“Agent Vinod” is the kind of meticulously crafted spy drama where cerebral considerations mesh into more earthy demands of commercial Hindi cinema, like item songs in smoky bars, shootouts in dust toasted-brown locations that are as treacherous as they are daunting and, wonder of wonders, a clumsily-choreographed Mujra which doesn’t quite fit into the smooth storytelling.
From its opening in a Taliban-infested area, there is no dearth of intrigue in “Agent Vinod”.
Raghavan spins a delicious yarn of guns and growls, but blessedly no gadgets. The action is crackling. The soundtrack is a chirpy mix of cheesy retro (RD and Asha Bhosle “Meri jaan tune kaha” from the film “The Train” pops up unannounced) and contemporary techno sounds.
Clearly Sriram and Saif adore the spy genre. We can see the fun they’ve had in doing this film. But beneath the boys-having-fun mood is an undertone of reverence for all the espionage films from our own “Agent Vinod” in 1977 to Hollywood’s Mission Impossible series.
Holding the restless plot in place is Saif’s clenched and controlled performance. He desists from playing the spy to the galleries. He is urbane cool, yes. But he doesn’t enjoy shooting the enemies for his country. Agent Vinod must be the only spy film from India where the Indian flag is not saluted or even mentioned in passing in hushed or shrill tones. This guy with a funny name would rather get along with the job.
Saif’s performance is unfussy, no-nonsense and largely humourless. The end-title when he attempts to do a funny song seem so out of character, you wonder why the spy is trying so hard to be comical when we like him Martini-dry .
Ambling from one exotic location to another with the Kareena Kapoor in tow, Saif is a portrait of restrained heroism. He gets much-needed support from a cast of actors who seem to have been chosen without a second option. Every player knows his job and does it without looking distracted or self-important.
For all its sharply-defined interludes of counter-intelligence manoeuvres, “Agent Vinod” tends to get long-winded, though miraculously the narrative never gets out of breath. On the contrary it takes our breath away towards the end when in a climactic end-game that is reminiscent of Mani Shankar’s “16 December”.
The globally-shot material is edited by Pooja Ladha Surti with more room for the narrative to sprawl and recline than necessary. Really, how much of the disconnected derring-do can we take before we throw our hands up in unresisting surrender?
The action sequences by Peter Heins and Parvez are sometimes heart-in-the-mouth. Other times they seem to have been put together on the editing table.
“Agent Vinod” is not quite the overwhelming experience that you would want a global espionage thriller to be. Saif imparts a dry devilish dispassion to his spy’s part, He doesn’t get time to tell Kareena how much he loves her.
That’s for the best. We already know that.
Photo Credit: Viral Bhayani