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Is Saif Ali Khan India's answer to 007?

Much talk has centred round the pairing of Saif Ali Khan and his lady love Kareena Kapoor in “Agent Vinod”. However, the combination that really makes this film an exciting prospect is another one: of Khan and director Sriram Raghavan.

If you remember, the two first teamed up in “Ek Haseena Thi” (2004), a film which explored Khan's dark side as an actor at a time when others saw him largely as eye-candy. Even better, Raghavan extracted an edgy performance from the actor. (The film and the performance remain one of Khan's favourites.) Later, other films like “Omkara” (2006) and “Kurbaan” (2009) delved further into Khan's dark side, one that has now acquired a greater sophistication and polish.

Meanwhile Raghavan went on to make the terrific “Johnny Gaddaar” (2007), a film as intriguing and offbeat as its title. What will Raghavan now do with the phenomenally improved Khan and the beautiful, instinctive Kareena Kapoor?

The film's website describes the lead character as the “kind of agent who first kicks the door open and then finds out what's behind it.” An inexplicable strategy for a secret agent but, then, we're talking the movies.

The storyline deals with a nuclear suitcase bomb, the KGB, much plotting and shooting. One of those bumped off is an Indian agent found with an incomplete message, which contains just the number 242. The story goes all over the globe; the film crew went to Afghanistan, Morocco and Latvia, among other locations.

Now, the problem with slick spy thrillers is the inevitably unhappy comparison to Hollywood, which has been at this game far longer and does it bigger and better. But both Raghavan and Khan have been emphatic that “Agent Vinod” is not a James Bond wannabe but an Indian spy who will appeal to desi sensibilities and tastes.

Another potential minus point is that this film has taken forever to be completed — not always a good sign, especially when the lead actor is also one of the producers of the film. Still, it could be worth the price of a ticket to find out if Sriram Raghavan has been able to hold on to his directorial vision. If nothing else, this will not be your standard cookie-cutter Hindi film.

SHASHI BALIGA

AGENT VINOD

Cast:Saif Ali Khan,

Kareena Kapoor;

Director:Sriram Raghavan

Releases:March 23, 2012

Bottomline:an Indian spy who will appeal to desi sensibilities and tastes.

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