Agent Vinod DNAIndia Movie Review by Aniruddha Guha

Director: Sriram Raghavan
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Adil Hussain
Rating: **

Sharaabi hai, laundibaaz hai. Ek gandi aadat aur hai. Imaandaar hai.” These lines played out in one of the Agent Vinod promos, with shots of Saif Ali Khan beating up goons, serenading women, the works. It’s a different story when you watch the film. Our man rarely ever reaches for the bottle, and is never in bed with a lady. Not a hint of badass-ness, no wile. Heck, even the line’s not about him. Such a Hindi fillum hero he is. Noble and boring.

Agent Vinod is Sriram Raghavan’s ode to the spy genre, his continued love affair with ‘70’s Hindi cinema, and a genuine attempt at entertaining in a sensible manner. But it just doesn’t work. It’s not campy enough to be fun, not intelligent enough to be taken seriously, and not entertaining enough to override the first two points. It has flashes of brilliance, yes. Raghavan had the right idea, it seems, and a great choice for the lead role in Saif Ali Khan. But somewhere, there seemes to have been a slip between the script and the film.

Agent Vinod plays out like a contemporary Bond movie – the action kickstarts in Afghanistan where AV (Saif) is held captive, and then traverses 9 to 10 countries, Russia, Morrocco, Latvia, Pakistan and England among them. Funnily, for a spy who’s supposed to be good at his job, AV has a penchant for getting caught (he escapes every time, of course). Agent Rajan was the one who rescued him in Afghanistan; when Rajan is killed while on a mission in Russia, Agent Vinod is sent to finish the assignment. His only clue – number 242.

Bond-meets-Bourne-meets-TinTin is how Saif Ali Khan described Agent Vinod in his interviews in the lead-up to the film’s release (he left out the fourth more obvious element – ‘Bollywood’). The result is a hard-to-digest mishmash. Raghavan seems to have wanted to make a wholesome, massy entertainer while keeping his sensibilities intact, and it’s in balancing that combination that the film falls apart.

Kareena Kapoor’s character, for instance, seems to have been inserted in the drama only to ensure that the romance box is ticked. She’s an agent too, yet she does little than cower behind Vinod as he fights off the bad guys. Like Vinod, she’s boring, and far from the femme fatale you want her to be.

Unwanted scenes (between the lead pair) and unwarranted songs add to the film’s already lazily unfurling narrative. For a thriller that talks of nuclear explosions and a plot that zips from one country to another, the film moves at a staggeringly sluggish pace, and is only intermittently gripping.

Agent Vinod had massive potential though. Some dialogues sparkle, and the film is slicker than most Bollywood films that claim to be stylish action thrillers (think Don, Dhoom, Players, etc). Saif seems to be the best choice to play the smooth-talking spy – he’s charming in his demeanour, has the physicality required for the role, and oozes style and chutzpah – and he does remarkably well.

The supporting cast is interesting too. Ram Kapoor is good as a drug lord and arms dealer, while Prem Chopra is suitably corny. Adil Hussain, who was seen in a short but impressive role as Vidya Balan’s husband in Ishqiya, gets the meatiest role among the villains, and is aptly evil. Dhritiman Chatterjee is superbly cast. BP Singh, the creator of the long-running CID series, is cast as AV’s boss and the head of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in what seems to be one of Raghavan’s many tributes (hat tips to films ranging from The Five Man Army and North By Northwest to Amar Akbar Anthony and, of course, Deepak Bahry’s Agent Vinod).

Sriram Raghavan’s Agent Vinod is brilliant in bits, and incredibly asinine in others. It’s probably the most inconsistently good film I’ve watched lately, and a massive letdown. Which is a pity. It could have made for a rare, looked-forward-to franchise.

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