Agent Vinod (2012) has convinced me that much like an anomaly called the Indian road, the Hindi spy thriller isn't going to save the day. Indian cinema might be going global and all that but some genres that just don't work in their current debased state.
Bollywood's spy game started way back in 1967 with a surprise hit called Farz. A remake of a Telugu film, Feroz Khan refused the lead convinced that the film wouldn't strike a chord with the audience. Or maybe he didn't fancy the idea of a superspy, Agent 116, being called Gopal. Written by Arudra and directed by Ravikant Nagaich, Farz was blessed with some great songs like Mast baharon ka main ashiq and Happy birthday to you Sunita that helped it becoming a big hit. Farz not only made Jeetendra a start but was also the first big box-office success for the genre. It helped make the next few years extremely conducive for spy thrillers like Humsaya (1968), Aankhen (1968) and Yakeen (1969).
The spy had been around for over a decade since Samadhi (1950) where a British Agent spied on Indian National Army operatives but it was the arrival of James Bond along with the two wars the country fought in the 1960s that made them stand out. The implausibility of an Indian and Chinese resembling each other notwithstanding, Humsaya's plot pulled all the stops to make it a rewarding watch. The spy thrillers and the horror films of the 1960s might be thematically different from the regular films of that period but they, too, were blessed with good music that helped them become popular.
Looking at Agent Vinod one can't help but feel disappointed. Agent Vinod tries to be a good looking film where the master spy races across the former Soviet Union to outsmart some bad guys who have a nuclear bomb at their disposal but doesn't have anything beneath the surface. In the four decades since Farz nothing much seems to have changed for the Hindi film spy and that's a shame. What is about the genre that demands the hero to be nothing less than a good looking, smooth talking cool guy? Of course, Agent Vinod can't escape the burden of being the future custodian of the James Bond lineage but must he jump, shoot and dodge a million bullets in pants tighter than Jeetendra's in Farz? Right from the opening sequence where Vinod or whatever his name is, outsmarts the Taliban to the time he struts his way in and out of trouble across Russia, Morocco, Pakistan and many more exotic places there isn't a single scene where the RAW agent looks like he knows what the hell is happening. To me it seemed like Agent Vinod was trying to locate the nearest men's room for the entire 150 minutes of the film's screen time.
Cinematic spies run the risk of being flashy like Bond 303 (1985), Gunmaster G-9 in Suraksha (1979) and Wardat (1981) but there have been films like Sharmilee (1971) and Sharara (1981) where the spy was the girl the hero loved. Ironically the women have all had interesting roles to play in earlier spy thrillers like Humsaya, Aankhen and Yakeen as compared to Agent Vinod. Agent Vinod is an example of how the people who make films imagine their audience. They think that we think a spy needs to be good looking, fast talking, one-liner dropping dude who seems to spend more time trimming his beard than anything else. Spy for Hindi cinema is a character who can only be imagined in well-cut suits like Agent Vinod or like Sunny Ajay Chakraborty/ Arun Sharma /Major Batra/Wahid Deol in Hero- The Love Story of a Spy (2003). So, a Hollywood might be still seek its Alec Leamas in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965), or George Smiley in the BBC's TV Series or the 2011 film version of John le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or Jason Bourne in the Bourne Series to balance the extremely suave and highly unreal James Bond but we might not be as inspired to do the same. Not yet at least. Strange as Bollywood doesn't need to look far for inspiration; it just needs to pick up the newspaper and read about real RAW Agents like Surjeet Singh who spent 30 years in a Pakistani jail.
Gautam Chintamani is an award-winning writer/filmmaker with over a decade of experience across print and electronic mediums.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)
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