Sriram Raghavans Agent Vinod starts with a line from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: One name is as good as another. Not wise to use your own name.
But perhaps the names are the best thing about Agent Vinod. Not just of the aliases Saifs superspy Vinod uses through the film — Mahendra Sandhu (nod to the actor of the earlier Agent Vinod), Kapil Dev, Anthony Gonsalves, Freddy Khambata — but almost of all the characters.
Theres Iram Parveen Bilal aka Ruby Mendes (Kareena Kapoor), David Kazan (Prem Chopra), Abu Nazer (Ram Kapoor), Tehmur Pasha (Gulshan Grover), Huzefa Lokha (Shahbaz Khan), Colonel (Adil Hussain) and Jagadishwar Metla (Dhritiman Chaterji). Phew!
And they are all after a small box, which has a portable — and very potent — nuclear bomb. Its a daud that traverses many a pretty holiday destination on the globe including Cape Town, Moscow, Morocco, Riga and London! And for that little dab of realism, theres Somalia and Pakistan.
Yet, Agent Vinod never quite hits the spot. You dont care for the bloke or the bomb and all that helter-skelter punctuated with ki nyaka hanky-panky becomes pointless pretty soon. When the chase itself becomes boring, you cant cut to the chase, can you?
Maybe its a clash of ideologies, a confusion over the weapon of choice. Does it need to be shaken and stirred like a sleek Hollywood product or does it need to be doused in an emotional achaar for that desi dose?
Raghavan, who made the brilliant Johnny Gaddaar before this one, is more at home with things pulpy and retro while Saif has always wanted to play the supercool agent out on a secret mission. But were the director and the producer (they worked together in the riveting Ek Hasina Thi) on the same page when they set out to play this ambitious name game?
Along with co-writer Arijit Biswas, Raghavan scripts some great individual scenes but the film is never able to get into a flow and grip the audience. The minute a brilliant moment draws you in, another round of scene-shifting and baddie-badal throws you off track.
Well into the second half in this never-ending bhagam bhaag — 160 minutes is way too long for a film of this genre — Vinod and Iram are given one para of backstory almost as an afterthought. Its too late and really does nothing to make you root for the leads.
Its some of the sideshows that sparkle the brightest. The scene where Vinod almost seduces the real Freddy Khambata, when Iram dances to meri jaan maine kaha (The Train song by RD Burman) to fool an airport officer and in the climax when two big, round women board the terrorists auto.
But those crests are really few and far between in what is a convoluted and disjointed celluloid exercise. Don, a film it mocks/nods (Shaayad tumhein mere joote pasand nahin aaye...) was a much smarter endeavour and, unlike Agent Vinod, never lost the audience through its running time.
Saif the actor is way too matter-of-fact. For a major part of the film, he mistakes nonchalance for coolness. Its only when he lets loose that he looks the part. Even many an actor who played 007 couldnt be 007. So why try?
Kareena, whos been the radiant fixture in all her last few films, is painfully irritating here. Shes less a spy and more a nag, less sexy and more, thats right, nyaka!
It continues to be one of the big mysteries of the Bolly big screen how Saif and Kareena manage to goof it up every time they come together.
Some of the dushtu lok are really, really good. Ram (Bade Achhe Lagte Hain) Kapoor as the money-launderer in Russia is a heavyweight knockout! Adil Hussain is appropriately creepy as the you-can-never-read Colonel. And its so good to see Dhritiman Chaterji get second billing in the opening credits and be such an important link in the agency.
The big star of Agent Vinod, if there is one, is Daniel B. George, the man behind the background score. He salvages many a dull scene with his zany musical touches and gives a refreshing twist to the action sequences by going against the dhishum-dhishum grain.
Dear Raghavan Sir, you started by quoting Sergio Leone. Allow us to end with William Shakespeare. True that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet but a Bond or a Bourne movie by another name, in another country, with another wrapping doesnt spell that solid. Theres a reason that Bollys spy rehashes of the 1970s and 80s all turned out to be spoofy B movies.
Maybe you should send your man to learn the significance of a name from a certain Mrs Bagchi, Agent Binod!
AGENT VINOD REVISITED
The earlier Agent Vinod is a 1977 action film produced by the Rajshris and directed by Deepak Bahry. Mahendra Sandhu — who made 17 films in a 19-year career — played the title role. Asha Sachdev, Jayshree T., Nasir Hussain and Iftekhar featured in supporting roles. Sandhu played a flamboyant CBI agent assigned to solve the kidnapping of a high-profile scientist. Comedian Jagdeep played a character called James Bond in the film! Sandhu went on to play a CBI Agent called Vinod in a 1984 crime thriller called Videsh, with Shoma Anand opposite him.