Directed by Neeraj Pandey and Shivam Nair, the eight-episode espionage drama ‘Special OPS’ on Hotstar chronicles a 19-year manhunt to nab the mastermind behind the 2001 Parliament attack by Himmat Singh (Kay Kay Menon) and his five abled secret agents played by Saiyami Kher, Karan Tacker, Muzammil Ibrahim, Vipul Gupta and Meher Vij.
BizAsiaLive.com caught up with the 33-year-old TV heartthrob Karan Tacker for an exclusive chat about the show.
How did you prepare yourself to play a Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agent?
You don’t really prepare yourself to play a RAW agent, what I like to get myself into is the kind of person the RAW agent is. You’ve to get into the mind of a character because being a RAW agent is the job but being the human being that Farooq Ali is, which is my character in the series, requires the most amount of work. You don’t end up playing characters, you end up playing people. That’s how I look at it. Primarily, to understand the human psychology of the character, it involved a lot of reading my own script. I think it’s very important to be invested in the world that your writer or director is creating and both here were Neeraj Pandey himself. So for me, The Bible of RAW and the life of Farooq Ali was in my script and I found all my questions and answers in that. There is a whole bunch of action in the show which we had to prepare for, we had a fantastic action choreographer called Cyril (Raffaelli). We had hand-to-hand combat in the show, it’s not a lot of flips. Neeraj Pandey does these long one-shots, so you’ve to be really well prepared because at no point can you get a ‘cut’ and fake a punch or fake getting hit. So, there was a lot of contact in terms of action, that’s what took a whole lot of prep as well.
Apparently, you shot for the audition of ‘Special OPS’ in some restroom while holidaying in Mussoorie. Can you tell us the story?
(Laughs) That is true and I love how it became the headline for most of my interviews. Basically I was traveling and I was in this small town in Mussoorie called Landour and I kept getting a call from the casting guy. He asked me to send an audition quickly and I was like, ‘I’m in the mountains! I’m not really prepared, I can come to Mumbai and give the test,’ but he really insisted. The hotel rooms were all really dimly lit and I had to find a spot that was nice and bright. I found this one restroom in the hotel that was really brightly lit but you know, bathrooms also echo. I quickly shot a self-test and drove down to Mussoorie because we didn’t have any network in Landour. I sent him the test and it all worked out!
You have this image of a chocolate-boy with your fans because of TV shows like ‘Ek Hazaaron Mein Meri Behna Hai’. How was the experience of breaking out of that and trying such power packed action scenes?
It was a lot of fun. First of all, I have to credit Neeraj Pandey to even see me in this role. He has not seen any of my work I think but I’m glad this audition worked out that I got to be a part of an action-thriller of this scale. It’s a lot of fun because we were using real guns, real sniper rifles, all that equipment that we had on set were army issued real equipment. It was a blast doing that! I think especially as a boy, you really get excited about getting down and dirty, shooting guns, getting hit and throwing punches, so I had a baller of a time.
You guys shot in some major international locations including Jordan, Turkey and Azerbaijan…
Yeah, we had crazy shooting days. We shot a whole lot in Delhi and Mumbai, in fact the Parliament that you see in the show is I think the most expensive set created for a Parliament ever and we shot that in Mumbai. We shot in Baku, Amman, Istanbul, it involved extensive travel because the story is that large. So, we had to go to these places and shoot there.
Any fun anecdotes from there?
There’s a whole bunch! We shot this mad sequence in Baku and Neeraj was pretty specific about that location for a pre-climax scene. It’s basically a large strip of road that’s little in the middle of sea in the oil fields in Baku and that’s where we shot the pre-climax. It looks really larger-than-life when you see it on celluloid. I’ve not shot on such a large scale in my career before and that actually was my first day of shoot. I had flown into Baku and when I saw the kind of production we were getting into I was like, ‘Man this is going to be a whole lot of fun!’ Also, we were shooting the summers during the peak winters of Jordan. So, we were dressed up in a way that shows the peak UAE heat but it was around 1 to 4 degrees! That’s something I’ll never forget because you’re dressed in your bare minimum and you’re trying to say these intense dialogues but you’re actually chattering and totally dying from inside. That was the toughest thing we had to do as actors, good credit to everybody who had to put up with it.
The series is also your digital debut. How different is this space for you as someone who started his career with television?
It’s very different, there’s no denying that. It’s an absolutely different scale. I’ve never worked with a bound script up until now. You get to read eight episodes together and you get to see eight episodes together! As an actor, that’s really interesting because you can arc your entire character like that. Especially my character Farooq Ali who gets recruited and there’s a 10-year journey attached to his storyline, that long journey is only possible when you have a bound script. That’s the fun. The scale is so different, we shot in some insane locations plus you get to shoot with the best cameras and you get to shoot with Neeraj Pandey. All in all, it’s a mad experience!
What kind of a director is Neeraj Pandey on set?
He’s one of the most calm people I’ve ever met in life. I clearly remember asking him on a hectic day and he seemed very chilled and to himself, he’s basically a thinker, I asked him, ‘Sir, how do you keep your cool?’ He’s like, ‘There’s no other way’ and I thought there’s so much to learn from a guy of his stature. He can throw his weight around and get things done but he is always so calm. He’s a delight for every actor because he writes his own material, so you can go upto him and ask him every single question about the character that you’re playing or the story that you’re a part of. The best part about him is that he goes out of his way to encourage your ideas, even if I’ve the smallest thought he’d come to me physically and ask me what I’m thinking. He’s very giving as a director and not just to the actors, he gives that liberty to all the technicians and the crew to put their own mind into this collaborative process.
How was it shooting with such a big ensemble cast?
It’s a lot of fun when you’ve exceptional talent on the show like we had. We had Kay Kay Menon, Vinay Pathak, Sharad Kelkar, Muzammil, Mehr, Saiyami, Sana (Khan)… it was just a blast shooting because you interact with so many great artists. I had a great time and it was a baller 100-days of shoot.
Where do you think Special OPS stands out amongst all the other web shows?
There’s a whole lot of action, thrill, beautiful locations and great performances. Great content finds its own audience, I think every content has its own set of audience. People who love thriller, drama and action are really going to enjoy this.
Which shows are you streaming currently on OTT platforms?
At the moment you just caught me in the middle of re-watching Scarface (laughs). I’m also watching Mozart in the Jungle, since I did a thriller I’m calming down with something that’s a little comic. I love Suits, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Friends is my all-time favourite.
‘Special OPS’ is currently streaming on Hotstar.