Let me say this first. Don't listen to me. I'm a Sriram Raghavan fanboy. Though Agent Vinod isn't half the mind-game Johnny Gaddaar was, it's certainly not the disaster people are saying it is. Take a look at Vinod's competition.

James Bond: There are more bad Bond films than good ones and very few that actually got everything right. They were born out of a huge legacy of Ian Fleming's writings, mostly pulp fiction.

Jason Bourne: Probably the most consistent of spy thrillers, this had the advantage of being spawned from Robert Ludlum's bestseller from the Eighties. And big budgets to boot.

Ethan Hunt: Again, based on a TV series, this franchise fronted by Tom Cruise is yet to find its balance, even after four films. The first movie directed by Brian De Palma was criticised to be too inaccessible, the second too dumb, the third too real and the fourth shot at a budget that's almost 12 times that of Agent Vinod speaks for itself with its Indian segment featuring Anil Kapoor.

Harry Tasker: That Arnold Schwarzenegger movie — True Lies. Enough said.

Locally, Don: Who is technically not a spy, just a fugitive created out of Hindi cinemas staple of doppelgangers recently subverted the original film into a triumph of evil, and lost its moral footing by trying to be smart and went further away from its roots of the chase film construct by getting mixed up in heist-based action in the sequel.

And now we have Agent Vinod whose only origin story is that he is Bollywood's equivalent of Bond and Bourne rolled into one, but he can also shake a leg and let his hair down unlike the other heroes who take their roles so seriously these days (But if you remember Bond of yore, he was more like a spoof of himself).

So it is rather appalling to see people cry for Sriram's blood because the sheer nature of the genre lends itself towards guilty pleasure and not cinematic brilliance. The first thing we need to remember about the genre: Spy films are about the saving the world, not about rushing an injured pet to the hospital.

And Agent Vinod is a fairly good start to a franchise, even if extremely inconsistent and long.

1. The Hero: Saif Ali Khan is perfect for the part. James Bond probably knows to pick up a girl, but Vinod, he's so suave he can even pick up a guy! He's the quintessential Bollywood hero otherwise. He can sing, dance, charm the pants off anyone and dodge bullets. And he puts country first. Unlike Don, this is clearly a good guy with loads of style and mojo. Saif seems to relish delivering his lines in style.

2. Unpretentiously good old-fashioned cinema-as-escape: Sadly, film literacy in our country, especially a sense of pride of our cinema, is so low that not many appreciate the idea of celebrating our own. Can you imagine a Robert Rodriguez or a Quentin Tarantino film without any references? Where are our film nerds and movie geeks? More than Bond or Bourne, Agent Vinod is a lot like Robert Rodriguez's style of filmmaking — there are plenty of references, there's retro music and typography drenched in red (check out the opening credits), sentimentality, romance and machine gun action. Yet, it's all distinctly Bollywood with its musical narrative taking the story forward — the way it used to be in the Seventies.

3. Thrills: The explosive Afghanistan one is a blast of a start, the train sequence in Russia and the on-camera execution triggers off the plot, the colourful high energy Sri Lankan flashback-intercut-with-real-time-action sequence choreographed to Ilaiyaraja's ‘Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu' or the almost poetic gunfire choreography in Riga, Latvia set to the ‘Rabta' track from the album are evidence of the filmmaker's genius and love for the medium. The problem is only of excess. There's just too much world-touring and while the film packs in many moments of quirks, the pace considerably slows down because of the stopovers around the world and also the weak excuses to get from one place to another.

4. Smart Villains: Finally, we have a filmmaker who gives his villains equal amount of intelligence as the hero himself. Every time Vinod thinks he's smart, the villains prove him wrong. But again, the problem is of excess and overload of bad guys in the script.

5. The Score: Daniel George makes Agent Vinod feel like time travel to another era, pretty much like Johnny Gaddaar did. In fact, it's Pritam's songs that don't seem to sync with the overall nostalgia the film manufactures.

While the basics make sure that Agent Vinod is way better than run-of-the-mill Bollywood, our standards for Sriram Raghavan are sky high. This is a disappointment only because we expect a lot more from the guy who takes his time and dedicates himself completely to films. He surely deserves another chance to find the perfect balance for this promising spy film franchise.

Agent Vinod

Genre: Spy thriller

Director: Sriram Raghavan

Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Ram Kapoor, Prem Chopra, Ravi Kissen, Gulshan Grover, Adil Hussain

Storyline: A RAW agent must avenge his friend's death and solve the mystery behind the code 242

Bottomline: This world tour could leave you jet lagged but where all it takes you makes it worth the trip.


James Banda?March 17, 2012