Agent Vinod: The spy who disappointed me

March 23, 2012

Perhaps the most surreal moment in Sriram Raghavan‘s “Agent Vinod” is during a shootout at a seedy hotel in Latvia, when there’s a horde of gangsters chasing the protagonists.

Instead of filming the scene like a regular action sequence, with lots of gunfire, smoke and action, Raghavan turns it on its head — filming the scene almost entirely in slow motion and to the tune of the “Rabta” song.

It’s one of the inspired moments that take “Agent Vinod” to another level altogether — only to have it come crashing down a few scenes later when we are subjected to a long, emotional and implausible monologue about how India and Pakistan must come together to fight terror. And that remains the tenor of the film throughout — the flashes of brilliance don’t add up to a great film.

Raghavan’s protagonist is Agent Vinod, an Indian intelligence officer, played by Saif Ali Khan. We are introduced to him in a fast-paced sequence in the arid Pakistani desert, where he escapes from the clutches of a battalion of guards with panache. Raghavan gets you hooked immediately, and the first half is a jumble of names, characters, random numbers but nothing is what it seems.

But it’s all too good to last. The second half drags on interminably, defeating the very purpose of a spy thriller and by the time the credits roll, you are just glad it’s over. The intentions of the characters seem a bit too simplistic, and even his protagonists don’t seem to appear as interesting as they did in the first half.

The film makes the classic mistake of trying to spell out everything to the audience, underestimating their intelligence and weighing the film down. Raghavan succumbs to a lot of stereotypes, and simplifies a lot of situations — and no amount of style can make up for that.

There are, of course, some moments that make the film worth watching, like the shootout scene I mentioned earlier, and some of the dialogue is brilliant, playing on many day-to-day phrases we all use. Saif Ali Khan pulls off the suave spy act very well, and Kareena Kapoor is, as always, excellent.

“Agent Vinod” is one of those films that you wish was so much better than it finally is. This really did have the potential to become a slick, stylish thriller. I’d recommend you watch it once, but don’t keep expectations too high.

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