March 23, 2012
Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Adil Hussain
Agent Vinod is not one of those films that has made me angry. Such feelings are reserved for jewels like Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag and Mani Ratnam ka Raavan. But methinks indifference is sometimes worse than anger, and that one word sums up my reaction to this film.
Saif Ali Khan plays the Research and Analysis Wing’s secret agent Vinod who is on a mission to stop a nuclear bomb from being detonated in India. During the course of this assignment, he meets a lady played by Kareena Kapoor whose identity I shall keep under wraps for the benefit of those of you who intend to watch this film. The movie moves frenetically from country to country, and again I shall not tell you where or why because that’s really not the point in spy thrillers such as this one.
What is the point then? Well, when I go for films in this genre I know what I’m looking for: lots of suspense with clever twists at every turn and/or action scenes so brilliant that I can forgive the juvenility of the plot and the mumbo jumbo mouthed by its primary characters. If the film gives me anything beyond that I’m dumb struck with gratitude because that’s all I want from my James Bonds, MIs and Die Hards. And that’s really all I was looking for in Agent Vinod.
It’s hard to tell why this film didn’t work though. Because it does seem like it’s trying very hard to achieve that pace that is so essential to films of its ilk. Vinod is in a new geographical location almost every time you bat an eyelid. But there is a difference between actual grandeur and pretensions to it, between actual pace and an attempt at it. And somehow Agent Vinod never seems to rise above seeming as though it’s really trying hard to be a Bond.
The main problem lies with the screenplay that invests little in its central character. Early on, Vinod’s wry humour is actually quite entertaining. But that gets buried half way through the film when stylish shots and an attempt at suspense take over. In a few scenes towards the beginning, the man is given lines with allusions to famous Hindi films. But instead of persisting, the writer seems to have forgotten this quirk after a while. Now there’s a hook that could have been explored to give Vinod some heft … you know, like Rusty’s food obsession in Ocean’s 11? Writer-director Tigmanshu Dhulia, who is currently being toasted for Paan Singh Tomar, had tried it to good effect in his 2011 film Shagird. With all its flaws, I do remember Shagird for its tough cop Nana Patekar’s film fixation, with every major plot point being defined by a Hindi classic that either he or some other character is watching at that point.
In contrast, there’s nothing in particular about Saif’s Vinod that is of recall value. This is especially disappointing because director Sriram Raghavan’s earlier team-up with the actor gave us one of Saif’s finest performances to date – in Ek Hasina Thi where he played a suave, smooth talking, heartless, sophisticated, urbane, urban crook. To my mind, Saif’s ability to play that guy and the sweet, laidback city-boy-in-love in Hum Tum and the personification of unmitigated evil in Omkara’s rural setting makes him the most versatile actor of his generation in Bollywood. Yet, both director and actor have failed to invest any degree of memorable-ness in Agent Vinod’s international espionage story. In fact in several scenes in this film, Saif comes across as a little boy playing a game of cops-and-robbers, not a global spy.
The writing is not just ineffective in its attempts at suspense, it’s also surprisingly lazy in places. Think about it – a spy knows that his arch enemy recognizes him and yet he deliberately walks into a room where that man is talking to his stooges; a woman needs to hide her identity from the film’s villains but she still voluntarily performs a very public mujra for them … Why? Because there was a compulsion to give the heroine a big song-and-dance routine that would showcase her beauty and dancing skills?
The film has a few positives. Clearly a lot of money has been invested in travel and cinematography. Some of the multiple locations are quite stunning, and I particularly enjoyed that single aerial shot that introduces us to New Delhi with her glorious mix of concrete, traffic, people and greenery. Kareena looks glamorous and brings a certain earnestness to her performance. And hopefully Agent Vinod has brought Assamese actor Adil Hussain on to the national radar. Hussain is the hottie who plays the film’s bad guy. Having seen him on the Delhi stage in a very nice play called Othello A Play in Black and White, I can assure you that he deserves better than what we’ve seen him do so far in Hindi films (you may remember him make a brief appearance as Vidya Balan’s husband in Ishqiya). Not that his role in Agent Vinod is very challenging, but it does give us enough of the man’s extremely attractive presence to remember.
A word about the music … Agent Vinod boasts of two lovely songs. The aforesaid mujra may be illogically placed in the plot but it’s lavishly shot and the tune is so catchy that I know I would love it as a standalone video. Likewise, it’s fun to see Saif do a Christopher Walken in Pyaar ki Pungi, but this song too is out of place with the end credits, considering the grimness of the circumstances that Vinod has just emerged from.
The issue with Agent Vinod is that it’s trying to achieve a certain coolth but falls flat on its face in the face of impactless writing. It’s slick but not so slick as to take your breath away. It’s got action but not so much as to obscure its other limitations. It’s not chilling enough or for that matter enough of anything in particular. I didn’t hate it, but 48 hours after I watched it, I already remember little about it. This is sad, of course, because director Sriram Raghavan is clearly a man cut out for the thriller genre – Ek Hasina Thi (with Saif and Urmila Matondkar) was chilling and suspenseful; his Johnny Gaddaar (with Neil Nitin Mukesh and Dharmendra) was edgy and fast paced. I think I’ll just pretend that Agent Vinod did not happen and wait for Raghavan to make amends in his next film.Rating (out of five): **
Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_Vinod_(2012_film)