AGENT VINOD. Director: Sriram Raghavan. Players: Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Ravi
Kishan, Prem Chopra, Ram Kapoor, Adil Hussain. Music: Pritam. Theatrical release: Illuminati Films.

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Expectations were high from Sriram Raghavan, the director who gave us the slick and gripping Ek Haseena Thi and the edge-of-the-seat Johnny Gaddaar. Both the films had tight scripts with satisfactory twists and turns and gratifying climaxes. Agent Vinod scores on twists and turns but lets the viewer down on a well-crafted plot which could well have made AV a classic among spy thrillers.

The story is typically cliched and involves a nuclear bomb hurtling across the world, which Agent Vinod must intercept and disable before it can harm his country. The rest is all padding—which is stylish, full of references to old Bollywood hits and racy enough to keep you in your seats. The treatment is so slick, and the film so neat that questions occur much later!

With bated breath, we, along with Agent Vinod, follow the nuclear suitcase bomb as it changes hands with bewildering speed among baddies all over the world. Our desi Bond streaks across Russia, Morocco, Latvia, Pakistan and does the needful only after criss-crossing half the world, meeting a beautiful Dr. Iram Parveen Khan aka Ruby (Kapoor) who could be a baddie or a goodie and dispensing with a dozen or so other more clear-cut villains in the process. And, of course, Delhi is saved.

The film can very well be called a tribute to old spy-thrillers starting with the title itself, as the original Agent Vinod first hit the screen in 1977, giving the small time actor, Mahendra Sandhu the single hit of his entire career.Here, in one particular scene, Vinod (Khan) gives his name as Mahendra Sandhu.

There are overt references to Amar Akbar Anthony, Baazigar, the original Bond himself with a lady emerging from the ocean in a bikini, a la Ursula Andress, the larger than life stylized villains like Ram Kapoor as the Hagrid-like Russian, Prem Chopra in resplendent kaftans complete with a pet camel, the menacing Adil Hussain as Colonel and Gulshan Grover in white, the “mujra” in the villain’s den—all spell 70s—the golden era of kitsch! One does wish that there were fewer villains in the movie, so that the average viewer could focus on the traveling bomb.

Khan excels as the dashing secret-agent with his funny-bone intact. It is a marvel what a long way he has come from his slightly feminine looks in the beginning of his career to this macho man who thinks nothing of bashing up an army of armed goons bare-handed and making it look credible. One particularly funny scene has him breaking into a ridiculous jig when he discovers that he’s being watched through a hidden camera!

Kapoor looks lovely and thankfully, no longer her size-zero self. Hers is the character which keeps the viewers guessing till the very end. She wiffles and waffles from one side to the other changing her expressions with a chameleon-like swiftness from sly to lost and keeps the smart agent and us on our toes as to her true identity and allegiance. A word for the host of supporting stars—Ram Kapoor, Adil Hussain as Colonel and the veteran Prem Chopra are excellent and remind you of the good old days of “Mogambo khush hua” and “Shakal”—the black as devil villains with no shades of grey.

The background music complements the movie and its moods well but the noisy soundtracks by Pritam leave a lot to be desired, which unintentionally though, is also a throwback to one of the worst phases of Hindi films as far as music was concerned.

At the same time, the treatment of the movie is super slick with superb chase sequences, great action, wry comedy and wonderful cinematography by Muraleedharan which brings alive the heat and dust of Afghanistan, the beauty of Riga and the hustle-bustle of Connaught Place in New Delhi.

And finally we doff our hats to Raghavan, not only does he tell the story—or what there is of it —well, and extracts credible performances, but also manages to pour the old wine of spies-villains-dens et al into a shiny new bottle of slickness worthy of a Hollywood thriller.

All in all, Agent Vinod, who, very well might be said to be doubling as travel agent Vinod—if you look at the number of countries the movie has been shot in—is definitely worth a watch.

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