“Agent Vinod”… From Rishikesh with love

Ah, the jape. The postmodernist itch to reduce cinema to a wink, a bubbling cauldron of bits, an acrostic for audiences, a cockeyed shrine to childhood memories. Bud Spencer. The Five Man Army. Manmohan Desai. Iftikhar. Dost dost na raha. Mahendra Sandhu. Ajit-ready lines of dialogue like, “Agar main bach gaya to tujhe fursat se maaroonga.” Charlie Chaplin. Yeh chand sa roshan chehra. Boney M. Prem Chopra. Raakkamma kaiya thattu (though I would have appreciated a nod to some other Ilayaraja hit, something from the Kamal Haasan-starring Vikram perhaps, acknowledging that quarter-century-old straighter-than-straight attempt to transplant 007 into the fertile grounds of the great Indian drama, with Tracy Bond taking a bullet to the forehead in place of a bindi). Sriram Raghavan has, no doubt, watched a great number of films and, on some level, I was thankful that a great number of these films, these formative influences, are unabashedly lowbrow. Imagine sitting through a Hindi movie that kept tipping its hat to Godard (though there is, at one fleeting instance, a look towards Ashes and Diamonds.)

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This borderline-trifling approach brings with it a few enormous problems. One, the audience has to be in on the joke, otherwise you’re making a movie for yourself and for the gut-thickened middle-aged men who accompanied you, in half pants, to the local theatres all those decades ago. More importantly, you need to be, like Quentin Tarantino, an amazingly gifted writer-director, so that the chuckles inside your head, as you hammer out the screenplay, translate to the screen in a fashion that doesn’t discredit the narrative, becomes an organic aspect of the narrative. It’s a tricky tightrope – all eyes on you and no nets below. When, at the beginning of Agent Vinod, we catch sight of swarthy faces in a dust-brown desert, when our ears latch on to the harmonica’s plaintive wheedle, we are coaxed into the playground of the pastiche. With this unrepentant worship at the altar of Sergio Leone (the film opens with a quote from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly), Raghavan announces himself as a prankster, his film as a prank.

And so, subsequently, we step without question into a world far removed from the spaghetti Western, a world of globe-trotting and secret-agent intrigue, where gold-foiled bars of chocolate are actually slabs of Grade-4 Semtex, a world with a pre-credits action sequence followed by a stylized song, after which we are swept past adoring secretaries and deposited beside brusque bosses who allude, without preliminaries, to the task at hand – the world, in other words, of James Bond. The tone is still silly, with a voiceover unraveling – to the unwashed masses, in Hindi reminiscent of Doordarshan newscasts that thrust us into a surreal universe whose denizens spoke like characters from our great epics – the film’s premise involving a suitcase bomb and all-annihilating radiation. At this point, we’ve settled into a movie that we don’t want to take too seriously, especially as the characters, in deadly earnestness, keep breaking into pidgin phrases like “Interpol ke aankhon mein dhool jhonkna.”

But that’s what Raghavan wants us to do. A little into Agent Vinod, we begin to get the feeling that we’re meant to actually care, that the director has switched gears from a Bond-type adventure where nothing is at stake but our enjoyment, even with threats of the world collapsing in a mushroom cloud, to a Bollywood-style action-drama, where everything is at stake, where Agent Vinod (Saif Ali Khan) has to stop terrorists from blowing up a sizeable chunk of the nation’s capital even as he offers redemption to a lost soul. How do you respond to a film where, one minute, the heroine (Kareena Kapoor) is seducing a foolish gangster to the tune of O meri jaan maine kaha (wink, nod, hat tip, RD Burman) , and the next instant we’re asked to sober up with the realization that but for a chance encounter a life could have come to an end? You can’t pull the audience out of the narrative for meta-exercises and then hope to pull them back in for serious storytelling.

Or maybe you can, and maybe Raghavan just cannot pull this off in the first half, where long scenes paced with the solemnity of deep drama drain the pulpy premise of all juice. The action, too, is perfunctory, as if the director just updated the action-film memories of his childhood with better gadgets, and without the poetry of motion that we find in the best stunt sequences today. But post interval, we get a snappy stretch involving a couple of joggers in a park, and from there, the film truly takes flight. What happens, I think, is that once Raghavan stops striving for sophistication, once he stops winking at us and fully embraces his story’s emotional possibilities, we begin to take the whole thing seriously. The villains, now, are no longer pop-cartoony figures like the great hairy bear that Ram Kapoor played (hilariously) early on, but a smart and utterly unflamboyant individual who could be stepping into a Mumbai train with a briefcase and a lunch box to reach his office by 9 a.m. The film steps down from its heightened perch and we finally get a glimpse of the pulp grandeur Raghavan was going for, the kind of lurid tension that writers like Robert Ludlum manufactured so well, with their plots about world-dominating secret organizations devastated by emotionally scarred men of action.

Like any well-intentioned Bollywood narrative, Agent Vinod finds its footing when the love angle locks into place, between Vinod and the woman introduced to us as Ruby (Kareena Kapoor, grabbing a good part and doing the kind of good work that girls in secret-agent movies don’t often get to do). The film’s finest stretch is an emotional sequence where the two leads trade information about their own war wounds – the scars, of course, are emotional – followed by a love song that’s staged (in what appears to be a single unbroken take) as an action sequence. This is not a couple destined for duets in distant dreamlands (despite the film’s incessant name-dropping of exotic locations): the prospect of death always lingers between them. For someone not really known for his interest in (and talent for) song picturizations, Raghavan really comes into his own here, channeling the silken segues of Vijay Anand (and possibly a song from Blackmail).

Even the mandatory item song that closes the film, over the end credits, stays true to character, the film’s character as well as the protagonist’s – it has a cheeky narrative that feels right for Agent Vinod. And the techno-mujra, harking back to numbers like Piya ki gali with two women-dancers partnering up, is an unadulterated treat. Why do filmmakers who work so well within the confines of Bollywood mandates feel pressured to set course for western horizons? Is it simply not enough, anymore, to tell a solid story in an emotionally engaging manner, without stopping, periodically and apologetically, to unburden a guilty conscience? “I’m sorry, young people of shining India. I’m actually a really cool filmmaker, and I make these really cool multiplex films. It’s just that I grew up with a Hindi cinema that was very different. I hope you don’t mind me indulging in a bit of that while I still give you what [I think] you really want.”

The trouble with this thought is that the audiences that patronize (in every sense of the word) the multiplexes aren’t really into film lore, leave alone references to an era of hand-painted posters and silver-jubilee runs. (Serve it up as spangly kitsch, everything on the surface, like in The Dirty Picture, and they’ll lap it up.) There’s a bigger then-and-now contrast in Saif Ali Khan, who began his career looking like his mother in pants (that wavy hair didn’t help) and has now completed a trajectory to the other end, where all the rosiness and cheer has been stripped away from his face.  Even as late as Kal Ho Naa Ho, he was the cream puff of screen actors – sweet, lightweight, utterly pleasant and non-nourishing – but now the features have hardened into stone. With that predatory beak and that deepening furrow between his brows, he’s completely convincing as a cold killer. No one who sniggered through Aashiq Awara could have foreseen this.

Copyright ©2012 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

30 thoughts on ““Agent Vinod”… From Rishikesh with love

  1. I wish I could say Raabta was worth the price of admission but then the rest of the film, barring a few moments, falls so flat that I came across quite disappointed. The tributes and references not withstanding. I mean, how organic were the tributes and references in Johnny Gaddar? Now that he has made this film with the budget his first two films guaranteed him, I wish he gets back to those simple and genuine efforts.

    It did appear like a single long take to me. Quite nicely done! Only thing, it wasn’t the Shreya Ghoshal version. Tcha such a bummer!

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  2. “I’m sorry, young people of shining India. I’m actually a really cool filmmaker, and I make these really cool multiplex films. It’s just that I grew up with a Hindi cinema that was very different. I hope you don’t mind me indulging in a bit of that while I still give you what [I think] you really want.”

    sigh.

    (thankfully most tamizh filmmakers don’t seem to suffer from this syndrome. so far.)

    Escape from Agent Vinod after the first 15 mins and you can delude yourself into imagining
    the rest of the delightful film you missed. :(

    trivia – that end credits song is inspired from a mini-masterpiece here:

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  3. Ragahavan’s tale is Inspired by innumerable spy thrillers from the west. But then who is his audience. The multiplex goes has already seen everything – a bigger and better version in fact. And the Hindi film loyal may still not find the tale completely entertaining. Then who was raghavan thinking about when making agent vinod. What’s a shame is that this was the guy who made such a captivating original thriller as johnny gaddar. ( at least I am not aware of johnny’s western inspiration if any). if onlyhe had tried to fuel some of the same originality here rather than making this nth globe trotting spy adventure.

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  4. BR: “No one who sniggered through Aashiq Awara could have foreseen this”. Hmm, forgotten Omkara. Wasn’t the hardness present there ? And that other Sriram Raghavan movie where he was with Urmila ? He’s the most exciting of the Khans IMHO.

    Vasisht Das: BTW, that video was directed by Spike Jonze – director of Being John Malkovich, Adaptation etc. , great pedigree eh. Its fantastic.

    Celluloid Diary: ” ( at least I am not aware of johnny’s western inspiration if any)” – James Hadley Chase ,, or is he Indian now :-)

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  5. Well, let’s not forget, Saif is also the guy who got a national award for Hum Tum!! :-) at least for me, I still find it really hard to get past his earlier efforts. Also, he made his start with Parampara…that over bloated multi starrer, though AA was probably his fIrst solo role. The issue I have is that I just cannot see Saif investing himself in a role…it seems very “on the surface” with not much depth. I just can’t take him seriously in any character, let alone a spoof film.

    Vikram…..ah! :-)

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  6. Agree on the Saif thing, on him being called an underrated actor is far from the truth, but this is any day better than mock serious attempts like Arakshan etc by the Nawab.

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  7. The monsters we create are a manifestation of our own deep dark secrets. These fabrications serve our vested interest. Without these monsters we will be exposed. It is time we looked at ourselves in the mirror and see who we really are. It is time to see the truth behind the headlines, to look at our heroes under a microscope, and to let go of our per-conceived notions. Agent Vinod makes an attempt to do all that. For a thinking person it will lift veils. But for others, there is enough there to entertain.

    These days Bond movies have become hostage to gadgets. Agent Vinod, as a movie, is closer to the spirit of the early Bond, than some of the recent Bond movies. Additionally it needs to be said that Agent Vinod (although a movie), is closer to the truth (on today’s problems) than a lot of cable news programs. It is smart, intelligent, and on the money. BUT what Agent Vinod projects will ruffle many feathers. The movie’s message goes against the narrative that “powers to be”, propagate. I liked Agent Vinod because it dares to speak the truth. It is grand in scale and overall is better than any such movie from Bollywood.

    By no means is Agent Vinod consistently brilliant. Nonetheless, even the not so excellent parts are better than most Bollywood films. The scene where Saif bonds with Kareena, tells her how his life changed, is as good as it gets. Likewise the scene where he pays his final respect to Bebo. I don’t think there is a star actor in Bollywood/Hollywood who could have done these scenes better. On the other hand the scene there are moments that could have been done better.

    I ENJOYED Agent Vinod. This is Saif’s best. Kareena also is good.

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  8. Vashisht Das: Hahaha! thanks for that video, and who knew Christopher Walken could dance like that!

    lowlylaureate: I’m not calling him underrated at all. In fact, he may be overrated, like Shankar says. (I wasn’t a fan of what he did in Aarakshan, though I did think he looked very young there.) ) But I do find that his physical features have changed to such an extent that we accept him so effortlessly in such roles now.

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  9. “In fact, he may be overrated,”

    Be that as it may, B, I’ll echo similar sentiments expressed here that Saif is, IMHO, the most interesting of the Khans (and yes, I AM including Mr. Mangal Pandey in this comparison)

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  10. As Saif finally defuses the bomb, the counter settles at 00:07 another wink from Raghavan towards Double-O-Seven

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  11. The Raabta sequence was indeed done in one tracking shot (I watched carefully in the second viewing). I thought the plot was serviceable; not cerebral by any means but with the references and Raghavan’s quirks the movies was very amusing and entertaining. This is what I felt about the movie – http://hotgas.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/agent-vinod-sriram-raghavan/ I don’t usually write about what the critics thought but don’t you think the critics really came down hard on this one? I mean these are the same ones who liked Singham etc Was it a case of high expectations? Were the critics oblivious to the limitations that the spy movie genre in itself poses? I want to know how a critic thinks in these circumstances, usually. PS: And this one here is also quite interesting. How Raghavan and Saif researched for the movie. http://virsanghvi.com/vir-world-ArticleDetail.aspx?ID=768#.T2y1ODpUsxo.twitter

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  12. @Baradwaj ” The adventure series is my personal favorite. I spent many a fun hour reading about “tongue” sandwiches, secret castles, talking parrots, caves behind waterfalls and what not. My first librarian was the spitting image of A.K.Hangal minus the goodness. Many was the time I had to pay a 50 paise extra because I had taken a little too much time ogling at bikini clad Betty and Veronica to return the comics on time. Heck, when I left the city, he only allowed me to take one mothballed, plastic covered digest for free. The miser !

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  13. It gets better.

    Sriram raghavan lets down the film by not writing a good enough script. He’s like the Brahmin princess chick who has learnt to cook a couple of desserts and a couple of thairvadai type dishes but doesn’t quite know how to make a rasam sambar meal, which she outsources to her servant maid. the resultant meal is not quite a consistent iyer feast because there’s garlic in the rasam…or something…..

    For a “High concept ” film maker, doesn’t the raghavan dude understand much about the use of high concepts in films? (you gotta brain your audience with the biggest concept you got within the first ten minutes, or you have lost them)

    the film is not a patch on Johhny Gaddar, though. Sophomore slump.

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  14. Am i the only one who found similarities with Main hoon na ? specially with regards to filmi references ??? And dont know why but i hated Main hoon na but liked Agent vinod !!!

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  15. Great piece – with this one statement – “I’m sorry, young people of shining India. I’m actually a really cool filmmaker… I hope you don’t mind me indulging in a bit of that while I still give you what [I think] you really want.” – you’ve deconstructed what’s wrong with so many of current Bollywood films!

    I haven’t seen the film but will; am curious to see the before-after split between the film locating its desi soul in ishq when it apparently transitions from Beyond Cool to Altogether Desi :)

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  16. Good review. And I am glad they’re making a sequel. The first time I watched this movie I was terribly disappointed. I expected a lot more from Raghavan and I felt the film strived too hard and fell flat on it’s face. For some unknown reason I went ahead and booked tickets a couple of days later to watch it again. And this time the movie made a lot more sense to me. And some of the things that annoyed me the 1st time around(BGM,the performances,the ‘love story) were the ones that I loved the second time around. The second time round I could look beyond the references(the nod to Ifthikar was Genius) and I truly enjoyed the movie though the climax was a bit of a let-down. *SPOILER* Maybe Raghavan had written it differently and Saif persuaded to change it once Kareena was on board to give her a heroic send off,I do not know but the whole idea of a dying person shouting out the password was a bit too silly for my liking.

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  17. I wish I enjoyed the film as much as you did, but for me like Gradwolf, it was a disappointment.

    Pradyumma: I would have even lived with the idea of dying person shouting out the password, the point where it became silly for me was when he asked for the spelling and she spells it out to him “E…L…”

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  18. Srikanth Mantravadi: I think, yes, high expectations may have had something to do with it. But also, these “homage/spoof” movies aren’t easy to pull off, and not everyone’s going to be happy with the result. For instance, I love “Casino Royale.” Yes, it’s not as screamingly funny as it should be, but the parts that work are hugely funny to me, and I can forgive a lot otherwise going on. Someone else may not be as patient,

    Bala: Is that really your email ID? I mean, the one you use in public? :-)

    rameshram: What about “Ek Hasina Thi”?

    Pradyumna M/Padawan: That whole password thing isn’t to be taken too seriously, I felt. It’s in the spirit of those deadly earnest thrillers like “Aankhen” and so on, a bit of camp thrown in. The problem with this film is that a modern audience is simply not interested in that kind of homage-making. Films like “Meet the Spartans” and “Scary Movie” didn’t stray too far from contemporary films. Something like “Thamizh Padam” works because it invokes tropes that are old but that are still in use. So there’s no generation-loss there for the most part, as masala movies are still being made. Here, we’re talking about a kind of film that’s been very rarely done in Hindi cinema, and…

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  19. Ak hangal, bikini clad Betty and you notice my fake email I’d ? Sheesh. The damn thing wanted me to login with my wordpress account which I didn’t want hence the big you know what :p

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  20. Rangan Sir, I am a huge fan of your writings and in my sincere opinion you alongwith Satyam (of SatyamShot) are the 2 most erudite critics of cinema in India.

    And Sir, this piece of urs is easily the best I have come across on the film which I absolutely loved.

    I had myself written a random piece on AV on Satyamshot- pasting it here.

    “My Royale With Cheese”- http://satyamshot.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/my-royale-with-cheese-saurabh-on-agent-vinod/

    Vincent: All right. Well, you can walk into a movie theater in Amsterdam and buy a beer. And I don’t mean just like in no paper cup; I’m talking about a glass of beer. And in Paris, you can buy a beer at McDonald’s. And you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?

    Jules: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?

    Vincent: Nah, man, they got the metric system. They wouldn’t know what the f#$k a Quarter Pounder is.

    Jules: What do they call it?

    Vincent: They call it a “Royale with Cheese.”

    (the above dialogue is from Tarantino’s immortal film “Pulp Fiction”- a film which gave to the American pop-culture as much as it borrowed from it)

    At a crucial juncture in this film, the narrative came to a sudden standstill for me- the scene shows an important character, at once, finding herself in the proverbial Hitchcockian motif of ‘the innocent man caught up in a an impossible situation’; the character is stranded, unable to fend off questions asked by our ‘agent’, with his/her only source of proving his/her innocence, seemingly lost. This tense situation in the film, is created by surreptitiously referening to Bachchan’s ‘Don’, wherein another character, who is a Pakistani Army General named ‘Ifthekae’ (the actor Ifthekar played DCP D’Silva in 1978 Don who also created a similar situation there too), is bumped-off….. This scene suddenly opened a pandora’s box of questions regarding the film itself and made me think about this- (1) This particular film, a rare Indian spy thriller which gives homage to a lot of old hindi as well as Hollywood movies, is itself interestingly caught in the above-mentioned “Hitchcockian web”- the film comes at a time when movie audiences in India lie at a precarious position: they are exposed a lot to so-called superior Hollywood actioners but they still love to watch their native candy-floss cinema, being ‘neither here-nor there’. So, the members of this audience will clap and cheer at most of the sequences in this film but at the end, will come up with their ‘high-brow’ opinion that ‘the makers were trying to copy a hollywood film and they have failed miserably’ (incidentally something similar happened with me when a person sitting beside me, who was enjoying and wolf-whistling the film throughout its duration, at its completion, suddenly declared as if he has achieved nirvana, “dekho saif chalaa tha james bond banane, bakwaas film hai”). The point I am trying to make is that had this smart film arrived in the 90’s or at turn of the millennium,it would have found favour with majority of the Indian audiences as well as critics, as their minds would have remained unbiased, courtesy the less exposure to English films. (2) Similarly I believe that Amitabh’s Don (which is referenced here), though still a huge hit when released, would have been an even bigger deal commercially and critically, had it released during the 90’s when extremely mediocre stuff was being served in the name of ‘masala’. It was a product ahead of its time and so did not realize its full potential………..I brought this entire discussion to prove that a major reason for AV’s undoing would be the fact that it is situated at a very uneven cusp of timeline in Indian cinematic history

    Now how much one enjoys this film depends on what one is looking for. Agent Vinod is not a ‘mystery thriller’, i.e. no major revelations (save one at the climax) and surprising plot-twists take place. It is essentially, a fairly straight forward ‘suspense thriller’. Much of the film is derived from foreign ‘pulp-fiction’ novels featuring ‘hard-boiled detectives’. I felt that apart from the 70’s bollywood thrillers, it also gets a part of its calculative tone from the works of eminent British writer, John le Carre (Tinker,tailor,soldier,spy). There is not much of Bond or Bourne here (except for certain references here and there, and the use of rapidly changing locations). But at his heart, our agent is completely ‘des’i- he not only has a slightly accented ‘angrezi’ but is also pitch-perfect with his Hindi dialogues-this makes you root for him in spite of not always connecting with his character.

    A.V also has an unmistakable comic-book feel and approach towards scenes and events it encapsulates. An ominous scene in Moscow is an example of it- A tall female assassin is standing with a gun in an ‘exterior shot’, where an ‘artificial yet picturesque montage’ of ‘snowfall’ is created around her-the snowfall is intentionally made to look unreal-because it has to give the effect of how Siberian region would have been seen through a man’s eyes who has never gone to Russia and whose views about the country are based only on his comic book of 70’s i.e. the perception of Russia during old times which was limited to KGB, Siberia, Nuclear bomb and tall svelte ladies. We ask, why snowfall? Because, ‘snowfall’ is an iconic image of Russia. And in this image itself Raghavan (the director) deftly shows that he is acting here as the ‘instrument of his received influences from world-cinema and art’. Here he doffs his hat to Tarantino’s Kill Bill, where in Japan, The Bride battles with O-Ren inside a garden, with snow falling down.

    Vinod is a ‘man who lives in the moment’. Throughout the movie he never has a pre-planned strategy but always uses his quick-wit and knowledge of the surroundings to come out of trouble. And so, perhaps in a case of poetic justice served, the film revels most in its spectacular, never- seen -before action set- pieces. One occurs in Morocco where Vinod engages in a neatly choreographed hand-to-hand combat with a goon- the specialty lies in the way this scene is filmed- as soon as Vinod sees the goon, both of them realize that they have fought each other before, so the sequence breaks out into 2 scenes with the help of ‘flashback’: the Morocco combat scene plays out in real-time which is simultaneously intermingled with an earlier fight scene set in Sri Lanka, both the scenes keep cutting back-and –forth and are united by the flashback device. The best part here is that when the Morocco sequence is shown, the background plays ‘pop music’ and when the scene is cut to Sri Lanka, a ‘Tamil tune’ breaks out. Also, carefully the director maintains that the fighting styles of both characters remain constant during both the scenes. The action here is rugged and metal-pounding-to- steel kind. Also the flashback sequence tells something about Vinod, that as soon as he knows that he has seen this goon before, he also remembers the tactic of defeating him, so he uses the same combat style to pulverize him and not surprisingly, the villain getting pounded in both sequences ….. The second set-piece is set in a ‘seedy motel’ where our Agent, along with Iram (kareena) ,engages in a 5 minute shootout, shot in slow-mo in a ‘single tracking sequence’ with a soulful ditty being played in the background. Raghavan’s usage of various rooms of the motel stands out with people continuously moving in and out, which adds to the surprise and gives the action an extra edge. As to the logic of musical score in an action sequence- well, it makes the shootout not just a typical slam-bang feature but an ‘exercise in meditation’, it is where the ‘action’ transcends its boundaries and becomes ‘poetry in motion.’ Because as our spy ‘seems to think only while he acts’, one perhaps needed the slow-motion to get a feel of what he is thinking.

    Now comes the most interesting and problematic part of the film- and both are due to the central MacGuffin around which this tale is woven. The MacGuffin itself is very innovatively conceptualized and when simply spoken as a MacGuffin, it is doozy. Here the Macguffin is made up of two parts (or rather there are 2 macguffins, which causes most of the problem)-the central one is an oddly designed nuclear bomb (design again has its root in pop-art).the 2nd one is more interesting, it is an Arab Rubaiyat( a book having a collection of sublime romantic poems by Omar Khayyam). This Rubaiyat is actually a detonator of the bomb… This again brings us to an interesting concept-the nuclear bomb and the Rubaiyat- two “defining articles’ of 2 different eras, 2 iconic parts of 2 different civilizations. Both have them have left indelible impression in their own historical timelines and popular-cultures. Sadly one creates love and the other war. Then what is the point behind the amalgamation of two? It is to tell us an oft-overlooked fact- that there was an Arab where romance reigned and now here is an Arab which is produces death in the form of terrorism. To again bring back the era of Khayyam, we require a man who is a synonym of bravery, a man who can bridge nations and their differences, a death-defying spy who wears his heart (and attitude) on his sleeve but is too well-dressed to show it.
    Now comes the major problem. Raghavan, who excels in set pieces, fails somewhat in bringing them all together in a cohesive enough manner. The movie never equals the some of its gob-smacking parts. It is as if Raghvan, Saif and the team had set out to win a titanic war which involved winning over different genres like Hollywood noir, comic-book influences, contemporary nation politics, terrorism element and throwback to bollywood- but here the MacGuffin which is supposed to be the mountain around which these Titanic genres are chained, is not grounded strongly in its material. Part of the problem is that there two MacGuffins. The sequence involving the Rubaiyat hooks you completely but the nuclear bomb storyline is a bit of a let-down. ‘There was just too much at stake in this game, by just finding out what 242(part of the macguffin) is one couldn’t clinch this one.’ Sadly our Vinod did not realize it.

    The film has a constant tone of underlying humour which is not necessarily ‘black’ all the time. Most of it is attained via Saif’s laconic dialogue delivery-sample this- A police agent, in Latvia, comes to Vinod and Iram telling them they are required to answer certain questions about a certain fellow’s death. Vinod, flatly and impeccably replies-“Moscow aur Morocco ki police bhi hamse poochh-taachh karna chahti hai, aap kataar mein hain” (meaning thereby that police of 2 other countries also want to enquire them, so u will have to stand in the queue). The dialogues are very effective but are slightly below expectation when compared to Raghavan’s Johnny Gaddaar( a superior but less riskier film) which had gems like “It’s not about the age, it’s about the mileage.” There is also situational comedy and black-humour at its best. A shoot-out in a public place is accompanied by a Charile Chaplin film being shown in that place. After our hero and his partner survive the shootout, a hilarious dialogue appears on screen as if to declare the success of teir escape, this is filmed in a long-shot telling us 3 things we often forget- 1)Tragedy, when viewed by a long-shot, becomes a comedy. 2) A comedy is always someone else’s tragedy. 3) A comedy, in theatrical and cinematic terms, is nothing but a ‘sequence/story which ends happily’. Raghavan teaches us so many through a splendid use of an immortal character-Chaplin

    This film, in many ways is a ‘romantic’ film. It tells me to have a romancewith the hero and its style, so that I love him unconditionally without questioning him or the director about the reasons behind a lot of our hero’s actions. If it would not have been for romance, why, during a staged auction in the film, would there be a fleeting mention of the greatest romantic film ‘Casablanca’ and its lead Humphry Bogart. In many ways this film is also similar to Spielberg’s Indiana Jones- because A.V. just like Indie, is more an ‘adventure film’ than an action film, because both films hurtle at a break-neck pace forcing us to invest our faith in their central leads. And more importantly because both films are not ‘entertainment’ but ‘pure fun’ (entertainment is when our cinematic fun is corrupted by things like sleaze and sex,’ fun’ for me will always be unadulterated and pure).

    Slowly, bit-by-bit, joy and fun is being sucked out of today’s films. Last year’s ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ and this year’s ‘Agent Vinod’ restored a bit of them because they both had a ‘hero’ in them, one who does not leave his humour behind while saving the world. Agent Vinod , is far from a flawless but then so are most of the films. What matters is that it is ambitious (just like spielberg’s sagas). On this ambition of this film, I will quote Ghalib and end my note-

    “bahut nikle mere armaan par phir bhi kam nikle”

    .

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