Borrowing its structure from Zero Dark Thirty, its climax from Argo, its intention from Nikhil Advani’s D-Day, and its occasionally jingoistic tone from your standard Bollywood B-movie, Baby, directed by Neeraj Pandey, is a khichdi of influences, and an uneven film as a result. Pandey, who made a big impression with the provocative and controversial vigilante thriller A Wednesday, applied the same sense of urgency and tension to Special Chabbis, giving us a smart con film that involved an elaborate cat-and-mouse chase between cops and thieves. With Baby, his treatment is more escapist than realistic.
Akshay Kumar is Ajay, a highly skilled agent in an undercover counter-intelligence unit dubbed Baby that’s tasked with foiling terror attacks on the country. When Bilaal (Kay Kay Menon), a terrorist facing trial in India, escapes from prison, and it becomes clear that a major attack is being hatched by Pakistan’s Lashkar group, it’s up to Ajay and his team to save the nation. This mission sends Ajay racing between Turkey, Mumbai, New Delhi, Nepal, and the Middle East, where he more or less single-handedly flushes out rogue agents, dismantles terror plans, and vanquishes the bad guys in well-executed action scenes. He is both the brains and the muscle in the unit.
Unfortunately however Pandey gives us a first half that is loose, and one that serves little purpose other than to act as a set-up, and to introduce us to the main players. Danny Denzongpa is Ajay’s boss Feroze Ali Khan, who paces down corridors and stares grimly into open spaces, leaving his star officer to do all the heavy lifting. There’s also a hate-spewing, India-bashing mullah (Pakistani actor Rasheed Naz) who, in one of the film’s crucial scenes, echoes an oft-repeated (and controversial) sentiment pertaining to India’s typical response to terror attacks.
The pace picks up considerably post intermission, when Pandey gives us some terrific moments of breathless action and genuine tension. In a rare scene that allows another agent besides Ajay to flex their chops, Tapsee Pannu gets her big moment to shine in a Kathmandu hotel room. However implausible, another break-in scene at a desert resort is riveting, edge-of-the-seat stuff. The film’s last hour in fact is so crisply done you’re even willing to forgive Pandey the messiness of the first act and the routine lapses of logic in the screenplay, like Bilaal’s escape in broad daylight on Mumbai’s busy Marine Drive.
To be fair, the film is an engaging enough thriller sprinkled with witty lines and crowd-pleasing moments that Akshay Kumar performs with a deadpan expression to great effect. An example of that is a superb scene in which he calmly responds to an apathetic offhand remark made by a minister’s PA. Akshay, in fact, is in very good form, giving us a glimpse of the solid actor he can be when he isn’t cashing his paycheck making low-brow comedies. He’s ably supported, in the film’s final act, by a buff Rana Dagubatti, and particularly by Anupam Kher as fellow agents on a daredevil mission.
I was rankled by the film’s simplistic arguments, its all-too-convenient solutions to complex issues, and Pandey’s tokenism when it came to portraying a few ‘good Muslims’. Also, wouldn’t it have been great to get a protagonist that felt vulnerable instead of a superhero? Well, perhaps in another film.
I’m going with three out of five for Baby. Enjoy it for the brisk action thriller that it is, and try not to think about how much better it could’ve been.