Release date (India):
January 23, 2015
Akshay Kumar, Mikaal Zulfiqar, Taapsee Pannu, Rana Daggubati, Madhurima Tuli, Kay Kay Menon, Danny Denzongpa, Sushant Singh, Anupam Kher
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):
Poster courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_(2015_film)