You get a that ‘uh oh’ feeling when Agent Vinod opens with the hero (Saif Ali Khan) on the floor of an Afghan desert prison, looking hungry and helpless. For a man trying to be Bond, Bourne and Ethan Hunt, he can’t start at the bottom… the film just never takes off after that, even though he escapes from this prison and has endless scrapes later.
Sriram Raghavan’s Agent Vinod, produced by Saif Ali Khan is a film buff’s film—all the in-jokes, nods to other films (including a 70s B-wonder Agent Vinod starring Mahendra Sandhu)—but no wit, no sense of fun, no tongue-in-cheekiness and a pace slower than an old vsnl dial-up connection.
There has to be a reason for a RAW man to swagger into Russia, Latvia, Morocco, London, Pakistan so there’s a silly little plot about a ‘suitcase’ bomb with a detonator in a book of poems, so that various thugs and agents played by Ram Kapoor, Prem Chopra, Shahbaaz Khan, Adil Hussain, etc., can look busy plotting and scheming and organizing shoot-outs all over the world… and only once, by some miracle, actually hitting Agent Vinod.
It’s very well shot, and you get a touristy view of several countries, but with a plot so muddled and direction so heavy-handed, the film ends up with more boring bits than bursts of entertainment. Sadly, not one heart-in-mouth sequence that can make a thriller memorable.
At some point, Vinod acquires a female sidekick, a Pakistani agent Iram (Kareena Kapoor), who has too much baggage and not enough pizzazz to even do a mujra properly. The ‘Pakistanis are not really the bad guys’ stance of the film (remember Sunny Deol starrer Hero?) doesn’t really cut it (and didn’t prevent a ban in the friendly neighbouring country), but what really gets you in the end is the explanation, and the threat of not just a sequel, but a long-running franchise. Confidence is good, but if it is backed by substance and the desire to make a film, not a snazzy star vehicle and product placement holder.
Saif Ali Khan has the cool quotient to be a super spy—the scene where he is injected with pentahol is bang-on—but is just never given the opportunity to be flamboyant. A half-way hero doesn’t work—he is either a realistic intelligence agent (like Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the recent Kahaani) or all out debonair-sexy like Daniel Craig. Would either of them dance to that awful ‘pungi’ number? Not likely!