Sriram RaghavanActors: Saif Ali Khan,
**1/2 stars (Out of 5)
There is enough to admire in Agent Vinod. Writer-director Sriram Raghavan’s globe-trotting tale of a RAW agent ticks off all the boxes for a thriller franchise: There are at least half a dozen exotic locations (we start in a place aptly named the Desert of Death in Afghanistan and touch down in various locales including Morocco, Moscow, Riga and Somalia), several femme fatales, elaborate action, an assortment of villains and a suitcase bomb that sets the events in motion.
At the centre of this whirlwind is the agent himself — stylish, sardonic and smart — a man without the baggage of Jason Bourne or the swagger of the pre-Daniel Craig James Bond. Agent Vinod, played nicely by Saif Ali Khan, is a home-grown hero. Cool and efficient, he maintains his dry wit even in difficult times — so when his partner the Pakistani operative Iram Parveen Bilal, played by Kareena Kapoor, is weeping as they drive through Karachi because she’s returned home after 15 years, he curtly says: Yaadon ki Baraat ko disturb karne ke liye sorry.
Raghavan is a masala movie buff, and one of the hidden pleasures of watching his films is playing Spot the Reference. Here, he doffs his hat to several Bollywood hits, including the original Agent Vinod (incredibly, gang members here also maintain scorpion tattoos, like in the Mahendra Sandhu film), the original Don, Baazigar, Amar Akbar Anthony and, for good measure, Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. He also has a sly sense of humour and a robust talent that comes through in some sequences like the treatment of the song Raabta, which is absolute genius.
But 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. 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.
Agent Vinod is also attempting to be too many things — a slick thriller to match Hollywood but also a cheeky homage to cheesy Bollywood movies. So the film has gloss and fast-paced action but the villains are a throwback to the 1980s — after all, how seriously can you take Gulshan Grover in a white suit or Prem Chopra with a ponytail or Shahbaz Khan with one glass eye?
The result is that Agent Vinod never becomes more than the sum of its parts and even though it picks up speed in the second half, it leaves you both exhausted and unsatisfied. But I enjoyed the character of Agent Vinod. If he does get a sequel, I hope he has a better narrative to romp in.