection by the Baloch actor Ayub Khoso, whose left eye is permanently closed, wants to save his country from continued strife after 30 years of war. To achieve his end, he works in collusion with a Pakistani patriot to save the two neighbouring countries from further turmoil. Their plan, which has to be completed within 21 hours, is full of peril. Failure would mean certain death for the two collaborators.
The plot revolves around possession of a microchip in which is stored information about the location of valuable minerals and three trillion dollars worth of deposits of lithium — the stuff that is used universally in cell phones. The bad guys are, of course, the CIA, represented by three men who report to a woman. The big question is: where is the chip, or rather, who the hell has the chip? Is it the Afghan Abdullah, who converses in Persian? Or one of the Pakistanis from across the border, who is also not afraid to sacrifice his life?
Shaan Shahid came across as his usual charismatic self. I was also impressed by the performances of Shamoon Abbasi and Aamna Shaikh. There was no overacting by any of the others, no unnecessary theatrics and none of the scenes were plugged into a barbecue pit of hot, sweaty emotion. The few brief glimpses of the beautiful Imaan Ali certainly made my day. To add a touch of authenticity, dialogues took place against a cluster of partisan rants in the background. All this was, of course, the good part. But, with no disrespect to Bakhtiar or her son, there were a few grey areas.
One of these was: too many scenes were shot in semi-darkness, and why did the director Jamshed Mahmood Raza, popularly known as Jami, and his co-director Summer Nicks, not throw in a few more lamps into that huge depressing room reeking of Stygian gloom where the local Afghan CIA operative who displayed a cynical philistine artiness held his meetings and conducted his interviews? I understand the place couldn’t possibly have looked like a suite at the Waldorf Astoria. But heck, all I am asking for is a little more illumination.
Another factor that bothered me was, I was never quite sure just where a particular action was taking place. Was the CIA quartet that surfaced from time to time located in Langley, on the Afghan border or somewhere in Pakistan? The insertion of a location somewhere on the screen, as is done in American movies when there is a rapid switch of vistas, would have been quite helpful. I also thought that both the music, as well as the sounds produced by the weapons, were too loud. However, all said and done, it was jolly good entertainment and I look forward to Zeba Bakhtiar’s next project. She certainly has the talent.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2014. (Artciel By Anwer Mooraj)