Baby = Inglourious Basterds + Zero Dark Thirty + Argo

In an increasingly Islamophobic world, writer-director Neeraj Pandey ( A Wednesday and Special 26) deserves applause for striving for balance in a modern-day counter-terrorism espionage narrative where the villains kill in the name of Islam.

Consider this: A team of security agents, all Hindus — Ajay Singh Rajput (Akshay Kumar in one of the best roles of his career), Jai Singh Rathore (Rana Daggubati), Priya Suryavanshi (Taapsee Pannu) and Om Prakash Shukla (Anupam Kher) — is led by a Feroze Ali Khan (Danny Denzongpa). For a while, it does feel like a token representation, so what even if he’s leading the team?

The plot that meets at the crossroads of Inglourious Basterds, Zero Dark Thirty and Argo is largely fun, barely original and clearly inspired. It borrows elements of fun from the cathartic revisionist history approach from the first, the procedural elements and tense late-night drama from the second, and of course, the thrill of a tense getaway from the last one. While it seems too ambitious and lofty an idea on paper, Baby doesn’t end up too bad because it is never short on entertainment — action, laughs, punch lines and thrills — despite its running time and a hurriedly written third-draft vibe.

And there’s plenty of pop patriotism too, and the villain of the film, Maulana Mohammed Rahman, (Rasheed Naz) is based on India’s biggest enemy and Osama figure — Maulana Masood Azhar (who was responsible for the attacks of 26/11, earlier released by India during the Kandahar hostage crisis).

So, it becomes all the more important to depict Muslims — not just the token Indian Muslim — with responsibility and sensitivity when the world is beginning to fear Islam. And there’s more than one token good Indian Muslim here. While one good Muslim runs the whole show, another is brave enough to risk his life to volunteer information about terrorists and training camps.

The film is strangely banned in Pakistan, though there is no direction mention of its role. The Maulana is shown being based somewhere along the India-Pakistan border.

Where Baby truly shows its understanding of politics and balance is by setting the climax in the Islamic world and having one of its smartest officers who is close on the heels of Team Baby, show us where his loyalties lie at the end of the day. If he had to pick a side: terrorists or spies, whose side would he rather be on?

This is the kind of conflict many Hollywood espionage thrillers have failed to explore, choosing to paint everyone from the Islamic world in broad strokes.

Not that Baby is all political and complex. It isn’t. It’s your regular wafer-thin spy thriller narrative done Bollywood style but executed way better than any film made here in the genre (though that’s not saying much.)

While Akshay Kumar takes most of the load on his shoulders and legs (he hasn’t got over his obsessive compulsive disorder to jump over walls in every other scene/film), every member of the film’s ensemble cast — Kay Kay Menon, Sushant Singh, Taapsee Pannu, Anupam Kher — gets at least one exciting scene.

It’s also refreshing to see a Hindi film where the girl can take care of herself without needing the hero to come and save her. Baby could be the start of an exciting new spy franchise. Even if you’ve seen Argo, go.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2020 8:51:08 AM |

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