(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on 25 March, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/espionage-as-a-trapeze-act)
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Adil Hussain, Prem Chopra, Dhritiman Chatterjee
Director: Sriram Raghavan
Rating: 2 stars
No wonder Pakistan banned Agent Vinod. A movie that simultaneously insults the ISI, RAW, Lashkar-e-Tayebba, honey traps, captains of the industry and Noida autowallahs can’t be good news. Remember those Sunny Deol films where the azan would play every time the villain strode towards the camera, glowering at imagined heathens? Remember Contra, the video game? Now, marry those two, and throw in a disposable princess at Contra’s side. That’s Agent Vinod in a nutshell.
I’ll say this – from its beginnings in Afghanistan’s Desert of Death, where “Hindustani kuthe” Agent Vinod (Saif Ali Khan) is being tortured, to its final collapse into an orgy of push-up bras and fantasy soft porn, the film never fails to entertain. For about an hour, you assume it’s a stylised action flick that demands willing suspension of disbelief. But then, it becomes apparent that it’s simply so bad, it’s good. One begins to delight in its illogicality, and whoop, whistle and applaud with the rest of the audience.
I’m not sure how many Tourism Ministries were involved in this, but these are the countries we travel to – Afghanistan, Russia, Morocco, Sri Lanka, England, Somalia, Pakistan, India, South Africa. Vinod has a penchant for rescuing courtesans and prostitutes. This moves him to hold hands with an airline steward whose identity he will eventually steal. For some reason, this scandalises a cabbie in Morocco – the holding hands, not the identity theft.
Anyway, all of this has something to do with the number 242, a suitcase, fifty billion dollars, Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyyat, and nuclear warfare. Bring in a victim-terrorist-doctor mix (Kareena Kapoor), a Hindi-speaking Arab who whimpers when he has to put down wounded camels (Prem Chopra), a knighted Indian millionaire (Dhritiman Chatterjee), an ISI Colonel (Adil Hussain) and an ISI pawn (Anshuman Singh), and garnish with a mujra and conspiracy theories about businessmen perpetrating terror to influence stock-markets. Now, how can this go wrong?!
It gets better. The honey trap, like her predecessors, betrays Pakistan for love. She also has Daddy issues, and wants to live in a world where she can make babies, where the Rubaiyyat is a beautiful book (and not a player in political intrigue), and where the ISI and RAW will blow soap bubbles together. Well, something like that. Agent Vinod has a heart-wrenching back story too – he wanted to be an artist, but became an agent because a school accident gave him a taste for danger. Watch out for the maudlin at the end, where Saifeena do anavrasa demonstration.
The Verdict: Go in a large group, enjoy the slick parts, and jeer at the stupid ones. There are plenty of both.