Sunday, April 1, 2012

Agent Vinod (2012)

I thoroughly enjoyed Agent Vinod, which is not at all to say that it is a good film. On the contrary, it's quite a trashy one, delightfully so; though that is not for lack of trying. There is a great film there, somewhere. There are some truly juicy ideas on paper. However, the end result is a hideously convoluted mess with unintentional humour as its primary redeeming feature. Broadly, the film's scenes fall into three categories: some would make a great prelude to a steamy porno, some are straight out of a 70s masala film (with little care for reinvention for a modern audience) and a few, fleeting moments are truly brilliant.

An arms dealer in Russia is murdered. He possessed a portable nuclear device that is stolen. It's detonator is about to be auctioned and several terrorists groups are in hot pursuit of both. A RAW agent with no name (Saif) is the only one that can stop them and to do so, embarks on a mission that takes him to Afghanistan, St. Petersburg, Morocco, Latvia, Somalia and anywhere else you can think of. On his journey, he meets the enigmatic Iram (Kareena Kapoor), who can't decide whether she's a criminal, a spy or a damsel in distress and plays all three parts as the script demands. The plot thickens and thickens and then thickens some more till the point where its just too thick to savour (or rationalise for that matter). At the same time, it is as transparent as boiled wax and the twists and turns are as predictable as they come.

Sriram Raghavan is one of the more promising voices of his generation. His previous film, Johnny Gaddar, was slick and cleverly plotted. It's impact was only marred by the sedate and lackluster performance of its leading man, Neil Nitin Mukesh. However, with Agent Vinod, he is absolutely all over the place. While the signature touch is there in individual scenes, he loses grip over the sprawling narrative surprisingly early on. He reveals all his cards in the initial reels leaving little by way of surprises or thrills. The film rambles on rather unnecessarily as if its sole purpose is to add as many fancy locations to its list as possible.

In terms of writing , if one were to start poking holes in the plot, it would sink faster than the Titanic. The word "preposterous" frequently leaps to mind. The film is overstuffed with characters, none of which leave a major impact. The villains are as cringe inducing as they are numerous. Not since Ram Lakhan have I so quickly lost count of the number of villains in a film. The most memorable of the lot is Ram Kapoor as a sleazy Russian drug lord and that's only because of how cringe-inducing his performance is. The central villain Colonel (Adil Hussain) is never fleshed out and is consequently, just dull. The editor deserves to be shot for butchering the action sequences with incessant, disorienting three second cuts.

There are some great moments though: the single take action scene in the seedy hotel in Latvia with Raabta playing in the background is a stroke of genius. The interaction between Agent Vinod and Freddie Khambatta is very well executed and the aunties in the auto are hilarious. There are plenty of cool cultural references from 70s masala movies to Charlie Chaplin. Alas, clever gimmickry alone does not a good film make, even if you add a sterling performance from Saif Ali Khan. He is the anchor of the film and gives a sincere, stylish and physical performance.

Ultimately however, the biggest problem of Agent Vinod is that it has no reason to exist, let alone exist for that long. It's like Harry Potter stuck in an endless maize filled with Basilisks, Blast Ended Skrewts, Boggarts and  other colourful beasts with no exit. It's amusing to look at for a while, but all rather pointless. If you go with a chatty bunch (as I did), you may just enjoy the film, but for all the wrong reasons.

Rating: 2/5

P.S.: Dear Mr. Raghavan, how could you, of all people, misquote the final line from Casablanca? Very disappointing.

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