Reviewers have panned ‘Agent Vinod' but the film has broken the stereotype of the Muslim terrorist.
To borrow from Shakespeare's Macbeth, one often misses the forest for the trees: Individual scenes can so overwhelm the senses that we lose the larger picture.
I am talking of Saif Ali Khan's much hyped “Agent Vinod.” Trashed by reviewers and written off as a colossal flop, the film has been banned in Pakistan. In my view, however, people have been so turned off by the violence in the film that they have missed its larger point. I regard the point as the raison d'être of “Agent Vinod.”
I see the film as a bold cinematic statement which categorically delinks Islam from terrorism, almost exemplifying the cliché “Terror has no colour, no religion.”
Violence and poverty
The film opens with a scene in a dusty, rugged and overcrowded camp, Dash-e-Margoh, in Afghanistan. Vinod is tied up and tortured by Colonel Huzaifa of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) watched over by a posse of shalwar clad, rifle bearing men. What is as hard hitting as the violence is the wretchedness and poverty of the people huddling in the camp.
Agent Vinod is the ace spy from the Indian intelligence who is in pursuit of an elusive terror source. On board the Trans-Siberian express, he jets across the world from Kandahar to Tangiers, from Latvia to St. Petersburg, going from the rolling greens of London to five-star hotels in Karachi.
All the while he is looking for the terror trigger, which rests in hands far beyond the reach of ordinary intelligence, hands which are both invisible and invincible.
Agent Vinod is pitted against the Pakistani agent, Iram Parveen Bilal, who has been unleashed by the ISI across continents to track down the same source of terror. The point the film makes is that we ordinary people are only permitted to see half truths. We are shown (by our rulers) terror cells and terror capsules which are carefully crafted facades for the real thing. We see smoking guns and dead bodies, and we are led to sleeper cells of the Jaish and Lashkar. Names like ‘Abu,' ‘Abdul,' ‘Al Nasr' are thrown at us so unceasingly that we cannot but join the dots to Islam. We see a terrorist in every Muslim and Islam becomes synonymous with terror. But as Agent Vinod and Iram Parveen Bilal eventually find out, the people they are chasing are the wretched of the earth, creatures of harsh terrains who are merely pawns carrying out the biddings of powers far beyond and far above them. India and Pakistan, personified by Vinod and Iram, have to understand, in the words of Kareena (Iram), “We are after all on the same side.”
Enter Sir Jagdishwar Metla, Indian origin British Lord, who glides on water, cuts ribbons, walks across golf greens, greets mothers and babies and obliges TV anchors. In his plush Oxford Street office is a photograph of him with a bunch of international buddies, global players and Sultans of the stock market. It is a black and white snapshot of the cartel that rules the world.
What we need to see
When Vinod confronts him, Sir Metla flicks him off like a speck of dirt. “What do you know of the complexities of the game?” he asks. “Whenever there is a blast anywhere in the world, do you know what happens at the stock market?” “But what about the lakhs who get killed?” asks Vinod. “What about them?” he asks, adding with a shrug, “But you will have to excuse me. I am the chief guest at the London Rotary.”
“You will be killed for this Sir,” Vinod replies softly. “But yours will be the death of a martyr; roads and buildings will be named after you, memorials will be built for you.”
The assassination takes place according to script. A scruffy member of the sleeper cell appears with a bouquet in front of Sir Metla and pulls the trigger. The real assassin is blown up; no one would ever know the truth behind the screaming news headlines.
For me, the film has opened a new window to vindicate Islam; the very word Islam means Peace.
The film attempts to erase the scars and rid Islam of the terror tag. It speaks an inconvenient truth. Unfortunately, this truth escapes most of the audience which sees the violence of the film as an assault.
The film is rightly dedicated to ‘Abba' Mansoor Ali Khan Tiger Pataudi. He would have been proud of his son. As viewers, we ought to look beyond the obvious to reach the core of a truth that is as uncomfortable as it is stark.
(The writer is Member, Planning Commission.)