Saturday, March 31, 2012


Release date:
March 30, 2012
Vishal Mahadkar
Kunal Kemmu, Amrita Puri, Manish Chaudhary

Here’s another one of those don’t-hate-it-don’t-love-it-don’t-like-it-don’t-dislike-it-already-forgotten-it kind of movies. Frankly, I can’t figure out why the Bhatts bothered to make Blood Money. Just a few minutes into the film, I was pretty sure it was headed the way of the Tom Cruise-starrer The Firm based on the book by John Grisham. It’s possible that other parallels may wander into your head while you watch Blood Money. Either way, the point is that the film lacks novelty. An oft-visited plot could still have been worth watching if there was something unique about the treatment. Unfortunately, despite a start that suggests that there might be some entertainment to be had in this film, those early gains are frittered away in a crowd of cliches.

Blood Money is the story of a youngster living out The Great Indian Dream – videsh mein naukri, shaandaar bangla, etc etc. Mumbai struggler Kunal (played by Kunal Kemmu) lands a job in a diamond trading company in South Africa. When he arrives in that country, his new employers shower him with perks that far exceed his expectations, including a palatial house that at some point makes his worry wart of a wife Arzoo (Amrita Puri) think of the old children’s fable Hansel and Gretel. Is Kunal’s new boss the witch who has lured them into a delectable house made of sweetmeats, while planning to devour them himself?

So far so good. South Africa looks good. Kunal looks good. Amrita looks good. The house looks good. Her clothes look good. The jewellery he buys her looks good. The office looks good. But the narrative lacks depth, and even those twists in the tale are doled out in such a lacklustre fashion as to be no fun at all.

Little Kunal Kemmu (yup, new spelling) is that rare child actor who has grown into an adult with as personable a screen presence as he had when he was a little boy. His previous big-screen outings as a grown-up suggest that he has the acting chops to match those biceps. But his earnestness and youthful good looks deserve better than this tepid film. The one thing he can be grateful for though is a love-making scene in Blood Money in which his bare torso has been blessed with better lighting than many of his senior topless male counterparts have ever been given! C’mon Bollywood, now give him a better film!

Kunal’s boss is played by Manish Chaudhary who we’ve earlier seen in supporting roles in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year and several other films. He’s interesting on first viewing but now seems to be settling into a certain sameness in his performances. There’s an interesting actor in a very small role as Kunal’s colleague Sean Mathews – would be nice to see how he turns out playing a larger part in a better film. Amrita Puri was the heroine’s “behenji” protégé in Aisha in 2010. Her rasping voice was fine for that role but could have done with some modulation in this film. Still, there’s something to be said about the acting skills of a girl who could play a country bumpkin with alacrity on debut, and look just as convincing as the more Westernised Arzoo in her second film. She does not come across as a wannabe but actually fills out those glamorous dresses quite nicely in Blood Money!

What’s irritating about the film though is the trite manner in which the actress’ child-like countenance and minimal makeup are seemingly being used as a metaphor for the middle-class innocence of the lead couple’s background, to be contrasted with the situation that they’re currently mired in. In one melodramatic scene, her simple face is shown in close-up as she performs pooja with a pristine dupatta on her head while her husband sprints through the city after being stabbed viciously in the stomach. I may not make it, he gasps to her on the phone. You have to return to Mumbai with me, she replies, before wailing out a line that seems completely alien to her personality as it’s been presented to us so far, Main yahaan se vidhwa hoke nahin jaana chahti (I don’t want to return home a widow).” 

The memory of that dialogue reminds me of another scene in the film in which Kunal mocks his bête noir for laying a trap that is so “out of a 1980s Hindi film”. It’s a rather nice, self-mocking moment that the writing team fails to take forward. And unfortunately it ends up as an apt description for Blood Money as a whole: so out of a 1980s/90s Hindi film dressed in 1990s-to-2010s style with pretty people in pretty clothes in pretty foreign settings as compensation for the lack of a solid, well-fleshed-out story!

At one point, when the hero is at a crossroads in his life, his voiceover tells us: “Log zyaadatar imaandar hote hai kyunki unhe bura banne ka mauka nahin milta (most people remain honest because they don’t get an opportunity to turn bad).” But again, the writing team fails to take that introspective tone forward. This film could have been something I guess, but the production house does not seem to have cared enough to push the team to try. As I said at the start: don’t hate it, don’t love it, don’t like it, don’t dislike it, already forgotten it! Wondering why they made it!

Rating (out of five): *1/2

CBFC Rating:            U/A
Language:                  Hindi

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Saturday, March 24, 2012


Release date:
March 23, 2012
Sriram Raghavan
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: