The most gobsmacking brilliant portion of Agent Vinod is a roughly 3-minute shootout scene set in a seedy East European motel. Even as bullets fly in the lobby between RAW-agent Vinod (Saif Ali Khan) and deadly assassins hot on his trail, a love ballad drowns out the gunshots. The action is captured almost poetically, as Vinod and his accomplice run in and out of corridors and motel rooms, dodging the firing. Now imagine all this in a single tracking shot!
The rest of Agent Vinod, unfortunately, is missing the deft hand that writer-director Sriram Raghavan brings to this spectacular sequence. And it’s not for want of imagination or ambition.
Our super-spy hero is in pursuit of an ISI Colonel (Adil Hussain) who’s threatening to set off a nuclear bomb in New Delhi. The film kicks off with a series of convoluted events that you later realize are connected by the two sides trying to lay their hands on the nuclear bomb detonator – here in the form of a precious edition of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, that is sold at a private auction in Morocco.
In the midst of it all, Agent Vinod meets undercover Pakistani spy Iram (Kareena Kapoor), who realizes she’s a pawn in a terror plot, and quickly joins him in his efforts to seize the detonator. As the story hops across the globe – Afghanistan, Moscow, Morocco, Latvia, Somalia, Karachi, India, and London – Vinod discovers more clues that point to a deeper international conspiracy.
Frankly you must appreciate the clarity and smoothness with which our hero goes about this mission, given that as an audience you often find yourself playing a complicated game of cat-and-mouse with director Sriram Raghavan. The film’s plot is suffused with undercover agents and double agents, as well as characters that are introduced and bumped off before you can blink. It’s as if the phrase “deliberately obtuse” was invented to describe this film, especially as you try to navigate through the fog of the first half.
In the style of those 70s spy thrillers that are evidently a big influence on Raghavan, Agent Vinod offers a bunch of farcical baddies – the one-eyed Pakistani general (Shahbaaz Khan), a grey haired Russian drug-baron (Ram Kapoor), and a ponytailed Moroccan crime-lord (Prem Chopra). Even good ol’ Gulshan Grover pops up as a most-wanted Dawood-like don based in Karachi. He’s so blasé that when the masterminds require him to be a cog in yet another terrorism plot, he replies dryly: “I’m so bored!”
To be honest, by this point, so are you.
For a large portion of Agent Vinod, you don’t know where things are going…and then it all stretches on so needlessly that you stop caring. Given that this is a film that sees itself as a desi-style Bond, it has glaring loopholes that are embarrassing. Like a tacky scene in which Vinod spots a familiar scorpion tattoo on a doctor’s wrist that helps him deduce that he’s actually an assassin. Or the ridiculous pre-climax portion in which a grievously injured character is gasping out a password to our hero, as he frantically tries to disarm a bomb while flying a helicopter.
The action in the film is choreographed slickly, but you can’t help feeling a tad let down. In these days of visceral fight scenes and breathless chases that you’re accustomed to seeing in the Bourne, Bond, and Mission Impossible movies, the rapid editing of the action sequences here never allows you to take in the repercussions of the violence. What cripples the film even further is its uneven pacing.
Although littered with quirky supporting characters, none of the actors in the film stand out, save for its two leads. Kareena Kapoor performs adequately in a role that mainly requires her to look wan and sad; then performs a mujra with much-needed gusto. Saif, meanwhile, was born to play the suave super-spy. He has the body language, the swagger, the physical chops, and even that hint of humor – you’re most entertained when he’s on screen.
Speaking of humor, the film benefits considerably from its stray tongue-in-cheek dialogue and occasional script zingers. While wolfing down spaghetti, even as Iram stares on blankly, Vinod tells her “Kuch paane ke liye, kuch khaana padta hai”. At another point when the local police in Latvia arrives to question him, he says “Aap katar mein hain”, referring to the fact that more than one country’s authorities are looking to get their hands on him.
It’s moments like these – sadly too few and far between – that bring a smile to your face during the two hours and forty-odd minutes of this disappointing film. Director Sriram Raghavan ,who gave us such taut thrillers as Ek Hasina Thi and Johnny Gadaar previously, injects Agent Vinod with so many varied influences that it never finds its own distinct identity.
I’m going with two out of five for Agent Vinod. He’s a spy who knows how to save the day; he just needs a better plan.