A story traversing multiple locations can be fun, if it can avoid getting convoluted. But this film overstays its invite.
All spy thrillers find their inspiration in the James Bond series. Most recent Bond films have had less plot; more style. But they get away with it, because the brand is so established. But an Agent Vinod is a rookie in that respect and needs solid support.
The first half is a drag despite the rush in establishing characters and plot. A nuclear bomb is doing the rounds. If the terrorists succeed in their mission, millions will lose their lives to the blast, and it may spark off another World War. This leads to the dapper Agent Vinod (Saif) winding his way through a maze of secret codes, passwords and some (very well executed) action.
The central flaw of the film is its formation of the characters. Prem Chopra as the ornately dressed mega-don is about as menacing as your affable, slightly ditzy uncle. He is so easily deceived; he could put the goofy villains from children’s movies to shame. You have villains “in disguise” who sport a clan symbol openly. You have the comic-bookish criminal with one bad eye. If the attempt was going comic-bookish, it’s half-hearted.
Most significantly, we are left with no indelible impression of Agent Vinod. Co-writer and director Sriram Raghavan moulds Vinod’s character as being bereft of fancy gadgets and relying, instead, on his own cunning and instincts. He likes the women, but he’s not doing the chasing here. But then, there is nothing special about this character that connects with or engages the viewer. That’s a big blow to the film.
There are instances when this otherwise somber character displays a witty side that pops in unexpectedly. But this tendency does not appear seamlessly integrated as a part of his personality.
This, incidentally, is true of humour and references through the film. A Charlie Chaplin reference in the middle of a serious, possibly fatal chase could have made for delicious irony, but falls flat.
Same is the case with the insinuation of Raj Kapoor songs. This kind of a dichotomous texture does work when the soft, melodic and romantic song Raabta is used in an unexpected manner. It’s the highlight of the film!
Also impressive is the nightclub scene with a blind piano player.
Sriram Raghavan is a master who won the National Award with his FTII Diploma Film, and followed it up with the successful Ek Hasina Thi (2004) and the critically acclaimed Johnny Gaddar (2007).
Sadly, this film is unlike his assured and deliciously whimsical storytelling. There are random shots that appear in the film without context. Like the shot of a bikini-clad lady in a swimming pool. Or awkward scenes like people escaping a terrorist-occupied bus, with no reactions from bystanders. Also clumsy is the death-toll of 39 people, rounded off to 40 in subsequent conversations.
Saif Ali Khan’s honest and competent rendering of his character is commendable. Kareena Kapoor is without her trademark spark in the first half, but shows her mettle in the second.
Incidentally, Saif-Kareena have been paired for the second time in a film about terrorism; the first being Kurbaan in 2009. Their chemistry is effortless and the pair looks fabulous on screen.
The background score is superb for the most part, but disappoints in its use of region-specific tunes (like an Afghani tune), to establish local characters.
More pulp than pulpy, apart from the performances and a few riveting moments, Agent Vinod doesn’t have much to offer. This writer is only among the many that were keenly looking forward to the Saif-Kareena-Sriram combo. The makers are already planning a sequel; one hopes it tops this one!
Rating: Two and a half stars