We love the movies we love for different reasons. Sometimes the story is the show-stealer,other films are driven by the actors admirable performances. Films are funny,realistic,slick or techno-packed with modern CGI. A great film is one that checks many of these values in its boxes,but then many favourites or classics are not loved by all some leave you cold and disconnected with their studied precision.
A film writer once told me that a film is like a person,each film builds a different relationship with each viewer. Then,lets ignore the critics reviews for a bit,for Agent Vinod is a film with personality quirks,moods,warts and all.
Hot locations,femmes fatale,suicide bombers,international conspiracies: spy films are seemingly easy thanks to our large diet of Bond-Bourne-Hunt movies. But espionage thrillers are lifeless without sex appeal,and Agent Vinod has dollops of sexiness right from the first scene. Its a film thats beautifully dressed up,quite literally too,right from slick set pieces to classy costumes.
The irony isnt lost here,the film reportedly took over three years to make. (Its producer and lead hero Saif Ali Khan is said to have run out of money,and was bailed out by Eros Films after a year of not canning a single shot.) But not one scene its styling and mise-en-scene looks outdated. (Okay,maybe the bomb in a suitcase and looking for gangsters in Eastern Europe is from the 70s,but lets call them homage to James Hadley Chase and Robert Ludlum instead.)
A delicious sun-kissed scene is one in Morocco where Kareena Kapoor the Pakistani undercover agent and heroine wears a coat-dress,vintage sunglasses and carries a discreet purse that you only fleetingly recognise as Tods D bag. If this were another film,the accessories chosen would be laden with logos,but here its the natural élan of the two beautiful-looking actors that is only supported by the suave things they own.
In another scene,Kareena wears skinny jeans and a snug T-shirt with a Zara-esque jacket. Her hair is pinned up high and in a beautiful braid. When was the last time we saw an Indian heroine in a choti she didnt wear with a sari or salwar kameez,in a village scene or a Delhi wedding? A chic pony-plait has only been seen on fashion show runways and Kareenas makes you forgive the pink monstrous sharara of the mujra she wears later.
An exceptional track is the song Raabta,a brilliant shootout scene in a dive Latvian motel,set against a mellifluous ballad and shot in a single take. Sparring lovers descend into their rooms,bullets fly about a cat-and-mouse chase and a blind,red-lipped woman pianist tinkers on obliviously. Its as poetic and surreal as Khoya khoya chaand in last years Shaitan; another brilliant film with crime at its heart.
Saifs Pungi act is hysterical and had me YouTubing it a dozen times over the weekend. To watch the actor in a sleek suit let loose like a street-side bumpkin has the actor yet again prove manor-manners dont detract from being a kitschy Hindi film hero. His suavity isnt a hurdle,he can be anything,anybody.
Yet,much of the films chic comes from Khan. Although the films director is the revered,thriller wizard Sriram Raghavan,and insiders swear by Khans non-interference,Agent Vinod has Saif Ali Khan all over it. Like the achingly handsome actor himself (and his swashbuckling snoop),the film has flair,wit and cool in its bones. And in that,Agent Vinod is a damn good spy movie and Saif Ali Khan Indias first-rate sleuth.