A suitcase bomb that threatens the fate of the world, if it lands in the wrong hands – and, of course, in true spy thriller style, it does. And, also in true spy thriller style, there is one man capable of saving the world – in the case of writer/director Sriram Raghavan’s film, the titular Agent Vinod (Saif Ali Khan). Vinod travels the world chasing villains, and eventually teaming up with another operative, Iram Parveen Bilal (Kareena Kapoor) in a race against time.
It’s quite possible that the James Bond franchise has spoiled me for movies in the spy action thriller genre. Exotic locations, cracktastic villains – and Bond himself, impeccably styled and with a wit as dry as his signature martini – “shaken, not stirred”. One is generally assured of a fabulously good time watching Bond save the world.
And I wish that were true of Sriram Raghavan’s Agent Vinod. Certainly some of the basic ingredients are there. The opening credits sequence is, frankly, better than any Bond I’ve seen, styled like a graphic novel. The background score is terrific. And any film that has Prem Chopra (fabulous in a ponytail and embroidered silk caftan, and weeping over having to kill his beloved pet camel) and Gulshan Grover (villain in white with cravat!) is okay in my books. The film is stylishly shot (C.K. Muraleedharan’s cinematatography is terrific and frequently breathtaking) and features a whirlwind of locations from Afghanistan to Moscow to Morocco to Somalia to Riga to Pakistan to Delhi. There’s evidence of clever editing – one scene in particular comes to mind, where Vinod is involved in a brawl with someone he has a history with – the back-story brawl is edited together with the present-day brawl, incredibly tidy and visually interesting. And although Pritam’s songs didn’t do much for me (though I’m always happy to hear a Boney M remake, this time of “Rasputin”), the picturisation of “Raabta” – a love song set against an assassination attempt on Vinod and Iram -- is brilliant.
It also can’t be denied that Saif Ali Khan’s Agent Vinod is a pretty good protagonist – he’s stylish, looks very fine, handles the action with aplomb, and is even given the occasional witty line. When his partner chides Vinod for taking a risk with his life, asking him, “What if they had killed me?”, Vinod’s response? “They’d have given you a medal and your wife a petrol pump.”
Thinking about this, I still stand by my first impression, that for all of that, Agent Vinod lacks a little je ne sais quoi. Kareena’s Iram is, frankly, as flat and tired as old wallpaper – though I note that it’s not for nothing that the film is called Agent Vinod, because clearly it’s all about him, and quite rightly so. That said, I still long for a heroine with a little more depth and sparkle. I loved the villains, but wished they’d been a little more cracktastic. And although Agent Vinod is a film lover’s delight – the sepia-toned opening is reminiscent of a Spaghetti Western, right down to the harmonica (though my favorite film reference? The Five Man Army, and villain Abu Nazer (Ram Kapoor) compared to Bud Spencer), I couldn’t help thinking that its never-ending ending owed much to the Abbas-Mustan school of filmmaking.
In the end, though, there was more – much more – that I liked about Agent Vinod than I didn't– and I even adored the closing credits sequence, it was incredibly fun. Ultimately, Agent Vinod was a pretty good outing to the cinema, and quite frankly, it left me longing for a sequel. So, Sriram Raghavan and Saif Ali Khan, more Agent Vinod, please? And soon?
Yes, please. And keep the stubble.