Direction: Neeraj Pandey
Actors: Akshay Kumar, Danny Denzongpa, Anupam Kher, Rana Daggubati, Taapsee Pannu
This Review has a backstory. A few months ago, I got a press release from the makers of Baby, describing Akshay Kumar and Neeraj Pandey as 'the hit jodi of Scorsese-DiCaprio of India'. To which I responded on Twitter with my favourite line from Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana: Bakwaas na kar Titoo.
The tweet attracted way too much attention and seriously riled Akshay fans, who trolled me for days. So I’m happy to report that while doing two films doesn’t qualify Akshay and Neeraj for the hit jodi tag, Neeraj is definitely the Scorsese in Akshay’s life. He gets the best out of the star. Baby will make you forget Akshay’s many cinematic misdemeanors.
If movies were people and Zero Dark Thirty and Argo somehow had a Bollywood love child, it would be Baby. Those edge-of-the-seat true-life political thrillers seem to be major inspirations for this fictional saga about an experimental, elite covert ops team named Baby. Why Baby? Because the team will exist only for five years and then either be terminated or made official. It’s a sexy idea.
Writer-director Neeraj creates a film that plays to our patriotic sentiments and allows us to indulge in some action-packed, superpower fantasies. Like America and Osama Bin Laden, we too have the men and the will to pluck out wanted criminals from foreign lands. There is a sweet satisfaction in watching this unfold, even though the drama is predictable and by the end, wildly implausible. Neeraj has a great fondness and talent for setting up tense situations around men in uniform. In both A Wednesday! and Special 26, he created crackling suspense. To my mind, though, this is the least convincing of his three films. The narrative is filled with far-fetched moments and logical loopholes.
At one point, a dreaded terrorist escapes after a full-blown shootout on Marine Drive. There is a major accident but it attracts hardly any attention. In fact, there are barely any cars on the street. That, as any traffic-harrowed Mumbaiite can tell you, is pure fantasy. Neeraj also can’t resist moments of posturing to build up his superstar hero — a mercifully restrained Akshay plays Ajay Singh Rajput, the key Baby operative. So we have the requisite slow-motion striding and leaping and, of course, he takes off his shirt. Akshay gives Ajay a credible potency, but I wondered if, in films like this, our superstars become hobbled by their superman image. After all, I know that no matter what happens, Ajay’s not going to die, and that lessens my emotional investment. It doesn’t help that he’s also the only Baby operative who gets family moments — including an annoying wife who calls at inopportune moments so that Ajay can mumble into the phone, “Main conference main hoon.”
It is a testament to Neeraj’s skill that despite these flaws, he’s created a film that has drama and moments in which you clap and cheer. I especially enjoyed watching Taapsee Pannu, who plays a female agent, kicking serious butt. There are glimmers of genuine insight — early in the film, the head of Baby (a suitably grim Danny Denzongpa) says that the fact that terror groups now have Indian recruits reveals a failure of the state. But Neeraj chooses not to pursue that thorny narrative thread. Instead, we stay with the far more palatable and heroic tale of a few good men and one woman ready to sacrifice their lives for their country.
Which translates into solid entertainment. I suspect there’s a sequel in here.