If you have started thinking that Bollywood has reached a level of superiority over other regional films with carefully crafted films like ‘Kahaani’, Agent Vinod can be a serious setback. The nation’s worst habit is it’s imitation of the West and it is clearly an understated point in Sriram’s rendition of James Bond meets Charlie Chaplin. Yes, you might be thinking what an absurd comparison? But trust me, the movie is even more absurd that what is being said or written.
When I walk into a film called Agent Vinod, what I want, more than anything else, is an adrenalin rush. The breathlessness that kicks in when you’re watching Ethan Hunt hang off the Burj Khalifa building in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol or the staggering hyper-realistic chase sequences in any of the Bourne movies or gritty action of the new Bond films. You have some expectations from it since you know: Sriram Raghavan has directed two very underrated and understated but intelligent thrillers - Ek Haseena Thi and Johnny Gaddar , that he has waited five years for Agent Vinod to materialize and it’s Saif Ali Khan’s home production and his most ambitious project.
Agent Vinod doesn’t deliver on that. This is a frantically busy movie. There are so many locations, characters and twists that you are guaranteed to get confused and yet, you also get restless because the movement doesn’t build a sense of urgency. The plot plods along, especially in the first half.
With an utterly complex plot, Sriram Raghavan, the director tries to do a Hitchcock but fails miserably. A director who gifted us with top notch films like ‘Ek Hasina Tha’ falls prey to the baptism overflowing out of the industry. The first half is over baked and too complex for an average movie-goer. Variation in the pace of a film is something that one welcomes, but faulty traipsing is one that murders a film. For Agent Vinod, this is exactly what happened. At times, the director seemed to be in a rush to finish off the film, leaving out on explanations in the plot that were necessary. On the contrary, the second half which should have been adrenaline pumping was a major dud!
It’s the same old story. Terrorists are on to something really big. The ace RAW agent Major Vinod (Saif Ali Khan) who has just survived his perilous and adventure filled outing in Afghanistan is assigned the task to unravel the mystery. He has some clues left behind by his RAW colleague Major Rajan (Ravi Kishan) who was killed while pursuing a terrorist group. Agent Vinod sets off on his mission and finally discovers that the terror groups are after a suitcase size portable nuclear bomb. He also meets a female ISI agent Dr. Ruby aka Dr Iram Parveen Bilal (Kareena Kapoor) at the place of Morocco based bald headed don David Kazaan (Prem Chopra).
Agent Vinod’s penchant to raid his enemy’s den and confront him, with apparently undefined operational objectives and plans, repeatedly leads to his capture, torture, and eventual escape after fast paced hand-to-hand combat, and gun-fights, shot dynamically in close ups. You don’t know who is hitting who till the fight ends with dead bodies strewn all around and our hero emerging victorious. This approach is anything but audience friendly.
A character called Colonel (Adil Hussain) proves a tough cookie. He is always one step ahead of our all-powerful death-defying hero. He nearly succeeds in his mission to blow up the NCR Delhi with the portable nuke bomb thanks largely to the stupidity of Agent Vinod who somehow let these dangerous guys slip out of his hands. By God’s grace the Indian capital is saved from the catastrophe with a little help from the ISI agent Parveen Bilal who is in love with Agent Vinod now. However, before Agent Vinod could fill sindoor in the parting of her hair to fulfil her long-cherished dream, this glorious messenger of RAW-ISI bhaichara achieves martyrdom after having saved India by uttering her final words - a code to diffuse the Nuke bomb.
There is nothing in this story you have not seen and heard before - from its background scores, to its dialogues, costumes, characterizations, locations, and shot divisions. It is a déjà vu film. That is what questions Sriram’s vision. He has meticulously culled together a screenplay of tributes to his forerunners. He is not even subtle this time. As a result the film comes across as a crude parody than a reverent eulogy.
This film has a paucity of an effective storyline that can engage the audience, all and sundry! The dialogues lack verve and what encompasses your nerve wreck is the absence of a thunderous performance. None of the protagonist, antagonists or the supporting cast delivers their best and what remains is an unduly and rough track where things just went haywire.
While this film will be forgotten for many reasons, it has a few remarkable sparks that will regrettably stay with the audience. One of them being how Ram Kapoor (playing an international arms dealer) can’t spot the mole amongst his personal security that comprises a Russian, another Russian and Ravi Kishan. Then there is an epic scene where Iram smashes out of the window of a towering building to point out the villain who is about to make a slippery exit by an aircraft awaiting him. All this, after she has been shot repeatedly, damaging her liver and a few other organs. But life is yet to be sucked out of her and she later even has a painfully long phone call with Vinod who is on the verge of transporting the live nuclear bomb outside Delhi on a chopper. Will Irum die before the people in the audience breathe their last? Will transporting the nuclear bomb outside Delhi save most earthlings that matter? . Why didn’t Vinod just kill Colonel when he had the chance? Why did Kareena not mention anything about a password when she had known it before? There are quite a few of them actually. These questions are best left unanswered.
The movie starts off well, but the build-up is too slow to keep the viewer hooked. Those quirky one liners (the one which I was waiting for) are too less. I expected more of them cause Saif is master at it. Lack of those light moments, makes the audience feel that the pace is lagging. I was literally checking time, why there is still no interval. No doubt there are few clever sequences but too less to talk about. And there are also, scenes that could have been really interesting if edited well, but the editing department seems a bit lazy in this movie. (I mean, come on, a 2 hours 40 minutes length for a Thriller??!!)
Saif certainly does suave better than any other Khan. Even when his back story threatens to paint him as a wuss, Saif Ali Khan tries to imitate Daniel Craig,and the movie ofcourse follows the pattern of a James Bond movie, and he succeeds to impress the audience to a certain extend. Kareena looks gorgeous as usual, and the Mujra song is worth mentioning where she looks a million bucks. It is a festival for her fans for sure.
The most gobsmacking brilliant portion of Agent Vinod is a roughly 3-minute shootout scene set in a seedy East European motel. Even as bullets fly in the lobby between RAW-agent Vinod (Saif Ali Khan) and deadly assassins hot on his trail, a love ballad drowns out the gunshots. The action is captured almost poetically, as Vinod and his accomplice run in and out of corridors and motel rooms, dodging the firing. Now imagine all this in a single tracking shot, reminding you of Quentin Tarantino movies like True Romance and Kill Bill.
The editing portion of the film by Pooja Ladha Surti is lousy. It is slick in parts and sloppy at times C.K.’s cinematography is much quite alrigt as it is inches away from falling flat. The world locales have been captured with style. The chic and international feel has been given to the movie. For this, brownies to the cinematographer. Stunts are the real life of this extravaganza. Lavish and mind boggling actions have been choreographed by Peter Heins and Parvez Khan.
Agent Vinod is part narcissist and more a stretched film that could’ve been far better if the writer-director-producer had not planned it as a ‘class-mass’ mish-mash. I was expecting much more from the guy who made the epic called Johnny Gaddar. But, ah, well.
Next time, maybe a spy-thriller on the lines of Mr and Mrs Smith (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) with Saif and Kareena will crack the box office code. They are too good looking a couple, on and off screen to waste!
YusuF Poonawala is an independent writer who authors The Y Factor , a blog where he reviews movies, English and Hindi.