(Published in The New Sunday Express, 25 March 2012, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/agent-vinod/375622.html)
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Adil Hussain, Prem Chopra, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Shahbaz Khan
Director: Sriram Raghavan
Rating: 2 stars
Four years ago, Sriram Raghavan gave us Johnny Gaddaar, a tight, stylish action flick, whose one flaw was Dharmendra’s exaggerated Tam Brahm accent. This time, he opens with the famous quote from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Tuco’s “One name’s as good as another. Not wise to use your own name.” Turns out Agent Vinod’s nominal tribulations aren’t even a significant part of the sub-plot. And if real spies were as dumb as the ones in the film, we’d live in a world where wars are waged with paper rockets and toy guns.
So it is that we see Agent Rajan (Ravi Kishen) in some desert town of Afghanistan, playing a mouth organ, and looking around so suspiciously a goat could call him out as a spy. Agent Vinod (Saif Ali Khan) is first being beaten up by Lokha (Shahbaz Khan), and then given a polite hearing, where he denounces innocents, and stages an improbable escape. You know he’s been cast in the mould of heroes of the 1970s when he rescues Pakistani courtesan Farah Faqesh (Maryam Zakaria). You know the film’s been cast in the mould of the 1970s, when she does him a good turn later.
As the agents and courtesan drive off, the title track Govind Bolo, Gopal Bolo, Jo Chaahe Bolo, Bolo Hari Hari rings out. Okay, so Govind, Gopal, and Hari will be pitted against khuda. Thankfully, we’re spared the staple of a patriotic Indian Muslim who stands firm as evil Pakistanis try to lure him to the dark side. Instead, we have the good Pakistani High Commissioner who parts with sensitive information for the greater good of the subcontinent.
But, if you’re looking for kitsch, you won’t be disappointed. All the bad guys are into drug dealing, sex trafficking, and terrorism. And trailing Hollywood by 40 years, Bollywood’s begun to travel to Russia these days. After Players, Agent Vinod gives us a fight sequence on the Trans-Siberian express. There are chicks with guns hidden in their bikini tops or catsuit pockets. Girls in tiny skirts gyrate to Hindi remixes at casinos. Progressive dancers have already mastered the robot dance from the 1980s. Homophobia brings in cheap comedy.
Iram Parveen Bilal a.k.a. Ruby Mendes (Kareena Kapoor) makes her entry administering Agent Vinod with narcotics, when he gets caught yet again by yet another badass. (Seriously, Vinod would’ve botched up every operation he’s trusted with, if his rivals had had double-digit IQs.) Iram is representative of those Pakistanis who aren’t evil – whaddya know, spies can be good people too. They can also be sophisticated enough to be moved by a performance of Swan Lake in Latvia.
And you know who can be evil? Indian businessmen. And Sri Lankan Tamils who frolic to Rakamma Kaiyya Thattu. And ISI agents. But thatwe knew, duh. No, wait. Some ISI agents are kindly enough to allow their hostages to pick up reading glasses, even when they’ve got several guns trained on them. Awww!
My favourite part was the end, which showcases a fascinatingly horrifying display of acting by Kareena Kapoor. I hoped in vain that she’d weep, “Tere liye meri jaan qurban hai!” But equally enjoyable are the gunfights, where the hero’s pistol beats the villains’ machine guns, and the movements are choreographed to music.
The Verdict: The film is never halfway intelligent, but never boring. If you leave your brains at home, you’ll be fine.