The evolution of James Bond is perhaps the best indicator of the notion film makers have of spies in general- from the suave and charming Connery/Moore days, to today's intense and gritty Craig, they are today's supermen, they are the only thing standing between order and anarchy and hence, they have to have it all. Agent Vinod, played by lead actor and producer Saif Ali Khan is one such superman, enemies of India, beware- killing is his second nature, his lives outnumber that of a few cats put together, he has a penchant for getting caught and then giving the slip, he globe trots with elan, and saves damsels in distress- all this he does while looking impeccably good all the time- shirt on or shirt-less.
To be fair, there isn't a coherent plot here. I feel Raghavan had a lot to tell and maybe envisaged a series first, and hence it resembles an episodic structure- each episode in a different country- starts with AV actioning a breakout form an Afghan jail, to getting on the trail that involves the death of his partner in Russia which leads him further into Morocco, Latvia, Pakistan, India and culminating in England. Jules Verne thought of it in 80 days, but AV seems to derive extra pleasure in doing this day in day out. AV is on the search of a suitcase nuclear bomb, and he blasts, chops and hacks his way towards it with single minded determination, only to face an enemy who matches him every step of the way with passion and resourcefulness. There is some amount of sleuthing, loads and loads of action, a couple of catchy songs, a little bit of humour, some melodrama and again more guns, more explosions, more glory.
I am a fan of Sriram Raghavan- who can forget his first feature, Ek Hasina Thi, where Saif portrayed a bad guy with chilling intensity, or his second movie- Johnny Gaddar, an ingenious heist thriller, where he made a star out of a non actor such as Neil Nitin Mukesh. Thrillers is his genre, and taut, smart and nail biting is his style- which is evident in bits and pieces in Agent Vinod. Raghavan injects so much energy into this movie, that it hurtles along across continents without giving a moment to sit back and think, which in fact is a good thing is as the plot is riddled with holes. And interspaced liberally is Raghavan's homage to movies of the past that he idolizes- Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Five Man Army, Don, Amar Akbar Anthony, and of course, Bond. Raghavan though reserves his brilliance for a memorable scene in the second half, a bit John Woo inspired slow motion sequence in a seedy hotel, with a blind girl singing a love ballad, as Saif protects a suitably tormented Kareena, in the process finishing off a group of baddies amidst much dodging and shooting.
As super-spy AV, Saif builds the character squarely around Daniel Craig's interpretation of James Bond, the movie itself has shades of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Saif looks the part- he is suitably chiselled, his hair is never out of place, his clothes never miss a stitch, and he makes the taxing physical sequences look as easy as a walk in the park. And as and when the role dictates, Saif does a good job in letting us take a peek into his vulnerabilities. But he also carries Craig's weaknesses- sometimes wooden, unlike the other senior Khans who know how to play their starpower- Salman and SRK, Saif takes the role too seriously, and only in the credits does he loosen his hair down. Kareena as ISI agent and Vinod's ladylove Iram, for a change does not play the stereotyped, bubbly character that she ALWAYS plays nowadays- but again she does not do something special here, so i feel anyone could have done her part. The masterstroke in AV though is not Vinod himself or Iram, but the slew of character artists that play small but memorable roles. Of special mention is Adil Hussain as AV's nemesis, Colonel, who can kill with a smile and remains one step ahead of our titular superspy. Dhritiman Chatterjee is having a blast- post Kahaani, he again lends grace and class to an important character, and Prem Chopra reminds you how badass he was in his prime. I loved the eclectic background score- zingy and apt, it deserves a release of its own sometime down the line.
Lately Bollywood has been churning out action thrillers-think Dhoom, Don, Players- Agent Vinod stands head and shoulders above them but suffers from a curious case of inconsistency- it has loads of style but lacks substance, the VFX overall is top-notch, yet some shots are dead giveaways, some dialogues are out of this world smart, yet some are downright cheesy, some sequences are heady, and some are plain bad, and the ending is needlessly overdrawn. But i found myself secretly smiling when i left the theatre- is it because i had low expectations, or maybe, just maybe, Agent Vinod did work for me- remember the gun, folks 6/10