Intrigue, thrill, espionage- what makes spy dramas appealing?

Dec 16, 2022 11:44 AM IST

From Mukhbir - The Story of a Spy, Taanav, CAT, to Slow Horses and Tehran, plots around espionage have continued to tick on the web. We explore why

A spy drama has all the ingredients to draw the audience’s attention. Therefore, not just viewers but makers and OTT platforms too are investing in a range of subjects revolving around spies for digital content. Audiences relish a well-written spy thriller- be it a glamorous or a gritty, Bond or Bourne, or recent shows like Slow Horses or Tehran which dropped their second season this year. Indian makers too are not far behind and are delivering a range of spy web series and films for the audience to choose from.

Randeep Hood in CAT
Randeep Hood in CAT


This year the Indian OTT space, we saw Mukhbir - The Story of a Spy, about the intelligence agency sending a con man to spy while Taanav, a remake of the successful Isareli show Fauda, and the recently released Randeep Hooda’s CAT, about a former police informant going undercover. In recent times, we saw a substantial amount of projects in this genre, including films like Lahore Confidential (2021) and London Connection (2020), and series such as The Family Man (TFM), Kay Kay-led Neeraj Pandey show Special Ops, Special Ops 1.5: The Himmat Story, Crackdown and Kathmandu Connection.

Shivam Nair, who directed the acclaimed show, Special Ops and the recent web series Mukhbir - The Story of a Spy, starring Zain Khan, says he realised that spy stories are exciting and that’s why the audiences lap them up on OTT. “What intrigues people the most is the dilemma of a man who lives a dual life. They might have read stories but watching them in a show is a different experience which draws them. Many who don’t read much enjoy the visual effects. Special Ops was all about a covert operation while in Mukhbir, we explored how one becomes a spy and what he has to go through to deliver. The storytelling is unique as Kay Kay’s character is an honest man with a goal while in Mukhbir, Zain plays a conman turned spy. From humanity to patriotism all kinds of emotions are explored.”

Mukhbir- the story of a spy
Mukhbir- the story of a spy

He notes that the challenge is to balance the emotions with the story while not taking liberties or saying too much. If it is too melodramatic, the audiences get disconnected. There are many stories to be explored in the spy world from female to male spies, from real stories to fictional ones, retired to ones in action, feels Nair.

Randeep Hooda, plays an intense character of a Sikh man in CAT working as an undercover spy. Stating that every role requires “effort, study, absorption and a sense of bringing it alive within oneself”, the actor admits this particular role had its own set of challenges, adding, “The screenplay of the show put my character in humanly traumatising and very precarious situations, but as an actor, you try to believe in it as much as possible.”

Slow Horses
Slow Horses

Talking about dabbling with the genre and why it is gaining popularity, Sumit Kaul, who plays the antagonist in Taanav, states that thrillers and sensuous content grabs attention quicker than other stories. “Often it is seen that projects that have these elements have fared better, especially on OTT so there are so many shows to watch. A spy thriller appeals to audiences as it keeps your adrenaline high with twists and turns in the story. The winning formula for them is good writing which is the back bone.”

Filmmaker Raj Nidimoru of Raj & DK fame, who won awards for The Family Man, remark that spy stories have been oldest genre in entertainment that’s why we have 25 odd James Bond movies and Mission Impossible franchise. “Spy dramas and undercover characters are exciting and intriguing but moreover while they are cinematic, they have one foot in reality too, so the blend of these elements makes it strong as compared to a romantic or a family drama. It is exciting to see someone who is doing cool stuff in the world we live in.” Then comes the challenge of spy stories as there have been a number of films on it so how does one spin it or give it a twist to make it new on OTT? He talks about the challenge they faced for TFM. Nidimoru reveals, “Our show was about a spy who is treated as a govt employee and has all the problems a middle class man has. So the spy genre got subverted as otherwise, spies were always so cool and suave.”

Lior Raz, co-creator of the hugely successful Israeli spy thriller Fauda, agrees, “You always need to look and think out of the box, that’s the first thought. When you do that, and try to bring people to think and say ‘Wow’ - that’s what we are aiming for. We want to make people go ‘Oh My God, what just happened on screen’.”

Zain Khan shares another point of view that spy dramas entail suspense and high drama, which need to have a build up. He states the challenges are more for a web series as for a film the sustenance of the thrill is usually for an hour while in web format, it has to be translated into 6-8 episodes. “So the writing and direction have to be tighter and on point over the longer format. The same goes for interesting plot and novel story telling. Since there’s a barrage of content on the web space, your offering has to be packaged well and filled in with good riveting content. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching our show Mukhbir as viewer too and hence I’m very happy with what we achieved. On the global front, Sacha Barons The Spy offered a great insight into the psyche of a spy and the challenges and held the thrill high too.”

Get more updates from Bollywood, Hollywood, Musicand Web Seriesalong with Latest Entertainment Newsat Hindustan Times.

    Mumbai-based Kavita Awaasthi writes on Television, for the daily Entertainment and Lifestyle supplement, HT Cafe

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