Agent Vinod: Birth of India’s own James Bond?
This is my 2nd review of a movie—and the 1st of a Bollywod movie—after I did of Inception in 2010. As I am very selective, you can tell that the stakes were really high for Agent Vinod. The pre-release promos and two songs, “I’ll do the talking” and the theme song, had intrigued and convinced me well enough of the beginning of a new era, so I pre-booked my tickets (two weeks in advance) for the first day, first show!
About 35 years ago, the original Agent Vinod that came out with a mediocre actor in the lead role was apparently a hit. That movie was produced by the Barjatyas of Rajshri Productions who gave Maine Pyar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. Nawab Saif Ali Khan figured out the opportunity to revamp the character and gave Agent Vinod a complete makeover.
The movie starts out quite well with Agent Vinod (Saif Ali Khan) of India’s clandestine service, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), being held captive by the Pakistani army in Afghanistan. His aide, Major Rajan (Ravi Kishan), assumes a cover to rescue him. Enter Farah Feqquesh (Maryam Zakaria), an Afghan girl, who joins them in the action-packed rescue. Certain sequences like the one where Saif is hanging out of a jeep’s door and shooting are neat, but the action wasn’t great enough to throw people out of their seats and say, “Whoa!” The beginning credits with the theme song in the background and the lyrics of the Hindu prayer, “Govind bolo, gopal bolo,” is quite unique and lends a patriotic touch. Later, Major Rajan is caught and killed conducting espionage activities in Russia, but sends a code red message about a mysterious number, 242, to the Indian intelligence agency before dying. Agent Vinod is sent in to investigate who killed Major Rajan and what the number meant. The story then revolves around Vinod’s globetrotting discovery of 242 to Russia, Morocco, Latvia, Pakistan, New Delhi, and finally to London, unraveling what turns out to be part of a larger conspiracy.
The first 30 or so minutes are the only few intriguing moments in the film. The mid-section becomes so slow that I kept thinking, “Please don’t keep me waiting or guessing. Where is the STUFF you bragged so much about in the promos?” One can tell that Saif has worked very hard and fits very well in the role. Aged 41, he looks a lot younger than his British counterpart, Daniel Craig, at 44. But, the director and screenplay writers should have worked just as hard in crafting a personality for the Indian secret agent just the way Ian Fleming did for James Bond. As the central character, Agent Vinod should have dominated the screen with his personality traits, eccentricities, humor, charm, witty remarks, and sarcastic retorts. The movie makers should have thought smart, not hard and spent more money on intelligent plots and scenes than on travel and clothing.
Kareena Kapoor as Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) secret agent, Dr. Iram Parveen Bilal aka Dr. Ruby, is average. The character is unnecessarily sentimental and very indecisive for an agent. More importantly, there’s no chemistry between her character and Agent Vinod. B P Singh (of CID fame) as Director of RAW is okay. As head of the intelligence agency and mentor to Agent Vinod, I expected more from his character than just dumbfounded looks. Someone with the charisma of yesteryear’s K. N. Singh or Iftekhar Ahmed could have done a better job.
Prem Chopra is absolutely flawlessly as Kazan; a legend of an actor. Adil Hussain as Colonel is a brilliant find. He lends that viciousness and treachery to the character. His terrific performance cannot go unnoticed. Dhritiman Chatterjee is excellent as Sir Metla; his unique dialogue delivery will wake you up if the pace of the movie puts you to sleep. Of course, Shahbaaz Khan (of Chandrakanta fame) perfectly fits into the role of a corrupt Army General. Iranian beauty, Maryam Zakaria’s accent and personality caught my eye; she makes Kareena Kapoor look fat and out of shape in the mujra song!
One great thing this movie would do is create awareness and bring recognition to the Indian clandestine service. Lately, RAW has been deprecated for corruption, so this could be a beacon for them to work on their image. Pakistan has been shown in somewhat positive light by co-operating in covert operations with RAW. But, the movie has been banned in Pakistan for displaying corruption in the Pakistani army and links to terrorist groups.
- Finally, we have branded an Indian spy!
- Original and innovative story-telling
- Lot of panache; is suave and stylish
- Shot in exotic locales around the world (though 12 countries wasn’t necessary)
- Hollywood-class product
- Poor screenplay and direction
- Slow and dragged too long
- Agent Vinod’s personality and character are undeveloped
- With 4 ladies and marketed as a ladies man, Agent Vinod doesn’t flirt at all!
- Chevrolet Camaro for a secret agent? A BMW or an Audi wouldn’t have hurt
- No gadgetry
- Song warbling during a killing spree?
The Bottomline: Agent Vinod as a franchise for India’s very own secret agent is launched. Given Bollywood has all the material and capital resources at their disposal today, the producers/directors of Agent Vinod should have focused their attention on delivery, intelligence, skills, and substance.