Saturday, January 24, 2015

REVIEW 313: BABY

Release date (India):
January 23, 2015
Director:
Neeraj Pandey
Cast:




Language:
Akshay Kumar, Mikaal Zulfiqar, Taapsee Pannu, Rana Daggubati, Madhurima Tuli, Kay Kay Menon, Danny Denzongpa, Sushant Singh, Anupam Kher
Hindi


Baby is not half as clever as it clearly thinks it is. Nor one-tenth as cool. Not thrilling or funny either. What it is is lazily constructed, loophole ridden, long, lame and boring.

Director Neeraj Pandey’s penchant for playing to the gallery in a most dangerous fashion was evident from his debut film A Wednesday. In that 2008 thriller, a fellow known simply as “Common Man” (Naseeruddin Shah) is so frustrated with the Indian justice system that he blasts off terrorists as a solo operator, mirroring the kind of town-square justice that America meted out to Saddam Hussein and bloodthirsty mobs on the social media are increasingly demanding in India. Why concern yourself with legitimate trials, when an avenging hero could draw applause? Why bother with moderates when extremism is more likely to succeed at the box-office?

Pandey’s next film, Special 26, was superior because it struck a tricky balance, telling an entertaining story of con men without deifying them. A Wednesday’s anarchist ideology notwithstanding, it too was enjoyable since it served up genuine thrills. Baby, in contrast, is filled with glaring flaws. For instance, globally wanted terrorists in the film stay in a tourist resort in Saudia Arabia without a single bodyguard in their suite. Between the perimeter and the rooms, no safeguards are in place. When an Indian tech ‘expert’ (Anupam Kher) disables the electric fencing by hacking the hotel security system online, in subsequent dialogues he sounds surprised that a resort staffer manually restored the bijli. He hadn’t planned for that?! Yes, Baby is THAT silly.

So if patriotic chest-thumping was the goal, it must be pointed out that the film makes Indian spies look like asses. To be fair, the terrorists are asses too. One escapes from a building in Turkey while Akshay Kumar's Ajay spends some minutes inside, taking instructions on the phone from his boss in India. Yet, when Ajay emerges from those four walls, the bad guy is still in sight on a crowded street. It’s as if he was waiting around for the hero to finish his work.

For the record, Baby is thus named after a top-secret Indian espionage/counter-terrorism agency launched post-26/11. Why Baby? Because it was meant to be temporary. Feroze (Danny Denzongpa) is the head of the team, Ajay is a senior member.

Calling Baby simplistic is an under-statement. A pity, since it drowns lovely actors like Sushant Singh and Kay Kay Menon in a sea of stupidity. Too much in the film is unexplained. Why, for instance, does a reputed Saudi policeman do what he does in the end? Is it because the filmmaker fancied an Argo-like airport climax but couldn’t figure out how to pull it off with logic?

In the midst of all this, Akshay plays Ajay with utter conviction. Danny is likeable as his fatherly boss and it’s hard not to notice the cute-looking English-Pakistani model-actor Mikaal Zulfiqar playing Team Baby’s “asset” in Saudi Arabia. All three are helpless though in the face of the film’s persistent superficiality. The one bright spot in the proceedings is actress Taapsee Pannu’s very credible turn as an undercover agent who single-handedly wallops a villain in Nepal. Bollywood would be foolish not to cast Pannu in bigger roles in more action films in future.

Neeraj Pandey’s Baby is designed for a world where the word “terrorist” is used only to describe Muslims who kill innocents, and where the same label is never applied to the pepetrators of well-planned riots like Delhi 1984 or Gujarat 2002. So careful is this film to please the present ruling dispensation and its majoritarian supporters, that it describes the 2002 anti-Muslim riots of Gujarat as “Hindu-Muslim riots”. The film is also aimed at those segments of the population who are getting increasingly vocal about their antipathy to legal trials, courts, human rights, etc. These are the kind of people who will casually use words like “collateral damage” to brush aside innocent victims of anti-terror ops, not admitting to their quiet conviction that they will never personally be affected or their confident assumption that those victims will always be ‘the other’.

In some places, Baby also seems convinced that it’s funny. And so, in one scene, Ajay strikes an enemy agent after he has got the information he needed from the fellow. “Why did you hit me now?” the chap cries. “Out of habit,” Ajay replies unsmilingly. Oooh, so cool and so funny, na?

The scene that exemplifies Baby’s attitude though features Feroze, Ajay and a bumbling secretary to a Union Minister. When the babu trivialises the sacrifices of Indian spies, Ajay wordlessly walks to the door, latches it, walks back to the secretary, slaps him, walks back to the door and unlatches it, all while his boss looks on. Again, so funny and cool, no? I mean, Ajay is a deshbhakt so it’s okay, no? How dare we question the actions of a nationalist?

You may well ask why this is a big deal since Akshay and Salman have repeatedly played the vigilante in action comedies. The difference between most of those other films and Baby is that those films don’t position themselves as serious fare. Baby demands to be taken seriously.

As for the poor writing and laughable loopholes... well hey, why bother with a strong plot when you could earn cheap popularity with less effort, when populism could translate into a forgiving audience? Baby is an amateurish film.

Rating (out of five): *

PS: Baby’s subtitling is inexplicable. Expletives are replaced with random words – for instance, “fuck man” becomes “oh no” rather than asterisks. At one point we are shown DLF Promenade mall in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj but the subtitles identify it as a “Saket mall”. No idea why.

CBFC Rating (India):

U/A   
Running time:
160 minutes



8 comments:

  1. haha your such a pathetic review cannot stop ppl to go and watch a masterpiece of Neeraj pandey :p

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  2. Please don't promote your review on twitter . And with due respect action movies are not made for those who loves only sweet romantic movies .

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  3. Don't post Shit...No wonder I didn't heard about you before...and pls Stop tweeting about Ur goddamn Shitty Review... The movie is a well made masterpiece Period!!!!

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  4. Baby when seen from critics point of view, it is not one of the best films. First half of the film looked like made by a new comer, be it Akshays introduction or Kay Kay's escape...
    In total when you watch it as a viewer, the grip is there and people are interested to see what is happening. Could have been better but still i will give it 2.5/5 as a viewer.

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  5. If you watch malayalam movies, Watch picket 43, released last week... A good watch

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  6. Hi Anna. I have been following your blog and twitter handle for the last 3 years now. I believe you are a fair critic and your reviews are balanced.
    Which is why I am surprised that you have totally written off a film like Baby. I do agree with you on the point that there are a lot of factual errors some of which even I have made a note of and two prominent ones are listed below:
    1) Elite forces like the one portrayed in Baby will never recruit men like Akshay Kumar and Rana Daggubati. Covert operations need to be carried out discreetly, inflicting maximum damage to the enemy while incurring minimum risk. In such circumstances you can never have people in your team who so easily stand out in a crowd.
    2) The beginning of the film where the character Jamal manages to run even after sustaining a vicious beating from Akshay Kumar.

    You must give credit to Neeraj Pandey for the fact that he has made a film on such a subject matter. In a day and age where institutions of democracy are being attacked by terrorism (not only in India but across the world), strong measures need to be taken to tackle them and force should be met with force. I hope that after watching this film, our government takes concrete steps to form such a unit and nip the menace in the bud. This is the only way we can prevent future 9/11s and 26/11s happening. He has done his level best to make it realistic by roping in a Pakistani actor to portray the Maulana. Also I read somewhere that Pandey hired real counter terrorist operatives to provide their inputs and use of real weapons (minus real ammunition) to lend credibility to the action sequences. There has to be some amount of dramatization/ exaggeration, else no one will enjoy watching an action thriller.

    “Too much in the film is unexplained. Why, for instance, does a reputed Saudi policeman do what he does in the end? Is it because the filmmaker fancied an Argo-like airport climax but couldn’t figure out how to pull it off with logic?” – Saudi Arabia, which is an influential country in the global oil politics, the Islamic world and tacitly supports terror groups, has zero tolerance for crime and terror activities on their home soil and an abysmally low crime rate. The fugitive head of a terrorist organization was hiding in their country and could have possibly brought unwanted problems. The fact that a small group of Indian special forces agents whisked away this man without creating too much trouble, must have relieved the police authorities of the efforts they would have had to take in dealing with a notorious Pakistani terrorist and the resultant bad publicity. And hence the Saudi policeman must have let them get away with it. This is my logic. You may beg to differ.


    You must give credit to Neeraj Pandey for the fact that he has made a film on such a subject matter. In a day and age where institutions of democracy are being attacked by terrorism (not only in India but across the world), strong measures need to be taken to tackle them and force should be met with force. I hope that after watching this film, our government takes concrete steps to form such a unit and nip the menace in the bud. This is the only way we can prevent future 9/11s and 26/11s happening. He has done his level best to make it realistic by roping in a Pakistani actor to portray the Maulana. Also I read somewhere that Pandey hired real counter terrorist operatives to provide their inputs and use of real weapons (minus real ammunition) to lend credibility to the action sequences. There has to be some amount of dramatization/ exaggeration, else no one will enjoy watching such an action thriller.

    Escapist fare? – Possibly. It will be some time before Indian action movies evolve and even reach the levels of Hollywood action flicks. But this is certainly a small step towards bigger things. Overall very gripping and fast paced. I would give it 3 out of 5.

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  7. This movie is a commendable effort by Neeraj Pandey to show the roots of terrorism. Not unlike Ek tha tiger and Agent Vinod where you get seduced by enemy agents.

    He kept the movie and action scenes professional. I would suggest that you take time and stop reviewing movies. This movie atleast deserves 3, for exposing the Saudi funded terror network.

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  8. My biggest gripe with this review is its point of view. This review is like a dietician walking into a restaurant and trying to be a food critic. The parameters are completely flawed for a film critic. While there's nothing wrong with you having your opinion, the point of view with which you critique is not one of a film critic. It is that of a socio/political journalist (idk what the actual term is but you get the point) and the two are distinctly different. By qualifying yourself as a critic, it comes across to me as a critic is a journalist who writes about films, which is completely different form a film critic.

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